Organizers have overcome past difficulties and are firmly focused on the future.
LONDON — British trade show organizers are confident about the future, with ambitious plans for the next round of events and hopes that this city will continue to gain in popularity with buyers.
With the fallout from last summer’s terrorist attacks firmly behind them, organizers are focusing on growth, diversification and added value in a competitive market.
“We want London to evolve as a major destination for international buyers,” said Mark Batista, organizer at TBC, which showcases denim and streetwear collections. TBC began expanding its space last season, and this year it plans to take over a 120,000-square-foot space at the tobacco docks in east London.
It was a similar story at Off-Price. Organizers plan to add another 5,382 square feet to the next show. “I think we can double the size of the show,” said event director Buzz Carter. “We want it to be as big as it can be.”
Margin, an exhibition entirely devoted to young, upscale streetwear labels, doubled its space to 8,611 square feet in February, creating a 40 percent increase in traffic for exhibitors. Elsewhere, Moda increased the size of the show dramatically with the addition of Moda Footwear, bringing the total space to 18,000 square feet.
The big speculation, however, surrounded plans at the London Fashion Week exhibition to expand and relocate from its current home at London’s Natural History Museum. “We are committed to the Natural History Museum until February 2007,” said Hillary Riva, chief executive of the British Fashion Council. “We are considering a number of possibilities. Obviously, we are looking for a space that will allow LFW to grow.”
To maintain an edge, many shows have made moves to encourage newer brands to exhibit. At Harrogate Lingerie and Swimwear, new niche luxury labels were shown in a devoted section, and TBC launched an area renovated and developed specifically for introducing independent directional brands.”We charge a small base fee for it, and the brands have to be under one year old. It’s part of a strategy to attract small and up-and-coming, hip labels,” said Batista, who plans to build on the section in the next show.
Pure opted for an integrated strategy, with new labels showing alongside established brands. An independent study by Fusion Communications showed that this was successful at the February Pure exhibition, when 85 percent of buyers cited newer brands as a primary reason for attending.
Mirroring trends in the retail sector, many shows expanded with footwear and accessories sections. Moda acquired Footwear UK and relaunched it as Moda Footwear last February, to a positive response. Londonedge, Off-Price and Intimate Body and Beach also integrated larger accessories sections last season. Pure devoted an entire floor to accessories, which it will reprise this summer. At London Fashion Week, accessories represented 40 percent of the exhibition, and jewelry was advanced as a major element.
To incorporate and showcase these areas successfully, many shows streamlined their layouts and used merchandising to highlight products. Moda, for example, rearranged its floor space and placed the accessories section directly between men’s wear and women’s wear. London Fashion Week went a step further, organizing the exhibition to emulate a modern retail outlet.
“We merchandised like a department store. We wanted to create a retail experience as much as possible, by creating ready-to-wear contemporary, rtw designer, New Gen, accessories and, finally, jewelry sections,” explained Riva. “We wanted to start the vision for buyers.”
Despite universal optimism, most organizers were quick to note that the uncertain retail outlook places increasing pressure on them to innovate and step up their game. “The last 15 months has been really up and down in the retail sector, and I think that impacts on all the shows,” said Off-Price’s Carter.
Many shows opted to add seminars, entertaining catwalk shows and additional facilities to increase attendance. “The trade show climate is highly competitive,” said Riva.
According to Carter, “When you’ve got buoyant exhibition conditions, you have to go the extra mile to attract people. For us, this worked, and the spring show was our busiest ever.” This year, Off-Price added a series of seminar and education programs centered on issues relating to smaller retailers. “We wanted to add value. It’s not just about the trading. It makes even more reason to come to the show.”
Indeed, Harrogate Lingerie and Swimwear and Intimate Body and Beach added, and are continuing with, regular catwalk displays. Moda also held a number of seminars, offered a free legal advice service and devoted a section of its budget to flying major retailers in to attend. London Fashion Week even collaborated with the Jamie Oliver restaurant, Fifteen, to create a cafe for attendees at the last show.
Such efforts were a near-universal success. Many organizers reported an increase in visitors, and international shows witnessed a return in overseas buyers. Moda saw a 10 percent increase in visiting buyers at the February show.
Pure visitors were up 5 percent at the same time, with 57 percent of exhibitors hailing from outside the U.K. Londonedge and Londoncentral visitors were up by 30 percent in February, with 38 percent of visitors drawn from overseas. Off-Price was up 11 percent at the March show, while others, such as Harrogate Lingerie and Swimwear, remained consistent.
Of the internationally focused trade shows, an increase in buyers from emerging markets in Arab countries and Eastern Europe was also found. “We noted a serious increase in the stores who came en masse from Dubai, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Lebanon,” said Riva of the London Fashion Week exhibition. “We had a great season internationally, representing almost 60 countries,” which also included Russia, Ukraine and many former Soviet Republics.
“Two of our major exhibitors said that for the first time they’d seen a significant increase in Middle Eastern buyers,” added Carter.
Buying trends were also affected by the retail outlook. “There’s a lot of choice out there. Many of the independents are struggling, having to compete against supermarkets that are offering cheaper products,” said Janie Fox of Harrogate Lingerie and Swimwear. “People are becoming much more choosy about what they buy for the coming season, because they have got to get it right. It’s a tightrope between buying bankable, established brands that always sell well, but also buying something that differentiates from the other stores.”
At present, the market is highly item-driven, explained Riva. “Buyers were certainly cherry-picking the best, whether the designer was established or not. Buyers are no longer looking for entire collections to represent a look. They are looking for great items that will differentiate them from their competitors and offer something original to their clients. The trend is to buy rtw like you buy accessories, concentrating on the strongest pieces.”
Londonedge, a club wear show, highlighted the prominence of short orders. “There is still caution in the market,” said organizer Carole Hunter, “which means short buying is becoming more and more relevant.”
On a similar level, Pure organizers at the February exhibition also noted an increase in short-order and transseasonal buying, at the expense of advance orders. However, exhibitors were prepared for this, with 75 percent of them stocking quick-turn items. “You’ve got to keep your finger on the pulse,” said Pure’s Stephanie Mahon. “You have to adapt. Shows need to provide more than just a buying platform now.”