SAN DIEGO — With the economic outlook not quite as sunny as the San Diego weather, the city's lifestyle trade shows are zeroing in on strategies for success despite brand exoduses and buyers' reluctance to shell out for costly road trips.
"Obviously, this is a challenging time," acknowledged ASR president Andy Tompkins, "but we haven't seen anything that indicates that the attendance won't be as strong as last year or even a little up."
If Tompkins' prediction holds up, ASR, the action sports industry's leading trade show, will draw at least 6,500 buyers and 700 brands to its spring-summer edition. This year, the show will take place from Sept. 4 to 6 at the San Diego Convention Center.
"September has been pretty steady, and it is typically our stronger show," said Tompkins, comparing the spring-summer event with the fall-winter one that will run from Jan. 22 to 24 next year. "Our preregistration is up aggressively over last year."
ASR, though, has been dealt a blow by the decision of longtime footwear exhibitors Podium, C1rca and Sole Tech to pull out. Tompkins pointed to the down economy and a drive to push production schedules earlier as reasons for their exits.
"They are looking to make some difficult financial decisions," he said. "That said, we do really have a good footwear mix at the show. We have over 60 companies promoting footwear product."
Aaron Levant, founder and president of the streetwear-driven trade show Agenda, asserted that the five-year-old event might benefit from brands departing ASR. "Initially, our show was built out of the success of their show; now I think we are competing more on an even playing field," he said.
Already, Levant detailed that Agenda has been able to attract major brands, including Nike, New Balance and Stüssy. At the same time, the show is attempting to keep a healthy dose of emerging brands and beef up the presence of women's labels, which constitute roughly 20 percent of the attending brands.
Overall, Levant reported that Agenda caps the number of brands at 100 to 120, and typically lures 1,800 to 2,300 buyers per show. "Every major chain store that carries relevant product seems to be ending up on our floor," he said.At ASR, categorical bright spots are swim and women's contemporary apparel.
"ASR has really become one of the West Coast centers of swim and attracts that specialty [swim] buyer on the West Coast," said Tompkins, who estimated that 100 swimwear brands display their wares at ASR. "You are going to see increasingly more swim brands."
In terms of retailers, the international, swim and boutique segments have been strong for ASR. The ailing dollar has led to the international contingent accounting for about 10 to 15 percent of ASR's total buyer count. "It is about as affordable for many countries around the world to come to the U.S. as it has ever been."
Regardless of where they come from, Tompkins and Levant stressed that proven brands are valuable resources to buyers in the midst of an economic slide. "They are not looking for as much new stuff," said Levant. "There is not as much margin for error, so there is not as much chance being given to new brands."
Throughout the years, retail consolidation has also led to a smaller core group of buyers overall, even though Tompkins suggested that higher-volume purchases often occur. The shrinking buying teams have made it that much more crucial to ensure that key buyers are present and satisfied with the brand lineup.
ASR collaborates with the city to negotiate low hotel rates and offers affordable transportation options to cut buyers' expenses. Agenda has been working on deals with JetBlue and is planning to pay for the airplane tickets for about 20 to 50 important buyers, up from 10 to 20 in previous seasons.
"The main overall theme here is that we are continuing to do well in this market when everyone else is reporting horrible outcomes," said Levant.
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