TOKYO — As Japanese trade show groups battle business blues, they’re searching for innovative ways to lure buyers, especially from other Asian countries.

This story first appeared in the May 19, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Although Japan’s economy is showing some small signs of recovery, retailers are doing business in a challenging climate as consumers fret over their job security and financial futures. Clothing and textile makers — and, consequently, trade show organizers — are feeling the pinch.

“There is no clear sign of an economic pickup, but buyers are coming up with exciting products for when that day comes,” said Naoya Jita, a representative of the JFW-International Fashion Fair and Plug In fairs.

For the JFW-IFF, slated for July 21 to 23, applications from exhibitors are coming in slowly and some of the event’s regular exhibitors are opting for smaller, less expensive booths, said Jita, but he added nearly 200 of the fair’s 750 exhibitors will be new this year. “They expect a chance to do business,” he said, adding that new sponsors, such as Wired Cafe and Soup Stock Tokyo, two Japanese chains, should enliven proceedings this summer.

Casual apparel show Frontier saw fewer visitors at its February show than it did in September 2009. Takashi Yoshioka, a representative of the show, said he hopes things will be different for the next edition, Sept. 7 to 10. Frontier will run concurrently with the Tokyo International Gift Show. As an incentive for small businesses, Frontier will offer smaller exhibition booths that are about a third of the space and price as last time.

JFW-Japan Creation, the nation’s biggest textile show, is facing similar hurdles. Only 87 exhibitors attended the April edition of the show, down from 140 at the previous edition. Organizers blamed the economy for the drop. The next edition will take place Oct. 13 to 15 at Tokyo Big Sight.

Mutsuko Tatsukami, a spokeswoman for JFW-Japan Creation, said it plans to continue its collaborations with Japanese designers this fall. The April show showcased the work of designers such as Sachio Kawasaki, Shida Tatsuya, Yu Amatsu and Akane Utsunomiya.

Rooms, a fashion and accessories show, has been succeeding — or at least holding its own — in the downturn. The February edition drew 14,000 visitors, even with the last show. The next Rooms will be Aug. 31 to Sept. 2.

Mika Sato, producer and director of the 10-year-old trade show, acknowledged conditions in Western markets are difficult, but growth elsewhere in Asia can at least partially offset that situation.

Trend-oriented fair Plug In also is seeing success. Organizers hope to have 10 percent more visitors than the 1,740 who attended in April.

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