By  on December 3, 2008

NEW YORK — What a difference a year makes. Although the tanking economy has created challenges for trade shows in 2009, the radical economic conditions have done what seemed impossible a year ago: Unified the New York market under a single set of dates chosen months in advance.

The New York trade shows for early 2009 will exhibit Jan. 4 to 7 and Feb. 21 to 24.

“Given what is happening in retail, we wanted to go along with market week and the rest of the shows,” said Elyse Kroll, founder and chief executive officer of ENK International. “I called quite a few exhibitors, and everyone agreed the best thing to do was join forces. I’m hoping it will be easy for everyone to go in and go out from all the shows at the same time, so it will be one-stop shopping those three days, and buyers will get a lot of bang for their buck. What’s most important is that the industry has to work together. We didn’t agree with the early dates in January, but we went with it to make everything cohesive.”

ENK’s Children’s Club, Accessorie Circuit and Intermezzo shows will all show Jan. 5 to 7 in the Jacob K. Javits Center. Then Coterie and Sole Commerce, ENK’s new footwear show, will run Feb. 22 to 24 at Javits and the Piers.

In January, Designers & Agents will also run Jan. 5 to 7 in the Starrett-Lehigh Building. Moda Manhattan, AccessoriesTheShow and FAME will run together in Javits on Jan. 4 to 6. Nouveau Collective will be in the Hammerstein Ballroom at the same time.

In February, all of those shows — minus FAME, but adding Train at the Terminal Stores on 11th Avenue — will run Feb. 21 to 23, starting a day before Coterie, the biggest of the shows.

This harmony is a far cry from the divisions created last year, when Coterie made an 11th-hour announcement to push its February dates up two weeks. The remaining shows fractured into two markets, with D&A and Train staying with Coterie, while Moda and Nouveau Collective broke off into their own show in March.

“We tried last March to be on our own with Moda, and I will never do that again,” said Joanne Feinstein, producer of Nouveau Collective. “ENK is what brings in the traffic and we have to respond to that. It’s efficiency for the buyer, who wants to see the most they can in a certain amount of time. My buyer may not be buying ENK, but they want to shop it for the trends. I learned that lesson the hard way.”

This year’s consensus marks concessions on both sides. Business Journals Inc., which produces Moda, FAME and AccessoriesTheShow, had originally set its dates for March 1 to 3, but changed the dates in August when the other shows agreed to the February time frame.

“By issuing the dates as early as we did it forced other people to come to grips, because the retail community started asking other shows what their dates were,” said Britton Jones, ceo of Business Journals Inc. “In announcing our dates early, we help solidify the market dates for the industry, which helps people get discounts for booking early — the key to saving on travel is to book ahead of time.”

Across the board, trade show organizers are trying to get better flight and hotel deals for their out-of-town buyers and exhibitors to offset cost pressures. Business Journals has a deal with Jet Blue for a 5 percent discount for its attendees and exhibitors, and enlisted a new hotel booking service that offers deals of up to 60 percent off more than 60 hotels. ENK has beefed up its enktravel.com site to help its out-of-town guests book hotels. Nouveau Collective has a deal for visitors to get $159 rooms in the new Wyndham Garden hotel on 36th Street.

“The economy is so brutal, [and] then buyers have to spend more than they would at other cities to be in New York for the shows,” Feinstein said. “So we are increasing our amenities to the buyers, giving them a less expensive hotel room, a free bus ride to the other shows, entertainment, food, beverages — things that make them feel better in a bear market. We’ve also put together a list of incentives from all of our exhibitors, such as free shipping or a percentage off on orders, something to cushion what’s going on in this economy.”

Shows aren’t lowering their prices for exhibitors and buyers. Making sure they will survive this economy, they are doing what the rest of the industry is doing: cutting costs and delivering newness.

“We’re trying to cut our expenses, so if business decreases we’ll be as strong as ever,” said D&A co-producer Ed Mandelbaum. “For example, instead of mailing out invitations, we’ll be doing it by e-mail, which saves a bunch of money and which is also an ecological thing,” said Mandelbaum, adding that D&A may bring its green market to New York as early as September.

Train is substituting its sidekick apparel show, Platform 2, with an accessories show called The Box, which its French parent show Prêt à Porter Paris hosts four times a year.

“Demand is more for creative activity, and The Box is creative,” said Jean-Pierre Mocho, president of Prêt à Porter Paris. “We have to choose based on the square feet available, and we think this is more what buyers are wanting now.”

ENK is also adding its footwear show, Sole Commerce, to the mix, and is putting the responsibility on its exhibitors to create products that will inspire buyers and then inspire the ultimate consumer to spend money even in these tough times.

“We’re not new to this game — it’s not our first recession,” said Kroll. “The first thing that happens is exhibitors say, ‘I will just stay in my showroom, or I will take less space.’ But if they sit the show out, how will they get the same amount of traffic in their showrooms? You want to show people you are still in business and strong.”

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