By  on May 31, 1994

LONDON -- Although the posh days of the Eighties -- when spending for trade show visits and exhibits seemed to be unlimited -- are over, Blenheim Group PLC, one of the leading international producers of such shows, is moving ahead aggressively to new frontiers.

In an interview in his office here, Brian Wiseman, chief executive of the group's fashion division and deputy chairman of Blenheim U.K., noted the group is looking to expand its fashion exhibitions into such untapped markets as the Far East.

He said the company has almost completed plans to launch a version of its Premier Collections show in Tokyo. Getting the first one in place next year would require fast organization, he said but added, "I wouldn't rule 1995 out of the situation."

While there definitely is a market in Japan, Wiseman said the demand will be for products different from those currently shown at Blenheim's other exhibitions.

"The Japanese are interested in brands, not merchandise. They want products they can produce there and distribute through their own networks in the Far East," he said.

The company also is eyeing the possibility of doing shows in Central and South America, Wiseman said, but he declined to predict when this might happen.

In addition, the group would like to organize or acquire more shows in the United States and Europe, especially in such countries as Germany where it currently has no shows.

The aggressive growth plans are necessary because of the changing nature of the exhibitions business, according to Wiseman.

"In the Nineties we have to put together a conglomeration of shows, covering a variety of overlapping industries," he added. "The cost factor has changed the market."

People don't want to go to a show every weekend, he said. They want to go to one show a season and see everything they need.

Wiseman forecast the boom days, similar to the Eighties, won't return for at least another generation -- or 10 years.

While Blenheim's shows -- which include Premier Collections in Birmingham and New York, Mode Enfantine in Paris, Bobbin in Atlanta and the International Jeans show in Miami -- have continued to grow through the recession, the group is recognizing it must adapt to the new economic realities.For example, Blenheim is holding the cost of showing at Premier in Birmingham for the next three seasons. Because of the increased cost pressures on organizers, Wiseman said the shakeout of exhibitions will continue for the foreseeable future.

There are two main types of shows -- the big, international exhibitions that attract overseas buyers and national shows in the same industries for the local market. Blenheim so far has concentrated on national shows but it is looking to move more into the international arena with some of them.

About 80 to 90 percent of visitors to its shows currently are from the local market, Wiseman said.

"You can't expect buyers to come to you. In every country and in every industry there always will be the need for a national show. In addition, which exhibition is considered the main international one will always change, and in fashion it changes faster than anywhere else."

Blenheim is hoping the international swing goes its way, especially toward Premier Collections. The company this season plans to launch the Birmingham show as a truly international exhibition. Premier Collections began in 1990 as a women's apparel-only show but has since expanded to cover men's wear, footwear, children's wear, lingerie and swimwear. Wiseman said he sees few other product categories the show can expand into immediately, although there is always the potential of such things as store fixtures and information technology.

"We had to get the Premier product right before we could look to attract the international visitor. We have done that in terms of the merchandise offered, the ambience and the service," he said. "Premier is no longer an also-ran; it is now one of the leaders and we will begin marketing it as such."

This will mean aggressive promoting for the August exhibition to foreign buyers, primarily from Continental Europe but also from the U.S. as well.

Blenheim will soon start doing the same thing for Premier Collections in New York and the International Jeanswear show in Miami. The New York show, which focuses on overseas women's diffusion collections, is performing well but still has plenty of room for growth, Wiseman said. There is a long-term potential to add on other product categories, as Blenheim did in Birmingham, but this is difficult given competing exhibitions and other restrictions, including the unions, in the U.S."The hall owners and unions in the U.S. probably are where we were in the U.K. 15 years ago," Wiseman said. "You can only achieve what is possible within the rules available to you."

"As for international visitors to those shows, just like in Birmingham we had to get the product right. The product at those shows is improving at an enormous rate. and therefore from this September we will begin promoting them to overseas companies and buyers. But it probably will take at least three seasons before that process is firmly underway."

It will take even longer until Wiseman believes Blenheim's American fashion shows are well-established. The company faces a reeducation process in the U.S. so buyers and exhibitors understand the difference between what is simply a rudimentary trade show and an exhibition, he said. Exhibitions are part of a company's media campaign, just like advertising, but are the most effective medium of all for reaching a target audience, he said.

"We have the financial resources to sustain that re-education process in America," Wiseman said. "We realize it probably will take five years."

As for financial resources, Blenheim In 1993 had a 65 percent rise in after-tax profits to 29.7 million pounds ($44.55 million) on a 29.6 percent increase in sales to 198.7 million pounds ($298.05 million) in the year ended Dec. 31, 1993. The sharp increase reflected the fact that Blenheim's largest exhibition, Batimat, an industrial show which is held every two years, was held last year. Sales were also boosted slightly by acquisitions.

Blenheim's other ace is its growing database on manufacturers and buyers collected from its worldwide chain of shows. The company has established a division, the International Sales Force in Boston, to coordinate the databases of all its shows and determine how this information can be marketed and further developed.

"It is all part of the service industry we are in," Wiseman said. "We do not dominate the industries we serve. We are a resource, which we refer to as I-Squared, or information in a box. Our aim is to determine how we can use the information we have to better help the industries we serve. If we can make life easier for the industries we work in, that is the ultimate achievement."

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