ASR STAYS LOOSE TO CHASE A CHURNING MARKET
THE MECCA FOR ACTION SPORTS IS PROVING HIGHLY ADAPTABLE TO INTERSECTING TRENDS, SUCH AS URBAN AND HIP-HOP AND WOMEN’S SPORTS.
Byline: Rose Apodaca Jones
Celebrating its 20th birthday, the Action Sports Retailer Expo — the tri-annual showcase for the surf, skate, swim and streetwear industries — is suffering from growing pains in a changing marketplace. The show faces some serious challenges, among which include shifts in buyer strategies, mass acceptance of the extreme-sports culture and the bursting relevance of the Internet.
But that adult-like stuff won’t change the show’s original host of extreme youth: the partying will continue. On its opening day, Sept. 8, just after the show floor closes, some 6,000 exhibitors, buyers, media, athletes and the countless expo crashers who make up the “live trend report” are expected to swarm the park behind the San Diego Convention Center for what ASR trade show director Court Overin promises will be “the biggest thing going on.”
Topping the bill for the five-hour event — sponsored by ASR and action sports mainstays O’Neil, Reef, GXPlanet.com, Jones Soda and Surfing Magazine — is rap vet Ice-T and reggae locals Common Sense. The choice is telling of the trade show’s willingness to move with the market and publicly acknowledge the synthesis of the action-sports and urban cultures going on organically all around it.
ASR, headquartered two blocks from the Pacific Ocean in Laguna Beach, Calif., has already featured breakdancers and toasting deejays. (And even Ice-T has had a free pass for years.) Today, it’s nearly impossible to find an inch of popular youth culture that isn’t seasoned by hip-hop. Skateboarding — which, according to Overin, is the fastest growing segment of the show — now celebrates its urban evolution alongside its punk roots.
Girl Skateboards, a unisex brand, is sponsoring a 40-by-60-feet basketball court in the special events area, where sales reps and retailers can shoot hoops throughout the three-day show.
“The whole urban influence in music is the driving force now. [Even] surf has evolved. It’s more than Hawaiian flower shirts,” acknowledged Overin, citing lines such as Hurley, Counter Culture, Split, Redsand and Volcom that have extended their style references beyond the beach.
It’s no longer a boy’s club, either. The junior segment has mushroomed since the arrival of Roxy in 1995, with nearly every player, major and not, lately brandishing its feminine side.
The newest development, in fact, is the rollout of lines targeting a contemporary customer in both size and style. Solitude, Patagonia-backed Water Girl and Roxy are among the pioneers.
Such moves bode well for the exhibitor roster, too, considering that vendor numbers have been declining since 1996, when the show featured 765 companies in 1,630 booths. It has since dipped to 725 vendors in 1997, 700 in 1998 and 650 in 1999.
As of press time, Overin reported 525 companies had signed on for the Sept. 8-10 show in San Diego, with several dozens more on a waiting list for the popular main floor. He expects to register another 50 vendors as late as the day before the show opens.
Undoubtedly, MAGIC’s own emphasis on active lifestyle has eroded some of ASR’s roster. The Las Vegas show, which draws more than 100,000 attendees, continues to aggressively pursue vendors and retailers for the Edge and the new Board Sports area. Many of the 140 club and streetwear lines showing at the Edge are former ASR exhibitors.
Even ASR anchors such as Quiksilver, OP and Gotcha are among the nearly 60 showing at the pumped-up Board Sports area, which will feature a skate vert ramp sponsored by Oakley and Vans. The number represents a 90 percent sell-through as of press time.
“As a company, MAGIC realizes the board sports category is growing very quickly. It’s a lifestyle that is becoming more accepted,” said Ron Walden, who was recently hired as show manager for the Edge and account executive for Board Sports.
A former exhibitor at both shows as the sales director for Third Rail, Walden echoed many manufacturers by commenting, “MAGIC is a writing show, ASR is good for marketing.”
MAGIC runs Aug. 28-31, ending a week before ASR begins. The Atlantic City ASR Expo runs Sept. 20-22.
In recent years, manufacturers have complained that retailers have maxed out their buys before arriving at ASR. But if that’s the case, it hasn’t prevented companies such as the U.K.’s Ben Sherman — which dove into the U.S. market in the last two years — from signing on. The line will join the ranks of ASR stalwarts such as Stussy, Kikwear and Paul Frank in the Urban Style area.
“It’s been a struggle for us to maintain [the Urban Style area],” said Overin. “But a lot of the skate companies are doing that kind of look now, so retailers are more open to it.”
Overin added that ASR is considering adding a smaller January pre-show, possibly by 2002, for the fall market. No location has been secured, but the Anaheim Convention Center has been offered as a possibility.
One category that is slipping away at the San Diego expo due to a lack of retailer interest is resort gifts, such as shell necklaces, straw hats and beach chairs.
Retailers attending ASR, noted Overin, have become more interested in stocking up on lifestyle-oriented accessories and apparel and not the traditionally tourist fare.
Another sign of the times: the Internet.
Besides dot-com sponsorships of parties, skate ramps and an Internet cafe where attendees can check e-mail, ExtremeSports.com will return for the third time to run a live webcast from the show floor.
“It gives an opportunity to people who can’t attend the show all three days to see what’s going on, catch interviews of key players,” said Overin, noting footage is archived for a month after the show.
It also provides ASR an opportunity to test the waters for an online trade show, which Overin said they want to have up in the next three years.
Meanwhile, ASR is grappling with a rise in dot-com representatives wanting to attend the show.
In a letter sent out in April, ASR outlined its policy regarding online media, restricting each group to one editor and one photographer.
Online media groups with multiple vertical sites will be allowed more representatives on a case-by-case basis, assured Overin.
However, one such group, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of an outright ban from the show, has been repeatedly referred to the policy.
Whatever the outcome, one fact is certain: the first morning of the show, several thousand prospective attendees who skipped preregistration will arrive demanding entry.
A significant number of them will be turned away because of suspect credentials.
It may be business on the floor, but ASR is one trade show where the combination of youth, extreme sports and music — all in the name of fashion — is too enthralling for the public to resist crashing.