SoCal Fairs Shuffle the Deck

New expos come to town, and established ones spruce up.

The Los Angeles International Textile Show.

LOS ANGELES — Looking to attract buyers and exhibitors in the competitive U.S. trade show scene, Southern California fairs are adjusting to shifts in the retail market and capitalizing on their roots and local talent.

This story first appeared in the December 7, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.


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From downtown Los Angeles to the coastal cities of Santa Monica and Long Beach, trade shows in Southern California are constantly shifting their calendars, venues and strategies — all in effort to appeal to vendors and retailers who themselves must adapt to the fluctuating economy and changing consumer habits.

Following its decision two years ago to stop holding its August edition in New York, Designers & Agents is cancelling its August 2012 show in Los Angeles. Traditionally a small event held the week before MAGIC International’s huge confab in Las Vegas, the August D&A is “really the slowest of the year,” said D&A co-founder Ed Mandelbaum.

Moreover, Agenda is moving to the Long Beach Convention Center from the Anaheim Convention Center for what it said will be its largest show ever. Scheduled for Jan. 5 and 6, Agenda expects to welcome more than 10,000 attendees to check out 500-plus brands in its new venue measuring nearly 250,000 square feet. It will introduce new segments dedicated to longboard skateboarding and BMX bikes. Among the new women’s apparel and accessories brands expected to exhibit are Tokidoki and Von Zipper’s new women’s eyewear line called Dot Dash.

New expos are also popping up. Coeur, an accessories and home decor show, made its debut at Cooper Design Space in downtown Los Angeles last October with 54 exhibiting brands, including Bijules, Gabriela Artigas, Bliss Lau, Tom Tom and Heidi Merrick. Founded by Henri Myers and Lisa Elliot, Coeur will return to the Cooper for its second edition March 12 to 14.

GLM, the White Plains, N.Y.-based trade show organizer that owns some 15 events, including Surf Expo, the Las Vegas Antique Jewelry & Watch Show and the New York International Gift Fair, is extending its reach to California in July with a new show called Launch LA. Slated to occupy 35,000 square feet at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, Launch LA’s debut show on July 25 and 26 will display a medley of men’s and women’s apparel, footwear, apothecary, gadgets and accessories.

Launch LA hopes to set itself apart with a jury committee that includes Gotcha founder Michael Tomson and Jeff Yokoyama, founder of Pirate Surf, Modern Amusement and Generic Youth. The owners of hipster surf shop Saturdays Surf NYC — Josh Rosen, Morgan Collett and Colin Tunstall — are also on the jury. Despite its affiliation with surf pioneers, Launch LA rejects any comparisons to ASR Marketplace, the San Diego-based action sports trade show that Nielsen Expositions closed last year. To date, the jury has received around 40 applications, from men’s brand Howe, surf labels Lightning Bolt and Wellen, and women’s swim lines Tallow and Tavik Swimwear.

“It’s going to be a California lifestyle show,” said Josh Hunter, Launch LA’s head of sales and marketing. “For us, the number one objective, the most important thing, is we put the right buyers and the right media in the room.”

Also key to Launch LA’s success is its size. It’s limiting the number of booths to 150, in contrast to competing shows such as Agenda and MAGIC International’s Ride Unltd., which both attract tens of thousands of visitors to peruse hundreds of brands.

“When a show gets too big, brands get lost in the mix,” Hunter said. “You can’t see everybody.”

At the same time, being too boutique with unconventional show dates could pose a challenge, as it did for Class. After seven seasons, Class took a break from holding its Los Angeles-based trade show highlighting men’s and women’s premium denim and contemporary sportswear.

“We want this to be a true debut where people bring product and show it for the first time,” he said. “Rather than have it at the tail end, where [buyers] see everything five times, we want this to be the unveiling of pinnacle product.”

Innovative product is ultimately what buyers want to see at trade shows. California Market Center, which hosts the L.A. Majors Market, the Los Angeles International Textile Show, contemporary fashion market and other trade shows, is trying to seek equilibrium between apparel and other products. Its gift and home show increased the number of events to seven from five.

“We’ve been finding with the economy the way it is, fashion boutiques and specialty boutiques are not selling as much apparel and fashion as much as they want to,” said Alyson Bender, who handles public relations and marketing for the California Market Center. “That’s why we’re expanding the gift and home showcase in our building, offering more creative merchandising options.”

For its semiannual textile show, the California Market Center aims to push for more exhibitors from Latin America and grow the Korean pavilion now that the free trade agreement between South Korea and the U.S. has passed.