At the turn of the New Year, trade show organizers are set to accelerate preparations for their next editions in Las Vegas, all while keeping one eye on the past and the other on the future.
Top-of-mind for not only the 19 fairs slated to stage their next events in February, but also the thousands of retailers and designers who attend the shows, are reflections on this year’s apparel sales. Recently released data from the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics exacerbated ongoing concerns that, despite saving money from cheaper gasoline, people weren’t spending on clothes. Consumer confidence declined further in November, following a moderate dip in October. The National Retail Federation forecast this year’s holiday sales to increase 3.7 percent, down from 4.1 percent last year.
Moreover, the heads of the trade shows also must track how radically the apparel, footwear and accessories industries are changing.
“We’re evolving,” said Aaron Levant, founder of Agenda Show. Once designated as trade-only affairs that operated strictly on a pre-booking, wholesale premise, expos such as MAGIC Marketplace, Liberty, Capsule, Women’s Wear in Nevada and Off-Price have shifted gears to emphasize women’s fashion that can be delivered immediately.
Bloggers and social media influencers also have been welcomed in droves to generate buzz among consumers who might not be patient enough to wait at least four months for the clothes to make their way from the trade show floor to retail floor.
Seizing the buy-now-wear-now momentum, some brands use the venues to launch marketing campaigns for items that will hit stores soon. More importantly, ever since the Great Recession, consumers have changed the way they shop — and retailers and manufacturers have changed the way they do business accordingly.
“Most people are starting to understand that the show experience is different than what it was in 2007, when they just showed up with their product in the booth and expected people to come and shop,” said Britton Jones, president and chief executive officer of BJI Fashion Group, which runs Stitch, AccessoriesTheShow and MRket. “Buyers are more time-starved than before. They have more on their plates than before.”
As a result, “the whole industry will think, ‘What is the purpose of the events?’” Levant said. “The dynamic and thinking will change over the next year or two.”
One constant is the importance of retailers to the trade shows. To entice, engage and educate this audience, executives are implementing a number of initiatives.
For the first time, BJI is offering to pay for the hotel rooms and in-town transportation for select buyers, stage fashion presentations with models, and in conjunction with MR magazine, host a panel of influencers to discuss what’s working in men’s wear.
Project is also on a mission to better inform buyers. Besides collaborating with WGSN on trend forecasts, it’s also organizing panels that reflect a “crossover point of view,” according to Tommy Fazio, president of retail fashion for UBM, who has purview over Project and The Collective.
For instance, some of the small specialty stores can’t afford to travel to Europe. “They want to know what is happening stylistically in men’s wear,” he said, adding that one of the pressing issues the speakers will address is how to keep up with department stores when they’re marking down early.
A learning curve also applies to manufacturers, especially in regard to the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership. Now that those countries’ trade ministers have given their seal of approval, Sourcing at MAGIC plans to educate executives from exhibiting factories and curious attendees on the intricacies of the historic trade deal. Trans-Pacific Partnership participants such as Vietnam, Chile, Peru and Mexico are certainly expected to present their production prowess with booths. Acknowledging that years can pass before the agreement is fully enacted, Christopher Griffin, president of sourcing at MAGIC, continues to promote other topics that are pertinent to manufacturing, such as artisan craftsmanship, wearable technology and domestic production.
“There’s still a ways to go [with the TPP],” he said. “For us, regardless, it’s something topical and relevant. We thought it would be a strong subject to drive attendance.”
A strong dollar is motivating foreign brands to come to WWDMAGIC. Tom Nastos, president of UBM’s women’s fashion, which includes WWD-MAGIC, Playground and Project Womens, expects a larger turnout from Europe and Asia. Plus, demand for children’s clothing and athleisure styles is on the rise. The space for kids’ brands in Playground will increase 50 percent and the area for activewear-centric Flex in Project Womens will grow about 15 percent with brands like Splits59 and Coliseum.
Despite technological advances that enable the digitizing of business previously reserved for trade fairs and showrooms, Nastos views in-person visits at the show as mandatory.
“The connectivity for the community between the brands and the retailers has to be physical,” he said. “You have to see the styles, touch the fabrics and, especially in women’s wear, you need someone to wear it.”