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In the Swim

San Diego fairs focus on swimwear and outdoor apparel.

SAN DIEGO — There’s plenty of change afoot in San Diego’s trade show scene, which centers around the Action Sports Retailers Trade Expo and Agenda trade show.

This story first appeared in the December 5, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

For 2008, beginning with the Jan. 24 to 26 shows at the San Diego Convention Center and San Diego Concourse, respectively, both will adopt Thursday to Saturday schedules to accommodate large chains like Macy’s West and Pacific Sunwear that prefer to send buying teams out during the week, as well as smaller stores who need to attend trade shows on weekends. “This will make traffic more consistent over three days, and will eliminate the slow day of Sunday,” said ASR show director Andy Tompkins.

ASR’s most recent show, in September 2007, saw a 15 percent increase in the number of buyers over 2006, swelling from 5,756 to 6,601. In addition, approximately 200 online retailers were also in attendance.

However, the number of stores represented decreased 3 percent compared with the previous year, which points at two retail trends.

“I believe these figures support the fact that while the action sports category continues to increase in size and popularity, retail consolidation continues to be a factor,” said Tompkins. “In particular, PacSun, Zumiez, Active, Industrial Ride, The Buckle, No Fear, Macy’s, Nordstrom, etc., are commanding more of the open-to-buy dollars, and are opening more storefronts.”

This also suggests that some independent specialty retailers may be having a hard time competing against larger corporations and are going out of business.

But within growing buying categories such as swim and women’s apparel boutiques, numbers are growing.

At the September 2007 show, swim buyers increased by approximately 45 percent (442 buyers versus 304 buyers), and they were shopping more than 100 swim brands, more than in recent years.

Boutique buyers increased by 53 percent in September 2007 (1,379 buyers versus 898) and 61 percent in January 2007 (1158 buyers versus 720). Both increases point to the macro trend of more retailers adding swim to their mix and retailers and consumers embracing the current fashion cycle in apparel.

Dates for ASR’s smaller holiday show are set for May 28 to 29 at the Orange County Exposition Center in Costa Mesa, Calif. About 150 companies participate in the show, which is geared toward order-writing rather than marketing.

“We are going to hear from some brands this is too late, but I think the retailers do like to have a little time to see what sells through and get their strategies together and start looking at holiday aggressively,” said Tompkins.

For 2008, ASR has revamped its paper catalogue, the LineUp, into a digital format that allows exhibitors to submit more materials closer to show time, and which also comes out a month earlier in December.

“We are making it more of a tool for buyers. The idea is a robust digital resource than can be accessed any time,” said Tompkins.

The show is also putting more emphasis on the printed show preview, which came out just after Thanksgiving, and is creating a daily fax for each day of the show.

The creative arts at ASR continue to be very much on display. “ASR is very committed to incorporating music and art into the show experience because these mediums are having a huge influence on action sports brands and product,” said Tompkins.

Emphasizing the arts was the founding m.o. of Agenda four years ago. Today, the show has grown to feature between 150 and 250 brands For 2008, Agenda will also occupy San Diego Concourse’s upstairs space, which makes room for an additional 70 vendors. Total exhibition space will increase from 25,000 square feet to 40,000 square feet.

Agenda aims to add about 20 to 30 new brands, including women’s and European labels, to its mix. Women’s and juniors buyers at Agenda have increased 10 percent over the past year.

“Definitely there’s a demand for women’s clothing with streetwear being a men’s wear-driven business. Anyone offering unisex or women-only clothing stands out,” said Agenda founder Aaron Levant, adding unisex vendors now make up over 30 percent of exhibitors.

Another change is the addition of private meeting spaces off the show floor. “We need to accommodate the serious people coming here,” he said.