View Slideshow

Italian shows attract buyers with better services.

MILAN — Italian companies are hoping to woo foreign buyers, especially those from emerging markets like China and Eastern Europe, with high-quality products and a more consolidated trade show calendar this season.

Although last year marked several watersheds on the trade show landscape, including the birth of unified textile trade show Milano Unica and the controversial debut of Milan’s new expanded fairgrounds, 2006 is shaping up to be a year of far less dramatic change.

As Italian firms continue to battle a strong euro-to-dollar exchange rate and increasing competition from countries like China, trade show organizers are doing everything they can to attract buyers, whether it’s offering free food and shuttle services or choosing more accessible locations. Still, manufacturers stress that buyers have no choice but to flock to Italy for the highest-quality materials and finished goods.

“Stores are opening, creating new opportunities in new markets, but it’s a slow process,” said Raffaello Napoleone, chief executive officer of Pitti Immagine.

The second half of the 2006 trade show calendar kicks off with men’s ready-to-wear trade event Pitti Immagine Uomo, which starts June 21 at Florence’s Fortezza da Basso center and runs through June 24, wrapping up a day before the men’s runway shows kick off in Milan. The Milan shows run June 25-30.

As usual, Pitti is planning several events in Florence this year, including children’s wear show Pitti Bimbo (June 30-July 2) and yarn show Pitti Filati (July 5-7), both held at the Fortezza da Basso. Beauty fair Pitti Immagine Fragranze will be held at Limonaie di Giardino Corsini Sept. 15-17.

Pitti’s influence on the Italian trade show landscape is extending to Milan. The Florentine body recently took over the management of several fairs from trade organizer Efima, including niche apparel show White and its sister fairs Neozone and Cloudnine. Overlapping with the women’s ready-to-wear shows in Milan, White and its satellite shows will run Sept. 28-Oct. 1 in the Via Tortona district of converted factories and warehouses.

Although White and its satellite fairs appear to be gaining momentum, Pitti has had a tougher time turning around ModaPrima, a fair of private label and low-priced apparel. It runs May 28-30 and Nov. 26-28 at Milan’s old downtown fairgrounds.

This story first appeared in the May 24, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“It has to be completely restructured,” Napoleone said. “It’s been very difficult to put back on its feet.”

It’s also been difficult for some fair organizers and attendees to come to terms with Milan’s sprawling new convention center, located in the suburb of Rho-Pero. Inaugurated last year, the new fair complex cost 750 million euros, or $885 million, to build, but road links between it and downtown Milan aren’t finished, making for a long car journey in heavy traffic. The subway is widely considered the preferred travel option, but even that requires a long walk to the center’s entrance.

Textile show Milano Unica made its debut last September in Milan’s old fairgrounds and moved to the new Rho-Pero space for its sophomore edition in February. Snarled traffic, and the fact that other unrelated events were simultaneously taking place at the fair, produced logistical headaches and a ton of complaints.

In March, Unica organizers responded by saying that the September installment of the fair, and the next two successive editions, will move back to the old fairgrounds downtown.

“Logistically, there were problems that weren’t the fault of Milano Unica but rather of Fiera Milano [the company that runs Milan’s two fairgrounds],” said Paolo Zegna, Unica’s president.

Zegna said that fair organizers are working to improve visitors’ experiences in Milan, offering dinners, parties and cocktails in the evening.

“We are working to create events that will try to animate the atmosphere around the fair,” he said. “It’s a fair that is growing, but we are focusing more on the quality of the time people spend here.”

Still, Zegna forecasts growth in terms of attendees. He expects as many as 35,000 people at the fall-winter edition of the fair, a 29 percent increase from the debut edition a year ago.

Unica, which runs Sept. 12-15, puts shows Ideabiella, Ideacomo, Moda In, Shirt Avenue and Prato Expo under a single roof.

Unica shunned the new convention center, but other shows embraced the Rho-Pero location. Case in point: Leather accessories show Mipel and footwear trade show Micam are returning to the new, more spacious quarters for the third time come September.

Giorgio Cannara, president of Aimpes, which organizes Mipel, said the fair enjoys having more space on one level for product booths. The new fair has 3.71 million square feet of exhibition space.

“We are trying to make as few changes as possible [to the fair’s layout] to make it easier for visitors to find their way around,” he said.

Like Unica, Mipel is also eager to keep buyers in a good mood by dispensing free food and drink at lunchtime.

“I have traveled to other fairs, and I haven’t seen anything like the hospitality offered at Mipel,” said Cannara, who thinks that more visitors from Eastern Europe and Russia will help boost attendance by 11 to 12 percent from a year ago.

Although the Italian calendar is increasingly dominated by large-scale exhibitions, some niche trade fairs are emerging on the scene. Mix Milano, which aims to showcase young and emerging fashion talents, debuted in February and will stage its second show Sept. 28-Oct. 1 at Via Pestalozzi 4 in Milan, coinciding with fashion week.

Veronica Galimberti, who manages the fair, said Mix chose 25 exhibitors for the debut effort, and it expects to have 40 to 50 participants this time around. “We are looking for talent, so we can’t take too many people or it becomes too commercial,” she said.

Mix has a two-pronged strategy to lure buyers with full agendas during fashion week. The fair plans to stay open in the evening, perhaps as late as 10 p.m. It will also move from its original far-flung location, a former aircraft plant near the Linate airport called Officine del Volo, to someplace closer to more fashion showrooms or the White show.

“Officine del Volo was just too far out there during the heat of fashion week,” Galimberti concluded.