By and  on December 3, 2008

NEW YORK — Given the nation’s economic downturn, retailers played it safe at this year’s accessories trade shows. However, producers for accessories, fine jewelry and eyewear shows noted attendance was even across the board, exhibiting that even in a weak retail climate, stores will still come out to shop.

“Retailers are in a challenging environment. Those who elect to hunker down and not travel and not buy new product, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Britton Jones, president and chief executive officer of Business Journals Inc., the Norwalk, Conn.-based company that organizes AccessoriesTheShow in New York. “Sales will decrease. So it’s incumbent upon them to get out and travel the market and find product with a good value equation. Time is the most precious resource for retailers. Time away from the store is difficult, but we give retailers an opportunity to find more resources in a short period of time.”

Jones noted that attendance in New York was up more than 9 percent for 2008. The firm wants to increase that number by offering travel values for vendors and retailers, and has entered into agreements with JetBlue and certain hotels to offerdiscounts. Business Journals is also taking the environment into consideration for 2009 initiatives.

“We are cutting down paper production on preshow materials and changing our on-site badging system,” Jones said. “We’re not using plastic badge holders anymore, but biodegradable badges held with a lanyard for recycling or reuse.” Other green initiatives include offering the exhibit manual online and using recyclable carpet.

International participation is also a priority for the accessories show. Ten percent of the prior show’s attendance was international and for 2009 the show is reaching more than 45 countries via expanded marketing programs. AccessoriesTheShow will advertise with online fashion magazines with extensive reach throughout Europe and is partnering with several international show producers and utilizing their database of retailers.

In response to the economy, Elyse N. Kroll, executive director of ENK Shows, which produces Accessorie Circuit, said, “We’re keeping our fingers crossed. We cater to the specialty store. We’re hopeful that because we are in the fashion business and the fashion business is about change, fashion retailers will follow the call of duty to keep their stores dressed.”

Kroll is adding another show called Sole Commerce that she hopes will keep buyers interested and returning. “You need to provide something new as a retailer for your customers,” Kroll said.

In April, New York’s Vision Expo East increased its exhibitor space by 11,000 square feet to 260,000 square feet. Its attendance also rose by 417 to 15,791 on record. The numbers have not yet come in for Vision Expo West, which takes place in Las Vegas every October; however, show producers estimated that the numbers remained steady.

“It’s very interesting because at [Vision Expo] West, there were major concerns about the economy and the doom and gloom of it all, but I spoke to a lot of attendees and they were all so happy they came to the event,” said Tom Loughran, event director for Reed Exhibitions and International Vision Expos, which coproduce the shows. “It made them feel good about business and there was an excitement in the number of people on the floor. It exceeded expectations, and the exhibitors were happy with the numbers and the business writing on the floor.”

Loughran also noted that while Vision Expo East took place before the economy plummeted this fall, the show still exceeded expectations both at the attendee and the exhibitor level. Moving forward, Loughran is focused on ensuring that show attendees make their return on investments through a variety of new educational programs that will help them connect with retailers more efficiently.

“We want to ensure that drive in attendance through offering a number of benefits to retailers,” said Loughran. “One is that they get discounts on the show floor they wouldn’t otherwise receive. We are also very focused on creating opportunities for retailers and optometrists to learn how to manage their practice or businesses better, to increase margins and profitability.”

Vision Expo is launching a conference program along with other initiatives that will help make it easier for attendees to visit New York economically. Additionally, the business is focused on increasing international attendance. Currently, 20 percent of Vision Expo’s attendees are international, and the show is working with agents in their international offices to ensure participation from every continent.

Fine jewelry trade shows are bracing for tough times. The jewelry retail segment has been one of the hardest hit since the economy began to unravel. Some retailers have halted buying entirely until things get better, while many others are showing extreme caution, replenishing stock on a need-to basis.

As many American jewelry retailers are more cost-conscious than ever, domestic fine jewelry trade shows such as JCK, JA and Couture will become even more important in 2009.

The trade shows are seeing 2009 as a time to support their retailers, through education seminars and other incentives and bonuses.

JCK Event, which produces a signature show as well as several ancillary shows — including Luxury by JCK and Swiss Watch by JCK, which take place starting May 30 in Las Vegas — is employing several strategies. As per popular demand, Luxury by JCK, the invitation-only show that offers designers such as Henry Dunay, Sasha Primak and Simon G, will be extended by one day to four days. JCK will also be putting up retailers from 400 stores for JCK, which has never been done before. Luxury typically hosts 260 retailers.

JCK is also making a grassroots effort to get more retailers, both domestic and international. The show’s strongest markets are California, Texas, New York and Florida, so now it is pushing for more Midwestern retailers.

“I think JCK will do better than a lot of the first-quarter shows,” said Yancy Weinrich, industry vice president of JCK Events, which offers everything from tools to loose stones and finished jewelry.

The firm is expecting a strong year for Swiss Watch by JCK — which features brands such as Tag Heuer, Chopard, Baume & Mercier, Blancpain and Bulgari — because of the international watch and jewelry fair schedule for 2009. Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, which features the Compagnie Financière SA Richemont watch brands — including Cartier, Panerai and IWC — and also high-end brands like Vacheron Constantin, is taking place in January, several months earlier than usual. Baselworld takes place in March, meaning two trips to Europe for retailers. “Swiss watch is the strongest it’s ever been,” said Weinrich.

Several retailers are planning to do their buying in the spring in Las Vegas, not Europe.

Also at JCK will be a new session geared toward generational marketing, social media and romancing the sale and exhibitor collections featured in the Luxury Collection and Prestige Promenade.

Couture, which also takes place in Las Vegas each spring, boasts many big-name retailers, including David Yurman, Mikimoto and Beaudry. The show, which focuses on top-tier luxury, will offer sponsored late-night lounges and other networking events to boost productivity. An extension of Couture will be at the JA New York Winter and Summer shows, providing a high-luxury environment for the regional shows.

Drew Lawsky, JA New York group show director, said while the economy is in turmoil, now is the time for brands to have a presence at shows, and it’s also a time to support the retailer community. “As challenging as it is right now, as tough as it is, we all know that things are eventually going to turn around,” said Lawsky. “Those that continue to be out there are the ones who are going to be in the best positions to be in good shape when things turn around.”

Lawsky believes there will be some consolidation of brands, leaving new designers most vulnerable.

JA, which has three shows annually in Manhattan, has several seminars planned for retailers. Also, since the JA shows are regional, the company will offer parking validation and gas cards. “We’re trying to broaden our education program so retailers can relate to challenges that are out there,” said Lawsky. “We’re very much in tune with making the buying experience easy for the retailer.”

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