While 2009 proved to be a challenge for all accessories categories — from eyewear and leather goods to fine jewelry — trade show executives aim to recapture attendance for 2010 by providing special initiatives and incentives for exhibitors and buyers alike.
This story first appeared in the December 1, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“One of the things we are most proud of with our performance in 2009 is that we were able to increase our attendance over the course of the year,” said Britton Jones, president and chief executive officer of Business Journals Inc., the Norwalk, Conn.-based organizer that produces AccessoriesTheShow. “The trade show business in general is down 10 to 15 percent, at least. So, while we didn’t have a big increase — about 3.9 percent — we were able to grow our attendance, which means we produced high-quality events and provided a great experience for exhibitors.”
Jones acknowledged that buyers walked the shows judiciously and were more selective about which shows they chose to attend. They also shopped closer to season.
To draw exhibitors to AccessoriesTheShow, Jones invested in a new medium called “Accessories the Network,” an in-house video channel on large displays that showcased product and booth information in high-traffic areas, such as the cafe, lounge and registration sites.
“In terms of our areas, we’ve put more effort and more money into decorating the front-of-house lounges and cafes, creating an environment that people enjoy being in, and where exhibitors and buyers have everything they need at their disposal,” Jones said.
Moving into 2010, Jones hopes to increase attendance by 4 percent in the first quarter. He is also focused on attracting retailers from international markets, especially Canada, Mexico and Japan, which sent the largest delegations this year. His team is marketing the show in international publications, online and at international trade shows.
In March, Vision Expo East held its annual trade show at New York’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. Tom Loughran, event director for Reed Exhibitions and International Vision Expos, which coproduce the show, noted while attendance was down 11 percent, he was content with the results of the show, given the state of the market.
“We are the number-one optical trade show in the Americas and it’s an opportunity for the entire industry to get together in New York for one week, Loughran said. “[Participants] can network, build relationships and find sourcing at the show.”
To keep attendance high, Loughran’s team created a variety of programs to benefit buyers and brands, and enhanced some practices from previous years. The show’s Loyalty Program benefited attendees who’ve shopped the show from two to five years with a free lunch and other perks. For those who’ve attended for more than five years, the Club Vision Program offered free lunch in the lounge.
Next year, Loughran expects to provide educational programs for the optical industry as well.
Vision Expo East is also initiating a program called the Free Customer Invitation Program, where vendors can send a free show pass to customers and receive $25 for each person who attends.
In terms of buying patterns, Loughran acknowledged while the quantity of shoppers has dipped, the quality of buyers has risen, in the sense that “the right people are coming to show.”
“People who don’t need to be at the show because of cutbacks are back in the office, and the decision-makers are walking the floor,” Loughran explained.
The fine-jewelry circuit is gearing up for a rebound. Show executives for the JCK, Couture and JA New York shows are optimistic 2010 will fare better than the past two years and the organizations are already planning for the 2011 shows.
JCK Las Vegas, the largest jewelry trade show in the U.S., is plotting its change of venue from the Venetian Hotel & Resort and the Sands Expo Convention Center to Mandalay Bay for 2011. JCK Events industry vice president Yancy Weinrich has already made agreements for the 2011 edition.
Weinrich said 1,800 of the show’s 2,500 exhibitors have signed up for 2010 and 2011. “It’s been difficult in the luxury and jewelry market…but we have a lot to work on,” said Weinrich. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
For its June 4 to 7 event, JCK has conducted focus groups with retailers to help improve the show floor. There will be more educational conferences and meet-the-designer events so retailers and designers can exchange ideas, as well as roundtable discussions.
“We’re trying to focus a lot on the retailers,” said Weinrich, who noted the JCK will continue its VIP buyer program in which buyers are given a $1,000 credit at any booth once they place an order. In 2009, the program cost JCK $360,000.
The move to Mandalay in 2011 comes in tandem with JCK’s 20th anniversary. JCK will occupy 80 percent of Mandalay’s 4,500 rooms and the entire convention facility, creating more of a campus environment.
Mandalay is also closer to City Center, the massive hotel, shopping and entertainment complex that opens this month.
For Couture, the exclusive annual Las Vegas trade show that takes place at the Wynn, there are many challenges, but show director Lee Arevian is keen on meeting them.
“As the premier luxury brand show, Couture is often reflective of the same challenges and opportunities our brands face,” said Arevian. “Being in Las Vegas during Market Week, for instance, has forced us to constantly balance the fine line between being accessible and exclusive at the same time.”
The June 3 to 7 edition of Couture includes large luxury fine jewelers such as David Yurman, Judith Ripka and Slane & Slane.
To deal with economic hardships, Couture has employed several strategies, like lowering prices on exhibitor packages, adjusting the booth deposit schedule to help with cash flow issues and improving amenities, including dining and entertainment, with no additional charge, said Arevian.
“In these uncertain times, we’re all looking…for a touchstone that represents consistency and commitment,” he said. “We want to make sure that when you enter Couture, you know exactly where you are and that you can depend on seeing the best luxury brands in the best environment. We have to scrutinize every dollar that we spend, but we still have to continue to spend those dollars to build our product.”
However, Arevian said, there are bright lights. The Couture designers, he said, are offering unique and creative pieces using alternative materials such as oxidized metals and geodes. “We’re…hearing our designers having success with their custom pieces — consumers who are still spending money on high-end jewelry are looking for pieces that are still classic and of understated quality.”
Drew Lawsky, JA New York group show director, is continuing to make the JA shows easier for retailers by securing discounts on hotels and parking rates, among other expenses. The firm will move the JA New York Winter Show from early January to a three-day show culminating on March 2.
“In surveying our retailers and exhibitors, [we found] most felt like the later time frame, when retailers have a chance to assess their inventory needs, would be [more convenient],” said Lawsky.
The summer and October special delivery shows will remain the same. Other services that will continue in 2010 are a happy hour at the summer show and JA’s Design Lab, in which fledgling designers can showcase their wares in smaller, less expensive booths.