Aaron Levant launched Agenda in the back of a Thai restaurant in Long Beach, Calif., when he was 19 years old. Ten years later, Reed Exhibitions acquired the show, which had grown to accommodate up to 600 vendors. Instead of leaving and starting a new fair, the typical path for many trade show entrepreneurs, Levant has been able to smartly leverage Reed’s resources to build on his original idea and introduce a completely new concept.
Last November, in conjunction with Marc Ecko, the cofounder of Complex Networks, Levant created ComplexCon, a consumer-facing festival that took place in Long Beach. The event was stacked with panels, live performances, food and product launches targeting the Millennial, streetwear-loving consumer. When attendees weren’t watching performances from artists such as Travis Scott and Kid Cudi, they were waiting in line for exclusive releases from brands including Vlone, Nike and Puma.
“I wanted to create something that had the energy and ‘fandom’ that’s usually connected to ComicCon,” said Levant. “It was the Internet in real life. The aggregation of all of these different brands, retailers and personalities in one place was a magical formula.”
According to Levant, 34,000 people attended the show and because of its success there will be a second edition that will take place this winter in Long Beach.
For Levant, who regularly interacts with brands that are losing money or going out of business, ComplexCon proved how quickly the retail market is changing, which poses challenges for his vendors.
“Kids are adopting brands quickly and weaning themselves off of them quickly. It’s less methodical, it’s less corporate and it’s less planned out. It’s been very disruptive,” said Levant.
While these changes have caused many retailers to focus on digital and social, Levant believes physical interactions at trade shows are going to become even more important going forward.
“We are all so numb to this digital communication that meaningful contact — whether it’s a hand shake or a dinner — is 1,000 times more valuable than all of the digital stuff you do,” said Levant. “Doing a consumer-facing experience invigorated me and how I do my job. We believe ComplexCon is something that can draw 100,000 people in the future.”