NEW YORK’S FULL PLATE
Byline: Dianne Pogoda
NEW YORK — On certain weekends at the start of a major season, apparel retailers have upward of a half-dozen trade shows competing for their attention here.
The locales range from intimate hotel venues to the vast acreage of a convention center, and the pace indicates New York’s continued draw as a trade show center. The upcoming year promises another well-packed schedule, with producers’ spirits lifted by two developments over the last 12 months — labor reforms at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and a cut in the city’s hotel tax.
Both, say show producers, are producing desired results, in terms of promoting a positive image for the city and bringing lower costs.
The hotel tax reform, which sliced taxes amounting to 6 percent from the price of hotel rooms of $100 or more, has been in effect for a little more than a year. And because of changes in hiring practices and union rules at the Javits Center, labor costs at the trade show sites are down roughly 10 to 15 percent, depending on the particular requirements of each show.
The most important result of a Pataki administration initiative to clean up alleged hiring corruption at the center here has been an improved attitude among its workers, according to executives who produce trade shows at the giant facility. They say the prevailing pleasant environment is no longer intimidating, making it much easier to do business, and costs have come down in some areas. Also significant, the rules are clearer and easier to follow.
Last July, Gov. George E. Pataki came to the center with a list of reforms for hiring practices in the unions that work at the convention facility. The plan was also intended to lower costs, improve efficiency and make for more cordial dealings with the workers.
“I applaud what the administration has done,” said Vincent Schimel, show manager of the annual Private Label Expo and the twice-yearly NAMSB men’s sportswear show at the Javits Center. “They have a handle on the activities. They changed fundamental rules, such as rules of overtime, and the rates for certain jobs. And they’ve put a smile on the faces of the workers there.”
He explained that prior to the intervention by the state, rules for work at shows were strict and difficult to follow, if not always strictly enforced, and cost exhibitors a lot of money because certain jobs could only be performed by certain tradesmen. There were also complicated rules of overtime.
“Now, it’s much clearer about when regular rates are paid and when overtime kicks in,” he said. “The rules are enforced now. But I’d rather have a more lenient rule enforced than complicated rules that were lax.”
Schimel said while there have been cost savings in certain functions, the Javits Center now tacks on a surcharge to work done. This was an effort to make the center profitable, and it seems to be working. Just what effect the new profits will have on other costs at the center remains to be seen, he added.
“Since the Javits Center now makes some money, it has the opportunity to be a little kinder to exhibitors or service providers,” he said. “For example, if the center allows some of its service companies, like show decorators, to have lower costs, perhaps those groups will pass the savings on to show producers, who can then cut costs for their exhibitors. We’ll see what happens.”
Jonathan Larkin, vice president of the Larkin Group, said one of the major benefits of the improved conditions at the Javits Center has been the mostly positive press it has received.
“That creates a very upbeat sentiment about the Javits Center and about coming to New York to do business,” he said.
Larkin said some prices, such as the cost for drayage, have come down. Operations have been streamlined as a result of personnel changes at the center, and the attitude of the workers is “upbeat and professional.” He added that exhibitors at his shows have noticed the difference in the manner of the workers and that they seem “very pleased” with the new regime.
“We’re also happy with the proactive business stance that the Governor and Mayor Giuliani have,” he said. “They’re making it better to do business here.”
The Larkin Group sponsors a number of trade shows, including the International Fashion Boutique Show, the International Fashion Fabrics Exhibition and the International Kids Fashion Show. The company often runs them at the same time — it’s a good way to draw cross-traffic, Larkin said.
“It’s helpful, when you’re promoting shows to potential attendees from outside New York City, when you can make their trip more cost-effective by offering more,” he said, “whether it’s fabric for manufacturers or retail goods for stores.”
“We’re very positive about the changes,” said Jeff Little, president of George Little Management, which produces several retail-oriented shows at the Javits Center, such as the Visual Merchandising and Display Show. “It’s a totally new environment. The comfort level is much greater. Costs are lower, but the environment is much friendlier, and that’s very important. There used to be a ‘New York taxi driver’ attitude here. There was no recognition that the people in the aisles and the exhibitors were customers, who we wanted to come back.”
