ISAM FORMS IMPROVEMENT TASK FORCE
Byline: Katherine Bowers
LOS ANGELES — The show must go on, but there’s a real opportunity for improvement.
That’s the consensus among members of the International Swim and Activewear Market who have convened a task force to explore ways the association can better market the biannual show and improve buyer turnout.
“I think we’re all going to find a big turnaround [next year],” said Barbara Brady, ISAM director and the show’s organizer. “I’ve had a number of people calling to be on this committee. They have notes upon notes and they have wonderful ideas.”
Among the considerations for steps to take to improve the event:
Revisit the timing.
Examine a possible format change.
Fine-tune the show’s mission statement and set marketing goals.
Keep a closer watch on attendance figures to gauge the improvement.
Independent sales representatives and swimwear manufacturers — including Beach Patrol, Lunada Bay, Monarch Knits, Sauvage and Sunsets — are expected to attend the meeting, slated for Nov. 2 at the CaliforniaMart.
Members concerned with decreasing attendance complained during the recent ISAM, including the group’s meeting, prompting the creation of the task force. ISAM holds main shows in early October and April. A third show in July was canceled this year for lack of interest, according to Brady.
But the overriding chorus is that California has a strong swimwear industry that can be meaningful to retailers.
“I am absolutely supportive of ISAM, but I think our expectations should change,” said Brian Zientek, chief executive of Sirena Apparel Group Inc., based here. He added that the membership should learn from the success of the Miami Swim show.
Among the most vocal critics at this month’s meeting was Peter Rubin, president of New York-based Mainstream, who said he spoke out not to undermine the show, but to “wake up the membership.”
“I wanted to stir things up,” Rubin said. “To light a fire under people’s butts, so to speak, so we can get things in tune before it’s too late. I feel confident that’s going to happen now.”
Howard Greller, executive vice president of Monarch Knits here, said he was pleased a task force had convened because there is a “valid need for improvement.”
“The fact that there is grumbling is OK. But what’s important is addressing what we’re going do to about it,” Greller said. “I look on the optimistic side, so I’m a firm believer that anything can be reinvented.”
ISAM president Amanda Read echoed others who believe the show matters to retailers, but needs to be reinvigorated. The task force will examine all aspects, she noted, from timing and marketing to the role of the party and fashion show.
“We’ve always had a big event as an opportunity for manufacturers and retailers to get together in a social setting, but it might be time [to] change the format,” Read acknowledged, adding that ISAM plans to solicit retailer feedback through a questionnaire.
Other members had their own ideas on how to breathe new life into ISAM.
Greller said the show’s objective needs to be clear — whether to court specialty stores, major buyers or both.
“There has to be a collective, unified mission,” he said. “The next thing that’s important is to set a goal and measure how much we’ve increased attendance. And I would make sure that those people are not just mailed to, but phone solicited by ISAM as well.”
ISAM members also weighed in with opinions on when to hold the show. Many makers blamed a late position in the calendar for decreased attendance. It didn’t help this year that Columbus Day and Yom Kippur fell on Oct. 9, the second Monday in October and traditionally the first day of the fall edition.
“The show has lost some of its luster predicated by timing,” said Mark Peebles, national sales manager for Tustin, Calif.-based Raj Manufacturing.
And because of its positioning at the end of a string of swim trade shows, many manufacturers characterized ISAM as a “last formality” — a chance to firm up orders, reviewing plans and negotiating advertising dollars.
That kind of positioning could jeopardize ISAM attendance during less-favorable economic conditions, some observed.
“If the economy gets tighter and [buyers are] looking in the budget for where they can save a few dollars [ISAM could be a place] where cuts might arise,” said Arnie Gale, senior vice president for Carson, Calif.-based Beach Patrol.
Gale added that although Beach Patrol typically does very strong business at ISAM, he is a member of the task force because he believes the industry’s health affects all its players.
Susan Crank, chief executive officer of Anaheim, Calif.-based Lunada Bay Corp. and another task force member, believes ISAM needs to solicit more up-and-coming swimwear makers.
“I think retailers want to see newness along with their mainstream vendors,” said Crank. “We need to make sure [we] bring in the small upstarts that are exciting and invigorating.”
Crank also suggested the membership consider ways to make the show format more open, to encourage buyers to drop into showrooms, rather than relying strictly on preset appointments. The current appointment system means some showrooms can have their dance cards full, while others are idle.
Brady herself has a few ideas about change, including tabulating buyer attendance so the show can measure improvement. ISAM show attendance is bundled with the overall attendance for the junior market that runs concurrently at the mart.
“Trust me — I’m going to [track attendance] going forward,” she said.
She also said the board will meet more than twice a year.
Overall, the focus is aimed at change.
“I’m hoping that out of this task force will grow a renewed commitment,” said Read. “I’m hoping that members will come forward to…give our administrator the direction she needs to make this show what the membership needs.”