Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Domestic Trade Shows issue 12/01/2009

Contending with falling foot traffic and exhibitor drop-off over the last year, organizers of Los Angeles trade shows are determined to try to cut costs while increasing buyer incentives to draw foot traffic.

This story first appeared in the December 1, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Partnerships, amenities, format changes and reduced fees are among the bait being dangled by markets angling for new business.

The California Market Center, home to shows including Focus, Transit, Gift & Home, L.A. Fashion and ENK’s Brighte Companies, will experiment with a new format for some smaller shows this year in June and August — running Monday through Thursday rather than Friday to Tuesday, as the center has traditionally done.

“This past year was difficult. We saw foot traffic go down,” said Joanne Lee, senior vice president of the CMC. “The industry downturn overall hit the markets, a number of retailers closed their doors and it meant less buyer flow. We had to work harder and spend money to bring in the traffic for this year, and we believe it will pay off over time.”

New areas of emphasis include the emerging designer market. Focus, the market center-based show designed to showcase new talent, is getting more attention with incentives like educational resources and support from apparel industry trade groups.

The CMC has also partnered with nonprofit group Fashion Business Inc. to provide educational resources and seminars for new designers and free memberships to all Focus exhibitors.

“You learn in school how to cut and sew, but never really learn how to make fashion a functioning business. The creative types sometimes don’t learn how to create a budget, handle accounts, follow up, ship, collect orders and things like that,” said Lee. “These are necessary skills for survival. The idea is to provide resources to help people succeed, and through those efforts, increase the strength of our base.”

The CMC has upgraded the look of the Focus and Transit shows in its Penthouse level with new fixtures, tables and chairs. The two shows offer exhibitors a more affordable option: a 10-foot-by-10-foot booth costs about $1,000, compared with $5,000 for other shows.

While the exhibitor cost of the show remained unchanged in 2009, Focus will see a slight increase for 2010 associated with the FBI partnership. The strategy is attracting many first-time exhibitors to both shows. This year, Focus drew 11 first-timers, upping the roster to about 60, more than double its size when the show launched.

Besides the new partnerships and upgrades, the CMC is continuing its “Market Tuesdays,” when buyers find discounts on orders from CMC tenants or free shipping, as well as free parking on select Tuesdays throughout the year.

Class trade show, which made its debut in March 2008 at the Santa Monica Civic Center, aims to host more than twice the number of exhibitors as last show — about 300 for February, compared with about 110 vendors at this summer’s show.

“It’s much tougher. You have to make smarter decisions and work harder to draw business,” said Class founder Jason Bates, who owns the Derelicte showroom in Los Angeles.

The two-day show pulled in more than 600 retailers in August, and to increase attendance, Bates has lowered exhibitor fees to $3,000 from $3,500 for the upcoming edition. Class also pursues a strategy of rewarding its best retail customers — Bates covers the travel expenses of 100 top buyers, chosen in consultation with the show’s vendors. The show also offers amenities like complimentary spa treatments from Osea and free haircuts by Barracuda salon.

Class features contemporary designers, denim and accessory lines like Textile Junkie, Earnest Sewn, Lulu Frost, Operations and Original Penguin.

“With inventory being so tight and buying so cautious, timing is key. [Class] is closer to the fall buying season, so retailers can see what’s trending and what they want to buy once they know how things are going,” Bates said.

The Designers & Agents show held in the New Mart downtown plays host to about 200 exhibitors and 2,000 buyers. The show has added components to attract business over the last 18 months, like a dedicated eco-friendly section, called the Green Market, that’s steadily expanded in response to retailer feedback.

D&A’s exhibitor prices are higher then other shows, but it offers seven options ranging from $2,000 for a shared booth to $9,000 for a 25-foot space.

“No doubt, times have been challenging for everyone,” said D&A co-founder Ed Mandelbaum. “Orders being written at our shows have started to come up slowly, but it’s still an improvement, and that says a lot. We want to be the place buyers can come for everything they need, and where they can find the highest quality. The spirit is very cooperative right now.”

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