LAS VEGAS — It took most of those who attended Cosmoprof North America the entire run of the four-day beauty trade show to grasp and digest its strict admittance policies, “confusing” exhibitor layout, staggered pavilion openings and fistfights that broke out during the first day of on-site registration.

And, as the show wound down to a close Wednesday, exhibitors and attendees were divided on their take on Cosmoprof’s North American debut. Exhibitors, it seemed, were pleased with Cosmoprof’s strict formula for only allowing potential customers into their respective pavilions and are eager to return to next year’s event.

Many attendees, on the other hand, scratched their heads trying to figure out why the show was so confusing to navigate and difficult to understand.

Cosmoprof North America, which took place from July 27 to July 30 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, replaced the struggling Beauty and Barber Supply Institute trade show this year, a venerable annual event that had been serving the salon industry for the past several decades. Cosmoprof, which is organized by Milan-based SoGeCos SpA, teamed up with BBSI, an association of salon distributors, to engineer a show that would appeal to the entire beauty industry, including spa, wellness, skin care, hair care, cosmetics and packaging companies.

Cosmoprof’s reputation as the best-attended beauty trade show — its Bologna event is the world’s largest — helped it to attract 617 exhibitors and 20,000 attendees, according to show records, which were comprised of manufacturers, distributors, importers, exporters, manufacturer representatives, chain salons, salon owners, salon managers, hairstylists, nail technicians, estheticians, massage therapists, cosmetology school owners and students. Also scouting the aisles were buyers from stores such as Eckerd, Costco, Cosmetics Plus and CVS.

Paloma Marugan, director of consumer products for ICEX, the consumer group representing 39 Spanish exhibitors at Cosmoprof, said the show was “more professional and more international” compared with the old BBSI, which was more regional and more of a “cash and carry” show.

“I would say the vast majority [of ICEX companies] were very pleased,” Marugan said. “Cosmoprof and BBSI fed off each other in a very interesting way. I spoke to people from the organization and they know that [registration] needs improvement. [But] their access system was wise. It granted the right professional entry into the right area. People from hair care don’t really want to see skin care and they don’t want to be bothered by them.”But it seems the show’s formula didn’t please everyone.

For many attendees, the most frustrating aspect of Cosmoprof North America was that they were unable to peruse each pavilion at will. Security was tight at the entranceway of each pavilion, keeping out, for example, stylists from pavilion D, where professional hair care products were being displayed, and retailers from pavilion B, where packaging innovations were exhibited.

Mary Albanese of Zotos, a company that has been exhibiting at BBSI for years, explained that pavilion D, for the most part, contained the exhibitors who traditionally attended BBSI, which had always been a show for manufacturers and distributors to promote, to sell and to buy. “If [stylists, chain drug store buyers and salon managers] want to see, touch and try out new hair care items, the LOOKS pavilion is where they should be. We’re not here to sell to stylists. We’re here to sell to our distributors,” Albanese said.

And if retailers want to see packaging innovations, there are other shows for that, too.

LOOKS, which was held in a separate area from pavilions A through D, was comprised of professional hair care, spa and salon companies targeting end consumers; it was also the only pavilion allowed to sell products for cash on premises.

Elaine Travis, owner of Splash salon in Philadelphia, wasn’t pleased with the arrangement. Travis said she had to beg her husband to attend Cosmoprof, promising she’d come home with armfuls of new things. Travis said the number of exhibitors in the LOOKS section (approximately 100), where she was allowed, was “a big joke.” “I was going to go booth to booth over the next three days…now I’m going out tonight,” Travis said.

One chain drugstore buyer said she thought Cosmoprof would have had more international hair care companies. Another retailer, Jay Pearson from Regis, said he was pleased with the show and that he’d return next year. Another retailer said that restricting him from certain pavilions will keep him from coming back next year. “As long as everyone is here, let everyone go everywhere.”Laura Zaccagnini, general director of SoGeCos, said the admission policy is enforced to “protect the privacy and relationships” of companies, a formula that works at Cosmoprof shows in Italy, Hong Kong and Brazil.

“We promise our exhibitors we will define the right audience for them,” Zaccagnini said.

Registration also proved to be a “nightmare,” according to some attendees.

During the four-day show, more than 10,000 attendees registered on-site, with many arriving at the convention center on Sunday at 9 a.m., an hour before the show officially began. Fistfights were reported during the four-hour line to register.

Exhibitors, overall, seemed more pleased with Cosmoprof than attendees.

Unipro, the Italian organization that represents 600 small and medium-sized international beauty companies, said that its 18 exhibitors at Cosmoprof were pleased with the show.

“It was a good experience for our organization,” said Dr. Gianfranco Di Natale, the general director for Unipro. “It wasn’t easy to organize this fair because there is a different culture, different experiences. But I’m sure next year it will be a great success.”

Albanese from Zotos said the new upscale look of the show is a “great improvement” over what BBSI used to be. Because of strict booth guidelines — each booth this year was required to have three walls as opposed to a pipe and drape system — it now costs exhibitors double the price to exhibit.

Nelson Chan from ISH Professional said the show exceeded his expectations. “The cost was an issue but this is an international show, so therefore it was worth it to us. We are a new company so we are looking to get our product out there. Of all the shows we have been to — IBS, ISSE — this is the best,” Chan said.

Kent Yu from Demi Hair Care Systems said the show was “OK” for him but that attendance was “lower than we expected.” Yu said he didn’t mind that some of the bigger companies, such as L’Oréal Professionnel and Wella, were absent from this year’s show, but that if they skip next year’s event the attitude of those who say they’ll be back may change. “When attendees realize that [the bigger companies] are staying away, they won’t come.”William Ranney, president and chief executive officer of Creative Salon Concepts, said practically all the exhibitors that attended BBSI last year returned this year for Cosmoprof, despite the steep price increase. But some manufacturers didn’t return for reasons other than price. Ranney said many wanted to “wait and watch” and see how the show turned out.

Part of why so many would-be exhibitors took a wait-and-see attitude was BBSI’s decreasing presence and power in the wake of the dramatic consolidation of the salon industry. Internally, executives acknowledged the shift, and on Monday show organizers announced that BBSI would be consolidating with rival American Beauty Association, a manufacturer’s group, as well as with The Salon Association, a group representing salon owners. The new organization — which has yet to be named — will remain in Scottsdale and will elect a president in the fall. Steve Sleeper, executive director of BBSI, will remain executive director of the new group, which will represent more than 4,000 members.

“Now we’ll have a unified voice to accomplish more,” said Ranney.

Cosmoprof North America 2004 is planned for next July 18-20 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas.

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