Little said one of the key reforms has been that fewer workers are now involved in a single task. Before the initiative, it took three workers to set up a booth: one to bring in the furniture, one to assemble the drapery frame and one to hang the drapery, he explained. There are also more hours billed as straight time, instead of overtime. And previously, the shows had to pay to have workers hanging around just in case any deliveries might be made after hours. That’s no longer the case.
While the shows all have different labor requirements, which makes it difficult to pin down a precise amount of savings, Little estimated that prices have come down 10 to 15 percent, as a rule.
“There will be a measurable increase in the number of attendees as a result of all the cost savings and the friendlier atmosphere,” said Little.
Not all trade shows in Manhattan are at the Javits Center, of course. Quite a few are at hotels — including such fabled names as The Plaza and the Waldorf-Astoria — while another convention venue, the New York Coliseum, has reentered the apparel trade show scene.
Marshall Lester, president of International Fashion Shows, next year is moving one of his company’s shows, New York Premier Collections, from the Javits to the Coliseum. Last season he moved the International Jeanswear and Sportswear Show to the Coliseum from its former home in Miami Beach.
Moreover, with the upcoming season, the shows will run concurrently for the first time, on Feb. 24-26.
Lester said the reason for moving the shows was that the location of the Coliseum is more accessible. Buyers and exhibitors said they preferred the Central Park South site, where there is a subway stop and parking, as well as plentiful taxis, an easy walk to restaurants and hotels where many out-of-town executives stay, he said.
Like the Larkin Group, Lester said there was a definite advantage to running two shows together.
“The synergy of putting two shows together creates cross-traffic and more business for everyone,” he said. “Senior management that might have come only to the Jeanswear show, for example, might stop by Premier Collections, and vice versa.
“For local and Tri-State buyers, coming into Manhattan is not a real inconvenience,” he added. “But for out-of-towners, it maximizes the effectiveness of a trip to be able to see many exhibitors at once.”
ENK Productions, which stages a series of shows at The Plaza, is another show producer that has taken a similar route of concurrent shows. Last year it developed a show called Intermezzo Collections, giving buyers the opportunity to place orders either earlier or in between its major apparel Fashion Coterie shows. The Intermezzo shows run concurrently with ENK’s fashion accessories shows called Accessorie Circuit.
Niche shows are the speciality of other producers as well. Patricia Tubiana, director of Very Important Productions, produces the Showroom and Hot Lines shows at the Rihga Royal Hotel.
“We limit the number of exhibitors at our shows,” she said, noting that each show has only about 200 resources. “We confine the roster to better-quality designers from around the country that don’t have representation in New York.
“We try to give a unique offering to the specialty store, and by doing that we build loyalty among our buyers,” she said.
She said one problem with some of the shows is that they are produced by companies that are in other businesses as well. “They come one season and they’re gone the next, and this creates confusion among visiting buyers,” she said.
Non-Stop, a sister company to VIP, which is the actual producer of the Hot Lines show, will host editions in Dallas and Los Angeles next year. The Dallas Hot Lines will be held during market weeks at the International Apparel Mart there, March 21-23 and Oct. 18-20.
Hot Lines is slated to be held in Los Angeles, at a hotel, in April and November, although Tubiana said she could not provide further details.
Meanwhile, in a turnabout-is-fair-play situation, The California Mart in Los Angeles is bringing a show to New York. The Mart, in conjunction with 50 West Coast contemporary resources, has announced the formation of a new trade show, West Coast Collective, which will run at the Waldorf-Astoria Jan. 6-9 and is expected to spotlight a group of 50 West Coast contemporary resources, giving them a collective presence.
A group of such resources, including manufacturers and independent reps, formed a special review board and approached the Mart last month. It has also approached a group of potential exhibitors to form the initial show.
“We had no plans for producing a show in New York. However, we just couldn’t pass up this opportunity,” said Ruth McKeown, executive director of marketing at the Mart.