By  on May 23, 2007

LONDON — Tough retail market conditions are driving many U.K. trade shows to rethink their game plans, while others are focusing on their strong points for continued success.

For some shows, it's all about location. Casualwear trade show TBC moved back to the Old Truman Brewery this February from the Tobacco Dock, and organizers are pleased with the results. It's located in a brand new space in the brewery that can house all the exhibitors on one floor and under one roof. TBC is aiming for 10,000 buyers at the Aug. 5 to 6 show, up from 9,800 in February, and hopes to increase its floor plan beyond 80,000 square feet. TBC has seen its international audience rise of late, including buyers from Spain, France and Italy.

Similarly, Margin's move to the Vinyl Factory Gallery brought the trade show closer to what organizers see as Margin's spiritual home — the heart of London's retail district. The next edition of Margin will take place Aug. 5 to 7.

Most organizers have seen their international attendance numbers remain steady, if not increase.

In February more than 11,000 visitors came to Moda to tour the show's 104,987 square feet of exhibition space. "We're pretty much getting to the point where it's not going to take too much more for us to be wall-bound," said Stephanie Mahon, marketing director for Moda. Five percent of Moda's buyers are from international markets, and the show offers travel packages to make sure that number stays stable and grows. The next edition of Moda takes place Aug. 12 to 14 at NEC Birmingham.

Pure Womenswear, set for Aug. 5 to 7 in London, saw a 10 percent increase in international visitors, compared year-on-year. The most recent show attracted more than 800 exhibitors, 160 of them new.

LondonEdge, boasting an international attendance of 35 to 42 percent, launched a new show in the U.S. to build on its international following. Organizers are expecting to host around 210 exhibitors Sept. 2 to 4 in London, 20 more exhibitors than the previous show.

Foreign attendance isn't driving every show, however.

The Textile Forum's formula of remaining a small niche show with around 20 exhibitors helped it report higher attendance numbers at the spring show. Organizers will continue this philosophy at the next installment, Oct. 10 to 11, at the Music Room in London.Eye2eye's doors are closed for the remainder of the 2007 season because "London is still lacking a critical mass of international visitors," according to the show's Web site. The footwear and accessories show also cites adverse market conditions in the U.K. footwear retail sector as a continuing problem.

To be sure, few shows are exempt from the rockiness of the changing market. "Given that it truly has been a difficult time for retailers, we were expecting much more of a drop," said Mahon of Moda.

Organizers of Premier Kids said the closings of U.K. retailers caused them to see a small decrease in buyers. Premier Kids will next run July 8 to 10 at NEC Birmingham.

With larger stores dominating more market share, some smaller stores are finding it difficult to attract new customers. They are making smaller orders and spending money cautiously, something that trade show organizers dread.

"Independent shops are the bread and butter of these events," said Neil Gaisford, show manager for Pulse, slated to run June 3 to 5 at Earls Court in London. "They're who the suppliers come to the show to see."

Fair organizers believe that being a small retailer can be an advantage, providing an opportunity to offer unique and different products. Independent retailers can offer items that can't be found in the chain stores. "You can't ignore that the consumer really wants something different and something their friends haven't seen," said Gaisford. Shows are working to promote this idea to retailers.

Pulse's Launchpad, a new designer showcase, doubled in size and offers original items from 100 fresh talents. At Margin, visitors can check out new designer labels in an area called Kreateur.

"There is a real spotlight on London due to the quality of designers showing here," said Simon Ward, head of operations for the British Fashion Council. He noted that London Fashion Week's New Generation and Fashion Forward showcases continue to launch budding designers into noteworthy careers.

Things are looking up for the area's most internationally known show. "London Fashion Week was all about building on initiatives that were put in place in September 2006," said Ward. "Estethica and Designers and Agents [sections] both increased in terms of size and quality," he continued, noting that U.K. buyers visiting the exhibition increased 20 percent at the last show. London Fashion Week will run Sept. 16 to 23.Playing off the seemingly insatiable demand for accessories, several shows are offering dedicated areas for the category. "Accessories can actually add quite a high profit margin for very little floor space in retail outlets," Moda's Mahon said. "It's quite an easy thing to introduce." Pulse will launch Collections, a jewelry show, in spring 2008.

Intimate Body and Beach, slated to run July 29 to 31 at the National Hall in Olympia, London, will also focus more on its accessories areas.

Other niche categories are showing growth potential as well. TBC organizers noticed an increase in brands exhibiting eco-friendly products. Premier Kids had five exhibitors offer certified organic garments at their January show, and Pulse's last show featured an eco-trail to lead visitors to the green exhibitors.

"We suddenly found our show had tons of companies doing fair trade, lots of people offering environmentally sourced, ethically produced products," said Pulse's Gaisford.

Trade shows are exploring new Internet marketing strategies to keep their regular visitors interested and reach out to a new audience.

Moda will produce an e-broadcast for buyers, to give updates on important show information, and Intimate Body & Beach developed a special section of its Web site (intimate-london.com) so buyers can preview the exhibitors. Streetwear show Margin and trendy LondonEdge both have launched MySpace pages to display press releases and photos, and to network.

The increased Internet presence does not mean trade shows will abandon the educational seminars and classes that draw many to the convention centers. At the next Pulse, Josa Young of British Vogue magazine will present a seminar on fashion trends, and buyers can also undergo "retail surgery" and learn marketing tips from business experts.

Salon International's Salon Business Extra will offer professional advice to salon owners and managers during the show's Oct. 13 to 15 edition in London.

Many shows are offering buyers and exhibitors a place to kick back and relax after a long day. TBC visitors can enjoy a West Indian barbecue, while visitors to Moda can head to happy hour. "So much business is done when they're just talking to each other," Moda's Mahon said.

Pulse hired an interior designer to transform the show to "make sure it looks and feels good," Gaisford said. A bar, cafe and ice cream stand will help to set the mood. "We're trying to say to people that this isn't a chore. Don't make it a chore."

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