Byline: Karyn Monget

NEW YORK — The trade show circuit in Manhattan has always been a highly competitive arena.
But over the past year, the landscape has been changed drastically by the acsendency of a more corporate mind-set, by which shows are mass produced with the efficiency of a Sara Lee churning out cheese cakes.
The longer-term implications of this spate of consolidation is still not clear, as at least some of its protagonists continue to sort through their properties.
Indications are, however, that further shifts in the scene are possible. For one thing, major player Advanstar Communications Inc., which owns MAGIC International, is on the selling block. Advanstar’s chairman and ceo Bob Krakoff told WWD, that at present, “There’s nothing I can tell you yet.”
Industry observers say consolidation in the New York trade show business has been inevitable, echoing as it does the evolution of the manufacturing and textile fields the shows serve. They say one thing is already clear: Gone are the days when family members of privately held operations, like The Larkin Group — in the business since 1945 — monitored the show aisles, checked the traffic, chatted to exhibitors and buyers, and dealt with problems that might range from overly aggressive salesmen to stale bagels.
“The shows were our whole focus,” said David Larkin, who produced and managed a number of shows in the New York market for 12 years, including the International Fashion Fabrics Exhibition, the International Kids Fashion Show, the International Boutique Show and Style Industrie, until his organization, The Larkin Group, was bought by Advanstar Communications Inc in July 1999. “There was a certain comfort in knowing that the Larkin family was walking the aisles. You don’t have that with corporate ownership now.”
What the industry does have is a show business dominated, through mergers and acquisitions, by a short list of players, thanks to a process that feeds on itself as smaller players, who don’t have the financial muscle to compete effectively, fall or are absorbed.
A key example was the closing last year of Showroom, which punctuated the acsendency of big-venue shows as well as the creeping demise of intimate hotel settings for ready-to-wear, sportswear and accessories shows. A throwback to the softer, gentler kind of venue is the surviving Intimate Apparel Salon, which will be staged at the Millennium Hotel here Aug. 6-8.
Currently, the biggest players in the fashion and apparel trade show niche here are ENK International and Advanstar Communications Inc., through its MAGIC International.
Among the shows Advanstar stages at the Jacob K. Javits Center are the International Fashion Boutique Show, Style Industrie and the International Kids Show. In Las Vegas, it stages MAGIC, the huge men’s wear show held twice yearly, and WWDMAGIC, staged simultaneously with the men’s MAGIC and co-sponsored by WWD.
Officials at Advanstar could not be reached for interviews for this story. A spokeswoman said the company was in transition and had not finalized new formats and concepts for its stable of shows.
“We can’t give you dates or ideas or concepts, because we may decide not to do something after you print it,” explained the spokeswoman.
Advanstar had canceled its January edition of the International Fashion Kids Show, leading to speculation about whether the venue was struggling. The Advanstar spokeswoman said the organization will stage the next edition of the International Kids Show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center Aug. 6-8.
In a written statement about Style Industrie, Advanstar said the holiday-resort edition will feature 30 new exhibitors. Another statement makes the following claim: “Goods to Go, a section dedicated to cash-and-carry items including jewelry and gifts, has shown such outstanding growth that we added an additional aisle.”
Of Advanstar’s decision to cancel the January Kids Show, Larkin remarked, “The Advanstar people didn’t retain the sales director of our kid’s show. So he went over to ENK.”
ENK’s own kids market venue, Children’s Club, faired well in its first installment last January, according to Elyse Kroll, ENK’s president and founder.
“We found a lot of crossover traffic at the Children’s Club show in January, where we had 38 companies,” said Kroll. “For August, the number has jumped to 180 companies representing 301 [children’s wear] lines. We are very excited, because moms come in and buy at the other shows, and they see the children’s wear and say ‘Oh, that’s so cute.’ And they start buying.”
Besides Children’s Club, ENK produces Fashion Coterie, Accessorie Circuit, Intermezzo Collections, Pacific Champions and The Collective, a men’s wear show. Most of its shows are held at Piers 92 and 94 on Manhattan’s West Side. Kroll said that three of her organization’s shows will run concurrently for the first time, during Aug. 6-8: Accessorie Circuit, Intermezzo Collections and the second edition of Children’s Club.
Last year, Kroll said, retail attendance totaled 6,000 for the Accessories Circuit and Intermezzo Collections shows; between 8,000 and 9,000 for fashion Coterie, and 7,500 for the first Children’s Club edition. She said she expects a larger turnout this year because the shows generally are larger.
Kroll said the Accessorie Circuit show is “a very strong show for the holiday and early spring markets. Fashion Coterie has a very strong contingent of European exhibitors. We just had a screening meeting of lines to bring to the show. Would you believe, we had two lines from Eastern Europe — Bosnia and Slovenia. Our European section just keeps growing.”
In Kroll’s view, no matter how the New York trade show scene changes with regard to management, the needs of the buyers the shows are intended to serve are fairly straightforward.
“They want a venue,” she said. “They don’t have the time to go schlepping to some little designer on the Lower East Side. Of course, if it’s Calvin or Donna, that’s different.”
As for visitors’ amenities, Kroll said, “We always do something food-related. When you’re there and working, what could be nicer than something that makes a person happiest — Haagen Daz and cappuccino?”
Former show producer Larkin said, “The biggest change I’ve seen is everybody is obsessed with the Internet. Everybody is trying to be the show that gets it right.
“Advanstar is starting an Internet company with portals in 20 industries. They are getting quite aggressive about fashion.”
Mentioning his new involvement in trade show Web sites, he added, “Advanstar is one of our customers. We work on applications for them.”

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