U.K. event organizers persevere in spite of obstacles.
LONDON — Despite universal complaints of a tough economy in the aftermath of the July 7 terrorist attacks, British trade show organizers believe they may have found a formula for growth: perseverance.
And the trade show industry needs to stay determined. The U.K. trade show lineup is slimmer than last year, and those that remain have a number of obstacles to overcome, such as the strong British pound, the end of China's textile quotas and fears of future terrorist attacks.
"It's tough at the moment," said John Wilson, an organizer of London Fashion Week, to be held Feb. 15-19 at London's Natural History Museum. "We've had problems due to the attacks and the weak dollar. It just isn't good for business."
Eye2Eye, an international show, closed up shop following the cancellation of its September event, two months after the London attacks.
Salon International canceled its spring show, due to heightened competition, largely with itself. "Most of our exhibitors are keen to spend their marketing budget in the fall, rather than split their spend over the two shows," said a show spokesman. Salon International's fall show reported record attendance this year, with more than 42,000 attendees visiting booths spread over 230,000 square feet.
Intimate Body and Beach is staging only a summer show this year, citing a "highly cluttered" February calendar. The only spring weekend available to them would have been Valentine's Day weekend, a very busy time for lingerie retailers.
Although the spring lineup may appear lean due to show mergers, representatives say these bigger, more varied shows are a sign of prosperity, not economic peril.
For Attention Of has fused with To Be Confirmed. The two shows, which have been steadily coming together over the last few years, will be known simply as TBC, which is scheduled to be held Feb. 12-13 at London's Tobacco Dock.
Similarly, Londonedge (Feb. 4-6 at Olympia 2) will now serve as the new umbrella for the shows Londonedge, London Central and London Front Cover, which used to take place simultaneously, and Footwear U.K. has joined with Moda to become Moda Footwear.Shows that rely heavily on international buyers were hard hit by the July 7 bombings. TBC traditionally has counted a third of its buyers as international, and its August show saw a 20 percent drop in attendance, largely due to the attacks. But TBC is bouncing back this February with a new venue — and twice as much exhibition space.
Terrorism jitters had less of an effect on shows with predominantly local attendance, but consumer uneasiness is a universal poison. Although it is "a very European show," Premier Kids may be particularly hurt by general economic sluggishness. Supermarkets like Tesco are gaining a larger piece of the children's wear market, in particular because they rely on lower-priced fabrics from China.
"There's a slowdown in terms of consumer spending, and when budgets are strained, kids' wear is the first thing to be cut out of the picture," as mothers become more price-conscious, a Premier Kids representative said.
Still, Premier Kids is preparing for its biggest-ever show from Jan. 29-31, at the National Exhibition Center in Birmingham, with space soaring 10 percent to
almost 70,000 square feet.
During trying times, success for trade shows often comes down to
ingenuity. As Wilson from London Fashion Week explained, "We have to work that much harder."
Popular fairs, such as Premier Kids, Pure Womenswear and Moda, have all reached the same conclusion about achieving growth: The keys to success include increasing short-order options, grouping exhibitors into sections, offering opportunities for education and diversifying to respond to increased demand in new sectors such as footwear.
Short-order options, nicknamed "fast fashion" because items can be delivered in less than a month, are becoming increasingly popular as retailers try to gauge consumer demand before committing to purchases.
"The market is quite volatile, and so in order to survive, many are taking less risks," said Linda Lademan, marketing director at the Textile Forum, a "boutique-style" trade show held March 15-16 at London's The Music Room. "People are focusing on buying smarter."
The trend toward grouping exhibitors into common-interest sections is almost universal and has proved key to the success of shows like TBC, Pure and Professional Beauty 2006. At its last show, Professional Beauty divided its exhibitors into sections, under eight headings that included tanning, nails and spa."Buyers often go to a show and know what they want to see, but they have to waste time walking around and trying to find it," said a spokeswoman for Professional Beauty 2006. "This time they were able to go straight to their area of interest, and because they saved time finding what they knew they wanted, they had extra time to shop for other things," she added.
The success of the division has prompted Professional Beauty 2006 planners to consider adding a ninth section to its March 5-7 show, held at the ExCel Exhibition Center.
Footwear is another big story this winter. Almost all shows — from Premier Kids to TBC, Pure and Moda — are dedicating more space to shoes.
As stated above, Moda has merged with Footwear U.K., and will debut Moda Footwear at its show, held Feb. 19-21 at the National Exhibition Center. Footwear will occupy 5,000 square feet of Moda's 193,750-square-foot total.
Pure's approximately 6,000-square-foot growth is largely due to the expansion of its footwear section, which will feature more than 40 brands. Footwear will be the focus of one of TBC's two new sections, while the other will be dedicated to up-and-coming labels with a smaller price tag.
Almost across the board, shows are expanding their missions to include education, and aim to serve attendees through the sharing of information as well as through product offerings. For example, Moda will give legal clinics, while Premier Kids will hold a discussion on issues involved in running a kids' store. Show planners hope this programming ups the incentive to attend.
Professional Beauty held eight educational seminars at its last show, up from three, and will boast at least eight at its March show.
And if education doesn't appeal, there's always entertainment. The Harrogate Lingerie and Swimwear Exhibition (Feb. 26-28 at the Harrogate International Center) continues to stage catwalk shows to spotlight key trends, and Londonedge plans to include a range of dance and theatrical acts to generate interest.
"I was driving back on Saturday afternoon from the beach, and I just saw this sign saying 'Skydiving for $95.' And I was like, I can't not sky dive for $95," says Tom Bateman about a moment in Hawaii while shooting "Snatched." #wwdeye (📷: @victoriastevens; Interview by @ktauer; Styled by @thealexbadia)