As Aaron Levant and team put the finishing touches on their ambitious effort to turn the trade show model on its head, the Agenda Show founder can’t help but note he’s come full circle.
The Agenda trade show for the action sports and streetwear industries will see its first consumer-facing component, Agenda Festival, next month. It’s been a long time in the making, but the it hardly strays from the roots Levant laid when he began putting together parties serving up music, food, beer and some limited edition shirts in Los Angeles. It wasn’t until 2003 that Levant, in a story well-known within the trade, launched the Agenda trade show in the back of a Long Beach Thai food restaurant. Ten years later, he struck a deal with Reed Exhibitions bringing Agenda into the event organizer’s fold.
“It’s funny, the case now that we’re coming full circle,” Levant said.
The regular Agenda Long Beach flagship show for the trade takes place July 13 and 14 and will set up Agenda Festival on the following day. It’s open to the public and features more than 500 pop-ups along with athlete meet-and-greets, skate contests, panel discussions and food trucks. Ludacris and Tyler the Creator are among some of the day’s live acts. The company estimates Agenda Festival will pull anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 attendees. Trade show-registered buyers are welcome to bring their Southern California store employees to Agenda Festival, which is expected to account for about 2,000 to 3,000 people.
To hear Levant tell it, the need for a consumer-facing festival was obvious.
“There’s a dynamic shift going on in the world in general but specifically to talk about retail, wholesale and the way that brands interact with consumers directly, all these different changes are happening at an exponential rate,” he said.
It’s a different world than the one Levant entered into with Agenda and one that has rendered the idea of brands and buyers doing deals behind closed doors to plot what exactly the consumer sees in store six months down the line a bit arcane.
And the change is still coming: Levant said he’s unsure what trade shows will even look in three to five years.
The success of Agenda’s parent, Reed Exhibitions, with last year’s inaugural ComplexCon — a similar concept melding fashion, food, art and music for consumers — was a good indication of this general direction of the consumer and brought in more than 34,000 people. Levant also pointed to Reed’s New York Comic Con, which he said is a good example of creating an event around people’s affinity for pop culture. Most recently, it brought in about 187,000 attendees.
All of that begs the question of whether there’s still a point in the traditional trade show model.
“Absolutely there’s a need for it, but I think it looks and smells different from what it is today,” Levant said. “Right now there is a right-sizing of how many shows there are in the fashion space. We’ve seen the consolidation of Outdoor Retailer and SIA that makes a lot of sense. We’re going to see fewer shows that are more meaningful on a national and international level. Even us with Agenda, we stopped running our show in New York this year not because people weren’t coming in or we weren’t making money. That was a cognitive decision based on what our core ideals and beliefs are.”
To put it more succinctly, trade shows’ future for Levant include fewer shows that are shorter in length but more meaningful in content. The Agenda Long Beach show’s second day will see the show floor close down at 3 p.m. with the remainder of the day dedicated to a free conference for attendees sponsored by Shopify. It’s not a source of revenue for Agenda — except perhaps in sponsorships — but it’s about offering one more thing to buyers that makes the trip by plane or car worthwhile, Levant said.
“Right now we’re an experienced-based economy, and I think if you follow the data, people are spending less money on things and more on experiences. There’s so much digital noise out there. There’s a lot of great content but very seldom do people get the real experience,” Levant said. “So it’s about how can we open up to people and really let them engage.”
If all goes well, Agenda Festival will mark the start of another period of transition for Agenda with 2009 being the first major shift when the trade show struck out on its own after having been part of the now-defunct Action Sports Retailer trade show in San Diego. That year was the first Agenda Long Beach and was held in conjunction with the U.S. Open of Surfing.
“The idea of doing something consumer facing has always been there, but the last two years I’ve really been toying with it. The last six months obviously we’ve been executing on it, but since the day we made the deal with Reed Exhibitions that has been the thing we knew we were going to head toward,” Levant said. “That was why we wanted to work with them because even then I saw a flaw in the trade show model. We’re evolving to the future.”
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