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Trade Show Shake-Ups Stress Buyers

This New York trade show season — which pushed most of the shows up two weeks, positioned others on top of each other and broke off others into March — took its toll on buyers.

This New York trade show season — which pushed most of the shows up two weeks, positioned others on top of each other and broke off others into March — took its toll on buyers.

When ENK International moved Coterie to Feb. 10 to 12, pressing against Project Las Vegas, smaller shows in Manhattan had to decide whether to move up as well and squeeze between New York Fashion Week and Coterie — as Designers & Agents, Train and Platform 2 did — or break off to run on their own later — the tactic adopted by Nouveau Collective, Moda and AccessoriesTheShow.

Once the shows decided their strategies at the end of 2007, buyers were forced to make their own choices this year: Can they afford to be out of their store in February for both New York and Las Vegas shows? With D&A and Coterie overlapping, how do contemporary-oriented buyers divide their time? Do they write orders at shows on Feb. 11, before seeing the trends from the European runways — and before spring lines are even in their stores? Do better buyers return to New York in March for Moda?

Bonnie White, owner of an Atlanta women’s specialty store, was not pleased with the turn of events this year. For one, she skipped Moda “because it happened in March,” opting instead to go to the Atlanta market “where 95 percent of those vendors show.”

She was equally displeased with the earlier scheduling of Coterie and the other shows. “It was too early to switch your brain into fall,” White said. “We just got done with the last fall markdowns, and spring hadn’t started coming into the stores. Because it was so early, I just went to the vendors I traditionally go to and didn’t have my mind open enough to go to new vendors, which is the lifeblood of stores like mine. Coming that close to the January business is not good for your head, and I’d like the shows to go back to toward the end of February.”

Mechelle DeLuca, manager and assistant buyer of women’s apparel store Our Place in Charlotte, N.C., had to cancel her usual visits to Las Vegas and New York for Moda.

“There are too many shows — it’s almost discouraging,” DeLuca said. “I usually go to Moda, and if it had been at the same time as Coterie, it would have worked. But we can’t come back up that many times.”

DeLuca said she didn’t leave any paper at the February shows, because “we are still trying to get a feel for what’s going on in the economy and market.”

Kathy Bradley-Riley, senior vice president of merchandising at The Doneger Group, the New York-based consulting, trend analysis and merchandising organization, said this year’s divided market “splintered everybody’s focus.”

During the compressed schedule of trade shows in New York between New York Fashion Week and the Las Vegas trade shows, Bradley-Riley said stress was up. “It becomes a very intense few days where buyers are all running around trying to get a lot accomplished,” she said. “Plus, it’s very difficult for people to be traveling every few weeks, and when retailers do travel, they want to get as much accomplished as possible. We would like to see more pulling together of the shows.”

But this season’s show schedule was not without fans.

“Coterie being on the weekend was probably the best thing that ever happened,” said Lee Zwick, owner of Elegance by Edyth, a series of eight shops on a single block in Philadelphia. “For local stores as busy as mine, it’s great dividing the shows into separate weekends. I’m closed on Sundays, so I could spend a Sunday at Coterie and a Sunday at Moda, and more time in the store.”

Zwick said he wrote a little more with his larger open-to-buy “because I was not as harried.”

As a store owner who lives near Manhattan, Wendy Blitz, owner of Be Wendy, a women’s apparel and accessories shop in Great Neck, N.Y., appreciated Moda being held on a separate weekend from other shows.

“I hate when they do the shows the same day, and you are on buses going back and forth,” said Blitz. “I would prefer them to be separate, like this year.”

But that doesn’t mean it was an ideal trade show season for Blitz. She said she found Moda and AccessoriesTheShow small and uncompelling, and that the other shows were too early. “I wasn’t even getting my spring arrivals yet, and I didn’t have the head for fall yet,” Blitz said.

At D&A, traffic was slightly up, according to organizer Ed Mandelbaum. “Maybe there was a little more note taking as opposed to orders, but really it was pretty much business as usual,” Mandelbaum said, adding he was pleased to see ENK has already posted its September dates.

Mandelbaum’s D&A partner, Barbara Kramer, said 11th-hour rescheduling of the shows stressed her buyers and exhibitors.

“Normally, D&A runs three days in advance of Coterie to give buyers enough time to do both separately, and we only had one day in advance this time, so the buyers were frenzied,” Kramer said. “The pressure on the buyer to be able to do their work was tenfold because they couldn’t take their time.”

Kramer added that many of her exhibitors didn’t have their full collections ready for the earlier-than-usual show. “A lot of our designers had a hard time getting ready,” Kramer said. “These designers lay out their plans eight months in advance, and these dates were changed just months before market.”

Business Journals Inc., which owns Moda, gathered feedback after its March show to garner buyer and exhibitor response to the separate show.

“Three messages were clear: first, they don’t want the shows in New York to run over Las Vegas; second, a later time frame was much better for their schedule and, third, they want all the shows to be together,” said Sharon Enright, general manager of Business Journals. “So that’s what we want. We’d love to collaborate with other show organizers on selecting a week that suits the market best and running all the shows together. We proved we do have the ability to stand on our own, but that’s not what we want to do if there’s another way.”

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