MIAMI — Until recently, regional trade shows barely registered a bleep on the retail radar.

But times have changed and Florida’s regional shows have developed an inherently strong resort niche, attracting regional, Caribbean and South American buyers who won’t travel to other markets. Both Florida’s regional and remaining national shows have increased marketing efforts and broadened show categories to stimulate rapid growth and capitalize on resort business.

Show organizers are taking advantage of problems elsewhere to garner more domestic and international business. Some are co-producing simultaneous events and adding categories to bring in more exhibitors, thereby offering a greater product mix to buyers. Show-hungry venues are pursuing growing regional shows in an attempt to fill schedules.

The Swimwear Association of Florida’s Cruise Show, held at the Radisson Centre and Miami International Merchandise Mart is the largest swim show in the world. SAF is firmly entrenched at the Miami Mart, has no plans to shop around, and is taking on additional third-floor glass showrooms to further expand its popular junior category.

Other national shows have been unable to attract large-scale buyers to Florida because they can’t draw major international exhibitors. For the most part they’ve moved to New York in an attempt to secure much-needed national, European and Canadian business. The Pan-American Leather Fair left the Miami Beach Convention Center this year when producer CMP Princeton folded it into Source International and moved the show to New York.

“Miami Beach looked like a logical place for us because the South Americans have a cultural affinity with Miami. That makes it a logical nexus for Central America, Mexico, South America and the Caribbean,” said Charles Myers,president of Leather Industries of America.

But the fair had suffered due to harsh economics within the leather industry and producers reorganized to provide a sourcing show in New York in hopes of attracting national and international buyers.

Messe Frankfurt’s two-year-old IntimaAmerica, which also launched at the Miami Beach Convention Center, couldn’t draw national retail business and moved to New York to be more competitive with international lingerie shows.

Material World producer Urban Expositions, based in Atlanta, uses the strategy of broadening product categories and double-teaming shows to garner increased attendance at its regional gift and accessories shows. A new Florida Division headed by executive director Donna Guess and educational seminars for attendees at regional shows evidence the company’s focus on this market.Urban Expo’s Gift and Accessories show in Miami, the state’s largest gift show, and similar shows in Panama City and Orlando have all added jewelry and fashion accessories categories. The Orlando Gift Show held at the Orange County Convention Center is now co-produced with the Jewelry and Accessories Expo. The OCCC in Orlando has attracted numerous other shows to Central Florida, including Urban Expo’s Premier Beauty Show slated for August, the Surf Expo in September and The Super Show in January.

Urban Expo acquired the Miami Gift Show in 1998, recently signed a 10-year contract for the Miami Gift & Decorative Accessories Market, added a resort merchandise component and has expanded the jewelry and accessories categories.

“We’re committed to the Miami marketplace,” said Doug Miller, president of Urban Expositions. “Our Miami shows have been building momentum each year and we feel there is still much room for growth.”

Urban Expos also took over the Panama City Gift and Resort Merchandise Show last year and will nearly double its size at the Boardwalk Beach Resort Convention Center. The company will launch its new Jewels Expo at the South Florida Exposition Center in Palm Beach this November.

General manager Maria Prado and owner George ZacZac also work with international trade bureaus to market their shows outside the U.S.

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