SURF EXPO, ASR TO VIE FOR B-T-S PAPER

Byline: Katherine Bowers

LOS ANGELES — This coast isn’t big enough for both of us.
That’s the sentiment of two action-sports-surf trade show organizers, Surf Expo and ASR, who are set to square off in March. They’re hosting back-to-back shows in Orange County, the suburban enclave an hour south of Los Angeles that’s home to much of the industry, and in the process, giving makers a difficult choice about which to patronize — or if they should hit both. Producers.
East Coast producer Surf Expo makes its California debut March 11-12 at the Anaheim Convention Center.
ASR, the sole producer here for 21 years, will present its Back2Skool show at the Hilton in Huntington Beach the following week, March 19-20.
Both are promoting their b-t-s editions as “low key” writing shows rather than big-booth, branding extravaganzas. Neither is happy with the other’s plans.
Lori Kisner, vice president of DMG World Media, which produces Surf Expo, called ASR’s decision to offer a bts show “reactionary.”
“The industry views this as a decision made way too late,” she said. “Manufacturers out here have been asking for a b-t-s show for years.”
Kisner said they have verbal commitments from 75 exhibitors who are “taking only the amount of space they need to write orders. They are not doing all the fluff,” like lavish booths, partying in the aisles and a general environ that buyers have increasingly criticized as not conducive to writing business.
Court Overin, group vice president for VNU Expos, said ASR’s Back2Skool edition will be “a youth culture show driven by apparel. We’re not trying to reproduce ASR. My feeling is the loyalty should be to us. We’ve been producing here for the last 21 years,” he said. Exhibitors at Back2Skool will receive perks like free hotel rooms and complimentary breakfast and lunch, he said.
But for many brands, deciding which show to participate in has hardly been a walk on the beach. Many said they felt loyalties and budgets divided.
“It puts manufacturers in an awkward position,” said Tom Ruiz, national sales manager with Costa Mesa, Calif.-based Volcom. “We only need one show. ASR approached us first, so we picked them.”
Added to the pressure: both expos fall during a quarter crowded by regional shows, as well as MAGIC and ASR in February (In 2003, ASR will move its February show into January.)
Some manufacturers have made preliminary plans — Quiksilver will show at Surf Expo; Hurley, Rusty and Volcom at ASR. Body Glove is hedging its bets, sending a booth and 12 staffers to Surf Expo, and half the team to ASR. “Bottom line, there is a fall show needed. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a rep show or a regular retailer show,” said Body Glove vice president Scott Daley.
Others have yet to decide, including Ocean Pacific Apparel Corp., whose chief executive officer, Richard Baker, called trade show schedules “an extremely hot topic right now. You can’t continue to add more trade shows to the calendar. They have to be more productive shows.”
And don’t expect the influential Surf Industry Manufacturers Association to weigh in. Baker, who serves as SIMA president, said the organization does not endorse regional shows.
The economic upheaval following last month’s terrorist attacks may make the situation stickier, with consumers watching spending and companies reining in expenses.
Quiksilver committed to Surf Expo “right away,” but is now “in a bit of a quandary” as to whether they will also participate in Back2Skool, according to the maker’s senior vice president, Randy Hild.
“With what happened Sept. 11, we’ve decided to keep all expenses with shows to a minimum,” said Hild. “What’s concerned in the decision is [whether there] is duplication. Can we be busy at two shows?”
Surf Expo’s Kisner said since teenagers are the demographic least affected by recession, she thinks b-t-s business remains resilient. She predicted buyers will choose between the shows, rather than attending both.
At press time, most buyers hadn’t firmed their plans. John Sabo of the Cocoa Beach, Fla.-based chain Ron Jon Surf Shop said he’ll probably go to Surf Expo because “it’s a bigger writing show.”
Pacific Sunwear buyers will attend both, said president and chief merchant Tim Harmon. But, he said, March is too late for PacSun.
Susie Huxtable, a buyer with Seattle-based Zumiez, said she will go to ASR, but hadn’t decided on Surf Expo. “It depends on how much we’ve already seen at that point,” she said.
Ultimately, it’s smaller specialty buyers that will determine whether this coast is big enough for two shows. Whatever happens, industry observers will keep an eye on Surf Expo’s parent, DMG, which is increasing its presence here. The British conglomerate signed a 45-year lease with the California Market Center in August to create a home accessories and gift market.

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