By  on December 3, 2008

Like the action sports junkies at the core of their industry, the lifestyle trade shows that touch down in San Diego every January and September are on a wild ride.

The economic crisis has caused young consumers, once largely considered impervious to financial swings that afflict their parents, to become stingy. The result is that surf apparel and streetwear retailers and vendors that depend upon these customers are stuck in neutral as they wait for the unsettled market to kick into growth mode again.

As such, ASR, the leading action sports trade show, and Agenda, a satellite show that has progressed beyond its core streetwear mission, don’t anticipate setting any turnout records next year. Still, they are aggressively courting retail buyers and vendors and aren’t straying from long-term plans to keep their positions at the epicenter of the action sports industry.

“January is going to be in many ways one of the darker hours for this market,” said Andy Tompkins, ASR group show director. On a more upbeat note, he added, “While we expect the show to be smaller than last year, most major brands are supporting the show in some form, as they feel it is the best place to meet directly with thousands of retail buyers.”

ASR’s fall-winter show is taking place Jan. 22 to 24 at the San Diego Convention Center. Tompkins estimated that about 300 companies representing 450 brands will set up shop at the show, compared with 325 companies with 500 brands in the year-ago show. About 5,500 retailers are forecast to attend, down from 6,000 in January 2008.

Aaron Levant, president and founder of Agenda, predicted that 110 to 120 brands would display at the Jan. 22 to 24 show held at the San Diego Community Concourse, and 3,000 retail buyers would peruse their wares.

“I am not expecting one of our best shows ever, but I am not expecting a dramatic decrease,” said Levant. “I am a little skeptical about trade show traffic in general. I have been talking to a lot of retailers and, obviously, they are telling me they aren’t doing well. I don’t know what budgets they have to come to shows.”

To convince retailers to make the trip, ASR and Agenda are helping coordinate less expensive travel arrangements. They also will work with vendors to figure out booths that are appropriate for their constrained trade show budgets. Levant estimated that a standard Agenda layout costs around $2,500, and Tompkins revealed that companies mostly spend anywhere from $5,000 to $500,000 to show at ASR.

“ASR has a space fee that is significant, but we feel a lot of costs do come from travel and shipping expenses,” said Tompkins. “We want to make sure that, if you are not able to take out a booth like some of the leading brands, you do have a presence.”

ASR isn’t forgetting about show-related projects that provide added value for retailers and vendors. Tompkins said it is continuing to invest in runway shows during ASR and is supplementing its Web site with a floor-plan preview and appointment calendar enabling buyers and vendors to secure appointments in advance of the show to maximize their time on-site.

Agenda is moving forward with plans to expand its format in the spring-summer show. Levant divulged that Agenda is preparing to increase to 100,000 square feet for the show, up from around 45,000 square feet in the fall-winter show. “Agenda has taken a drastic turn in San Diego,” he said. “Possibly by the end of 2009, Agenda will no longer be a satellite show of ASR.”

Despite the expansion of Agenda, Tompkins insisted that the smaller show remains reliant upon ASR for its retailer traffic and is usually a “first step” for brands testing out trade shows. “Brands do come to ASR from Agenda to expand their sales presence and develop a more robust marketing platform,” he said.

At both shows, holding steady is the goal for early next year. “We are getting back to basics especially in these difficult times,” said Tompkins. “The cornerstone of our show is the buying audience. If we can bring a solid buying base, we still think ASR will be relevant.” 

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