Byline: Rose-Marie Turk

LAS VEGAS — The first Bobbin Spring Expo was marked by lighter than expected attendance, a strong showing of machinery and services and the promise of a return engagement.
The three-day expo ran through March 17 at the Sands Expo and Convention Center here. The show is aimed at building a regional presence in the Southwest and West Coast for the Bobbin Show, which stages its big annual effort in September in Atlanta.
Despite predictions of 3,000 to 4,000 visitors, the final tally of 2,870 was considered a respectable beginning by exhibitors and show management. A spokeswoman said the Bobbin Show didn’t hit 3,000 until its sixth year; at the 36th edition, held last Sept. 12-15, there were about 27,000 visitors.
Manuel Gaetan, chief executive officer of Bobbin Blenheim, which produces the Bobbin shows, is already looking to next year’s Spring Expo, which, he said, was 23 percent booked within hours on opening day. Bobbin, he noted, surveyed approximately 10,000 industry suppliers and subscribers to determine the scope and location of its new venture. The resulting show targeted primarily small and mid-sized manufacturers in California, Arizona, Utah, Oregon and Texas. The focus, according to Gaetan, was on fabrics, trims and accessories, but many of the 160 booths offered machinery, software and services.
While sophisticated equipment, including EDI software packages, 20-head embroidery machines and a tagging gun with a motion said to combat the carpal tunnel syndrome effects of repetitive motion, were key attractions, there was considerable interest in the nuts and bolts. One of the show’s busier booths was Reuben’s, a Los Angeles area importer of sewing machines from Taiwan. Andres Rodriguez, vice president, said, with so much production now offshore, the family-owned company had recently changed its focus to court small makers of specialty items, such as handbags, banners and medical harnesses, many of them working out of their garages. Offering machines that could sew anything from lingerie to saddles, Rodriguez said, “I survive on the shirttails of the major companies. They say, ‘I’m not interested in a small sale.’ I am.”
Another exhibitor, Neil Shaw, director of RVL, Westlake Village, Calif., a manufacturer of apparel identification, including labels and hang tags, said he was pleased with the show and had been pushing for a regional event of this type. RVL was showing its new heat-sealed labels.
Generally, Shaw noted, his firm’s business was on the rise, showing an annual growth rate of 35 percent, with firms grading up their labels.
“It differentiates their apparel from someone else’s. When you’re looking at something on the rack, you’re not going to buy a $250 blouse with a shabbily designed label in it. We are there from the beginning, when the line is being designed. We’re dealing with chief executive officers, heads of merchandising, heads of design. The business has changed,” Shaw said.
Randy Youngblood, ceo of Apparel Resources Inc., a consulting firm in Yorba Linda, Calif., described the show as “very lightly attended,” but said he thought it had a future as a service-oriented event. His firm, he noted, began specializing a few years ago in contractor compliance and now conducts audits for 40 makers in Los Angeles and Orange counties.
ARI offers payroll and workman’s compensation services to contractors “so that manufactures have assurances the business is done right,” Youngblood said. At the expo, the company introduced an educational 30-minute video, available in five languages, for companies too far away to be serviced personally.
In the Sew Easy Fabrics booth, Mark Miller, vice president, reserved judgment on the show. As a stock house, he noted, the Jersey City, N.J.-based converter was able to supply manufacturers of swim, dance and activewear with goods immediately. “One reason we’re here is to establish a bigger presence on the West Coast,” Miller said. He said he had developed business with some customers who needed fabric quickly and had “certainly seen some important customers.”
Meeting shorter deadlines and increased retailer demands was very much on the mind of manufacturers perusing the booths, including Ron and Sonia Pope, owners of Big Front, Vernon, Calif., a company specializing in service uniforms. They were looking for an embroidery machine and equipment to inspect fabric.
“Profits are down. You have to cut corners and reduce like crazy,” Sonia Pope said, while her husband noted that the fabric inspection machine would “virtually pay for itself. You really have to be on top these day. Everyone is trying to slip through anything they can.”
Mel and Linda Horowitz, owners of Point Loma Embroidery in San Diego, were shopping the show for a new portable embroidery machine and said they were happy their visit had stirred up some bidding competition. Because of the light traffic, the equipment suppliers had ample time to spend with them, they noted. Their plan was to take the portable machine to boating shows, where they could fill embroidery requests on the spot.
“Years ago, embroidery used to be a status thing. Now it’s a leading form of advertising,” said Linda Horowitz.

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