NEW YORK — Moving into the second half of the 2008 New York City trade show calendar, organizers in New York City are honing their exhibitor picks and devising perks to meet the needs of recession-wary retailers head-on. Tightly edited selections, a focus on accessories and international resources and amenities aimed at easing the lives of harried buyers were some of the strategies mentioned by show honchos for making the most of a soft market.
"Oh my God, we will be extremely tightly edited this show," said Elyse Kroll, chairwoman of ENK International, producer of Fashion Coterie. Fashion Coterie runs Sept. 16 to 18 at New York's Show Piers and the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. "We're working hard to find what retailers want to find when they come to New York and finding them those collections."
Such increased selectivity, said show organizers, reflects their prediction that retailers will pare down their inventories to focus on must-have styles, particularly the hottest accessories, as well as tried-and-true brands.
"Retailers will cut their budgets when there is a crisis and only pick the best merchandise," said Frédéric Viguerie, the United States and Japan trade show coordinator for Platform 2, Tender and the Train shows, which are produced by the Fédération Française du Prêt A Porter Féminin (FFPAPF). "Business is going to be more difficult, but I think their selections are going to be more precise."
"Retailers are going to be relying on the things consumers can't live without — either a hot, trendy item or a reliable, time-tested brand," said Joanne Feinstein, producer of Nouveau Collective, a casual lifestyle-focused show whose next edition runs Aug. 3 to 5 at the New Yorker Hotel.
"Reliable brands are so important during soft markets," she added. "Their impact is felt from delivery on down to satisfying the customer. If you can carry inventory at every level, a retailer can write orders closer to delivery, which is crucial in this environment."
Organizers noted that accessories are a propelling force in fashion, as well as a low-investment means of updating customers' wardrobes.
"Just take a look at the magazines — they are all about accessories, which remain a really, really big part of fashion," said Viguerie.The category's continued strength prompted FFPAPF to launch its own accessories show. Called Tender, it will feature over 40 brands and occupy approximately 3,000 square feet at L'Avenue at Manhattan's Terminal Stores from Aug. 3 to 5. The show, said Viguerie, is the accessories market's answer to Train, focusing on cutting-edge designer labels principally from Europe and Japan.
"The show will feature a chic and easy-to-navigate layout and a tightly edited selection of products," said Viguerie. "Hopefully, Tender will become known for what Train is known for now."
Executives at Business Journals Inc., producer of the AccessoriesTheShow, FAME and Moda Manhattan trade exhibitions, predicted that accessories would potentially claim an even bigger piece of business than usual come August.
"They are a strong product category for a recession-type period," said Sharon Enright, the general business manager for trade shows at Business Journals. "They're affordable and there's a lot of variety, a lot of product classes that allow people flexibility in changing up their wardrobes."
Of the 3,100 lines featured at the three shows, 1,800 will be accessories brands occupying some 10,000 of the show's 27,500 square feet.
The trio of shows runs from Aug. 3 to 5 at the Javits Center — a new locale for the shows that offers plenty of room for expansion. For now, according to Business Journals' founder and chief executive officer, Britton Jones, that expansion mostly centers on Moda Manhattan, a juried contemporary-focused show that will tally an estimated 25 percent increase in square footage over last August. He also predicts continued strength in the young contemporary category at FAME, after exhibitors in that category swelled from 50 to 70 percent of the show's total following a revamp of the section in January. He also attributed the category's momentum to parents who "may skimp on themselves, but won't stop spending on their children."
At Coterie, contemporary remains strong, said Kroll. "Contemporary continues to be a big driver — what happens within the category is what changes," she said. "In recent seasons the attention was all on dresses, but now it is shifting to novelty pants as well as denim, which is making a comeback."Nouveau Collective has seen increased demand for its casual lifestyle lines that producer Feinstein attributes to their ability to weather tougher economic times.
"Over the years, I've had denim lines, eveningwear lines, and those have been much more risky in terms of their stability," said Feinstein. "A lot of people in the market see casual lifestyle as boring and flat, but I look at it as dollars and cents."
She attributes the reliability of what she calls "car-pool couture" to the brand loyalty of the underserved 40- to 50-year-old customer, who recognizes fit and quality when she sees it and will stick by a brand that delivers it. Feinstein's faith in the category will translate this September into a 20 percent increase in square footage, thanks to a newly renovated space at the New Yorker Hotel that promises exhibitors airier, more open booths in a marble-floored, natural light-flooded space. September's show will also see the debut of a 10,000-square-foot juried casual lifestyle area focused on 20 "easy living" brands such as Tianello, Flax Designs and BKg Sweaters.
Organizers are also looking to international attendees to infuse energy into the shows, whether it's European buyers taking advantage of a devalued dollar or vendors seeking out American buyers forced to stay home because of rising travel costs.
Said Barbara Kramer, a co-owner of Designers & Agents, "The American stores are not traveling to Europe nearly as much. If you are doing business with American retailers, you need to come here. We see more and more European brands as well as agents and distributors," to the tune of an increase of 10 to 12 percent over last year in the show's international presence, she said.
Business Journal's Jones has seen similar increases in the exhibition's New York and Las Vegas editions. "Especially with the devaluation of the dollar against the euro, we are trying to increase our international attendance [with stepped-up promotions overseas]," he said. "It's very important in terms of taking our shows to the next level."
Finally, a few old-fashioned perks never hurt to get retailers in a New York state of mind, whether it's by offering amped-up pre-show promotions, travel packages or gratis limo services."I think that as show producers, we need to be creative about how we can subsidize retailers' increased travel expenses," said Feinstein. "At Nouveau Collective, we always offer great hotel rates and shuttle services to other shows — it certainly saves on cab fares." She's also teaming with the producer of the Women's Wear in Nevada, or WWIN, show in Las Vegas (running at the Rio Hotel Aug. 25 to 28) to offer vendors incentive packages for attending both Nouveau Collective and WWIN.
Promotions of a different sort will be key at Business Journals, where Jones is offering access via a Web site, newsletter and in-house magazine to put retailers in better touch with the brands they'll encounter at market.
"To solidify business in difficult times, we are working on bringing retailers a lot of pre-show exposure to various brands that's proving to be very valuable to our [exhibitor] base," said Jones.
The Train and Platform 2 shows offer such goodies as complimentary limo services, a French-accented complimentary buffet and a VIP party. "We want buyers to feel at home," said Viguerie. "And if buyers want to go to Barneys or Times Square, they can use the limo to go wherever they want."
Coterie's Kroll said she is focusing on how she can cut overhead costs here and there, but for the most part, she takes a "build it and they will come" attitude toward getting retailers to market.
"Retailers know that to be successful, they can't be offering the same looks they showed last season when Suzie walks in the store," said Kroll. "They may stay in different hotels, they may send fewer buyers, or maybe they'll just fly in and fly out the same day. But the stores will come."
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