By  on January 10, 2002

NEW YORK -- In line with the country's restrained mood and concern about spending, activewear makers who head to this month's Super Show in Las Vegas will be going for the softer sell.

Instead of building massive booths loaded with products, laser lights and throbbing music, athletic companies are leaning toward understatement. This time around, the spotlight will be on select styles in spaces that look like they belong in a trade show, not a shopping mall. As another way of shaving expenses, brands such as Prince, New Balance, Nike and Puma aren't taking as many staffers to the show.

Other companies, like Reebok International and Nike, will have a limited presence. Reebok chairman and chief executive officer Paul Fireman will speak Jan. 20 at Financial Day, the annual precursor to the three-day show at the Sands Expo Center.

Later that night, Nike will stage its own presentation nearby at the Hard Rock Cafe for a few hundred retailers, analysts and media types. The focus will be on apparel, basketball, World Cup soccer and active-inspired looks, a Nike spokeswoman said. The brand has no plans for any show-stopping displays packed with high-profile athletes.

"Our space this year is literally four or five meeting rooms right off the exhibition floor," the spokeswoman said.

George Horowitz, president and ceo of Everlast Worldwide, said he wished more activewear makers would be turning out for the show.

"Our business is really good, but we always like competition," Horowitz said. "I'm disappointed that more sports-oriented apparel companies are not going to show. That doesn't show the kind of support this industry needs."

For the first time, Everlast will house its activewear, accessories and equipment in the same booth. All that is possible since Active Apparel Group, the brand's former apparel licensee, purchased the worldwide licensing rights for the brand this past fall. Now, the company will occupy 2,500 square feet, compared with 1,500 square feet last year.

Boxing great Sugar Ray Leonard will sign autographs at the Everlast booth on Jan. 21 and 22, and the Denver Nuggets' dancers will perform and demonstrate some aerobic boxing. The latter will be working out in items from Everlast's fall activewear line.Horowitz said technical looks and yoga-inspired styles, like loose-fitting pants with a drawstring waistband, will be the focuses at the show. Using some of its design know-how and color sense has helped improve packaging and the overall look of Everlast's nonapparel merchandise, he added.

Fila is one of the brands that is returning to the show after sitting it out for a few years. Jonathan Mayer, director of specialty sales and emerging businesses, said the company is coming back since so many of its targeted accounts will be there. Fila aims to build its specialty store base to 750 from 500 by the end of the year, he said.

Unlike in the early Nineties, when Super Show booths rivaled the fanfare and expense of freestanding stores, this time around Fila is taking a low-key approach. The company will be focusing on its performance-oriented tennis apparel, and some running attire and licensed Ferrari apparel and footwear. In addition to drastically scaling back the amount of merchandise to be shown, the company will have a 600-square-foot booth.

Mayer decided to go the simpler route -- focusing on product instead of hype -- after seeing companies like Reebok and K-Swiss take a similarly understated approach at the Pitti Uomo trade show in Florence, Italy, in November. Retailers are also in a no-nonsense mood and should appreciate the no-frills pitch, he said.

"Even with a mammoth company, why not focus on the performance aspect of a brand?" Mayer asked.

Since Fila-sponsored Jennifer Capriati will be defending her title at the Australian Open taking place at the same time of the Super Show, it should help keep the tenniswear in the forefront in buyers' and consumers' minds, Mayer said.

"The fact that she's not an ideal model size, but is seen all over the world wearing our product, helps us sell products," he said. "People look at that and say, 'These guys get it. They understand you don't have to be a size 2 to wear their product."'

Prince is another tennis brand playing up on-court apparel. But the brand's booth space, offerings and show staff is considerably smaller than previous years. Instead of having hourly appointments, Lisa McConnell, director of apparel, said her show calendar is still fairly open."I don't have a ton of apparel appointments," McConnell said. "People are still afraid to travel. A lot of buyers used to combine this show with a vacation. Now if a trip is not necessary, they're not going. Our reps will have to get out on the road more."

Puma, which has built a steady following in recent years for its retro styles, also will be focusing on its performance apparel in more technical fabrics, a company spokeswoman said. Images of tennis star Serena Williams wearing the product will be posted in the Puma booth.

The company will continue to offer sporty, functional options, like a new ankle-length skirt with a drawstring waistband. The booth will be set up to resemble Puma's freestanding stores in Santa Monica, Calif., San Francisco and New York. In the late spring or early summer, a fourth location will bow on Boston's Newbury Street. Its nearly month-old New York store is doing "phenomenally," the spokeswoman said.

"For our brand, we're still taking a very aggressive approach, even though we have more limited products and retail distribution than other brands," the spokeswoman said.

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