Byline: Georgia Lee

ATLANTA — Not content to play second fiddle to its sister show Bobbin World, the new Bobbin Americas aims to become a lean, mean event in its own right by zeroing in on the Western Hemisphere.
The show will make its debut Sept. 30 to Oct. 3 at the Georgia World Congress Center here. The event ushers in a new format for the long-established shows; Bobbin World will run every three years, and Bobbin Americas will be held in the interim years. Bobbin World made its initial bow last year.
At about half the size and space of the Bobbin World format, the Americas edition still offers machinery and technology, as well as fabrics, embroidery, trim and sourcing.
The event, run by Miller Freeman Bobbin Group, based in Dallas, is intended to focus particularly on buyers from Mexico and Latin America, areas that have become increasingly important apparel manufacturing regions in recent years.
The Apparel Show of the Americas, a Miami event sponsored by Bobbin that was phased out in 1997, has been folded into this show, said officials. Since U.S. apparel production has slowed in recent years, the show is trying to attract the entire sewn products industry, incorporating more nonapparel categories, such as home furnishings and automotives.
The smaller show will go on without some of the bigger machinery makers, like Juki and Singer, who now show only at the World edition.
But some machinery manufacturers plan to show at Bobbin Americas anyway, saying they need a yearly event.
Wilcox & Gibbs Inc., which sells Sunbrand sewing machinery and has software, embroidery, parts and machinery divisions, is one such company.
“Rather than pulling in our horns, we’re going full out,” said Maxwell Tripp, president and chief executive officer, Wilcox & Gibbs. “Our broad-based company has new products every month, with a 180,000-item catalog. We need a yearly format, unlike strictly sewing machine companies with longer product development cycles.”
Commenting on the expected audience, Tripp said, “It’s not the international crowd of Bobbin World, but it’s still the big U.S. manufacturers, along with Mexico and the Caribbean, who are our main customers anyway.”
With CBI parity yet to pass Congress, Mexico continues to gain momentum as an apparel-manufacturing country, and is expected to be a key sourcing spot for Bobbin Americas visitors looking for new production venues.
Infrastructure improvements and better communications are making Mexico more attractive, said experts, although there still are concerns about the currency.
“The emphasis on Mexico now is overwhelming,” said Sergio Cruz, vice president and director of operations services at Kurt Salmon Associates, a worldwide consulting firm based in Atlanta, and a show exhibitor.
“U.S. companies are past the stage of setting up Mexico business just for cheap labor, and are moving into a more competitive environment based on who has the best technology and offers the best value.”
He added that established production in the Caribbean was still stable, although startups and reinvestments had lost ground to Mexico. “Parity has become the elusive dream,” he said. “It’s not a bilateral free-trade agreement, as NAFTA is, so without the political or policy tradeoffs, it’s been more difficult to pass.”
As U.S. apparel production continues to move offshore, technology for U.S. headquarters, offshore plants and contractors is more important than ever. Retailers, often deeply involved in private label programs themselves, continue to demand faster production turnarounds and better quality. So, not surprisingly, technology is expected to be a key segment at the show.
“Following the lead of Nike, U.S. firms are learning to rely more on contractors than company-owned plants,” said exhibitor Alan Brooks, president of New Generation Computer, a Miami software firm. His company will launch a new web-enabled application that allows it to control inventory over the Internet.
One of the hottest technology topics at Bobbin Americas will be collaboration, and new programs will allow companies to share information through all stages of the supply chain. Calling for collaboration in planning, forecasting and replenishment, these programs speed the entire process enormously, but are not without drawbacks, said Brooks.
“The technology is in place, but it exceeds the psychological and emotional questions,” said Brooks. “The question is one of trust — how far will companies go, how much information would companies be willing to share, especially where manufacturing and retailing roles increasingly overlap. Will potential competitors be willing to open up to each other?”
Another huge issue, for retailers and manufacturers, is e-commerce, with so many firms either selling online now or evaluating the potential.
“It’s no longer just the big companies, such as Wal-Mart, who have the capacity for e-commerce, that are considering it,” said Joe Hall, industrial manager, Prescient, an Atlanta consulting firm specializing in software applications for apparel. “Every brick-and-mortar retailer out there cannot afford to ignore it.”
There were 563 exhibitors, compared with 900 last year, at Bobbin World; Bobbin Americas officials hope for around 10,000 buyers, compared with 14,000 last year.