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England: Target Practice

British trade show organizers look beyond increasing traffic in favor of honing in on the right buyers for their exhibitor assortments.

While trade show organizers agree the High Street is a difficult place to be right now, they are confident a turnaround in consumer spending is near.

“Spring-summer 2004 was a very difficult season, but I think that this fall-winter will be a much better season for retailers, as it generally always is, and I hope buyers will be visiting the show with smiles on their faces,” said Ian Webster, event director of Eye2Eye, a high-end accessories and footwear trade show.

In light of these difficult past seasons, however, organizers are fine-tuning their shows to ensure the right exhibitors appeal to the right buyers.

“We’re a boutique show, in terms of both size and buyers,” said Webster. “We’re not looking to grow our show. We hope for next season that our core international buyers come to London.”

Last season, Eye2Eye suffered from its time slot at the end of London Fashion Week when many buyers already had left for Milan.

So as not to conflict with Milan’s Micam, Eye2Eye has changed its dates to Feb. 13-15 to coincide with the beginning of London Fashion Week. It also has teamed up with Paris show Rendez Vous to offer clothes as well as accessories under its 40,000-square-foot roof. In turn, Eye2Eye will set up in Paris alongside Rendez Vous in March.

“We had been looking for some time to expand Eye2Eye out of the U.K.,” said Webster. “London Fashion Week is not the strongest of the four fashion weeks, whereas Paris is a very strong week.”

Streetwear shows To Be Confirmed and For Attention Of are also aiming for a smaller but more targeted share of the buyer’s market.

“We turned away 70 percent of the people who turned up to the last TBC and FAO,” said Mark Batista, partner in the shows, which will run Feb. 6-7 at the Truman Brewery in East London. “We still had 4,000 visitors over two days, but what means more to me is if buyers from Harvey Nichols, Browns and Selfridges attend, rather than the basic visitor numbers.”

He added that next season he expected TBC to grow by about 15 exhibitors, “as it’s important to make sure we always have new product at the show.” These new visitors to the 120,000-square-foot space will include Havaianas, Japan Rags and Wrangler Bluebell.

Changes also are afoot at Londonedge, an alternative fashion and streetwear fair, as the show has moved from the Earl’s Court exhibition center to the Business Design Center in Islington for its Feb. 4-6 edition.

“Olympia 2, where we previously held Londonedge, is in talks to become a casino, so we had to move,” said Carole Hunter, show director. “But the new venue represents a more flexible space.” She added that the square footage of the show will remain the same at approximately 40,000 square feet.

Hunter also said she has not noticed any dramatic increases in attendees, but last season the show did see an increase in the number of foreign buyers. “Although Germany has been having a difficult time with its economy recently, it represented our biggest number of overseas buyers last season.”

The show, 40 percent of whose buyers come from overseas, also saw a marked increase in buyers from Greece and Eastern European countries such as Latvia, Ukraine and Russia.

At Pure Womenswear, a middle- to high-end women’s wear and accessories show that will be held Feb. 13-15 at Olympia in London, no changes are under way. Organizers are sticking with a formula that has been working for the show since its launch in 1997. The show has since then expanded to comprise more than 800 brands, including more than 200 accessories brands.

Louise Young, group exhibition director for Pure, sees the recently tough retail climate as having had a positive influence on the show, having already rebooked 90 percent of last season’s exhibitors for next February.

“There’s no denying that business is still tough for many retailers, [but] this has proved to be a positive for Pure, as buyers become more focused on finding brands that can bring that ‘wow’ factor.”

Niche trade show organizers also are turning to new forms of marketing to produce that “wow” factor. To wit, both TBC and FAO and Eye2Eye have produced new magazines to boost their shows’ presences. TBC and FAO’s magazine is created in conjunction with the U.K. publishers of Vice and is called Stand Off, while Eye2Eye’s Very Eye2Eye magazine will publish twice a year and will be created in conjunction with Very magazine.