Monday, October 13, 2008

New York Kids Market - Are Expensive Trade Shows Necessary?

Sometimes the way an industry conducts business changes and it presents opportunities for the visionaries who see the disruption on the horizon. In my industry, kids wholesale fashion, such an opportunity may have arrived. The four times a year New York fashion trade show schedule no longer meets the needs of retail buyers. I hope the people most impacted, independent New York sales representatives; can collectively act upon changes in retail buyer behavior to the benefit of the entire kids fashion industry.

I will do my best to explain the opportunity I see on the horizon. I do this somewhat selfishly because my company stands to benefit economically, but if done right there are enormous benefits for retailers, sales reps and manufacturers. I hope the management of the trade show venues and fashion trade media work with the New York sales reps to provide an incredible service to retail buyers. All people involved need to get off the what’s in it for me train and climb aboard the train that delivers for our customers, the retail buyer.

This is an open invitation for all to join the evolution. This is not a revolution intended to hurt any company, but a recognition that our industry has changed and as leaders we should work together to provide retail buyers with as much convenience and economy as possible. I know this presentation will be met with an incredible amount of resistance from anybody comfortable with the status quo.

Why now? For a couple years there has been displeasure among manufacturers and sales reps with the retail buyer traffic at trade shows. Hello! It's not about how many manufacturers exhibit, but how many buyers find it useful to attend. Why me? It's not about me; it’s about all of us. I've been a catalyst for change in the New York trade show scene before; Corky was the very first company to sign a contract to do the very first ENK Children’s Club. Until today I've never looked back on that decision.

It costs roughly $80 per square foot to set-up, staff, pay for travel and exhibit at an ENK Children's Club trade. It may cost some companies more and some less, but on average this is what it costs me; a 15 foot booth $12,000, a 20 foot booth $16,000 and a 25 foot booth $20,000. My rule of thumb is we need to write orders at the show equal to 10 times the cost for the show to be cost effective. Up until about three years ago the economics worked great, but today the economics don't work; we're lucky to write orders equal to 3-5 times the cost of a show.

If this is a Corky problem so be it and I am happy for all the other manufacturers who find the trade shows cost effective. I may be greedy and demand too much from a show, but I have a great New York sales rep to support who leases a very expensive showroom. My New York trade show budget as well as other manufacturer’s budgets needs to be reallocated to deliver economy and convenience for retailers.

I sincerely hope that the independent New York representatives can put together a semi-annual multi-week market that spans two weekends where retail buyers are fawned upon and scheduled in showrooms in an orderly fashion. No heavy sale pressure once the buyer is in the showroom, just business that the buyer wishes to conduct. Treat buyers special and if a line has merit they will reward you with orders. If a buyer doesn't wish to conduct business in New York, that's fine, just forgo the conveniences for the next market, they'll understand it's just business.

How about town cars to shuttle the buyers, building escorts to assist buyers to individual showrooms, group dinners, train and airfare allowances and some free hotel rooms? Involve and invite the designers and manufacturers because it's their money that will make it happen. Why do we have to jam business into a three day trade show!

Here's my humble opinion of the current situation. The ENK Children's show doesn't have the buyer reach like they did just a couple years ago. ENK used to pull at least half the buyers from across the country, but now it’s 80% from New York and New Jersey. My rational is simple, my New York showroom should handle the 80% of buyers from New York and New Jersey and my Boston and Philly reps should handle most of the other 20%. For the small percentage of the truly out of town buyers I'd love to offer frequent flyer tickets for you to come to New York or for me to fly out to visit you.

We’ve been doing 3-4 New York shows every year for the last fifteen years (first Larkin, then Advanstar and now ENK Children’s Club) at a cost of $10,000 to $20,000 per show. I can’t believe where I’m going with this, but we’ll probably skip the January ENK show for the first time ever in fifteen years. The catalyst being the show set-up starts on January 3rd and I can't imagine buyers want to get on a plane to start making purchasing decisions for back to school 2009 a couple days after New Years. Hello! Have you ever heard of family and hangovers?

Yesterday I registered the domain and also redirected the following names to that URL,, and .org and and .org. I choose the .org because I look at NY Kids Market not as a commercial venture, but an industry wide collaboration worthy of being branded as a .org. I choose this name after reading a quote in a blog about selecting a killer domain name, "Tell them who you are, where you are, and what you sell."

For up and coming companies, doing trade shows is the BEST and ONLY way to develop relationships with retail buyers and New York sales people. In this business it’s all about relationships and ENK provides this valuable service. Here are three pieces of advise that will make your start up ultra successful. 1) deliver a product that fits well 2) deliver a product that looks better than your sales samples and 3) be ready to deliver one day before your stated start ship date. At Corky we meet goals 1 and 2 with fairly predictable success, but we work relentlessly to try to meet the third goal which is the hardest of all.

At Corky we're done shipping back to school and I can turn my attention back to this blog. This project will become my after hours hobby and I look forward to working with industry leaders to deliver a compelling experience at a great value to our customers, the retail buyers.


Anonymous said...

Hey Alan, haven't heard from you in awhile so I thought I'd stop by to see how you're doing. Good to see you're still at it!

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's time to move more into on-line market and new markets outside of US.
All kids shows for the past 2 years are not attracting enough buyers. ABC kids show and ENK was a disaster, exhibitors not making any money.
It would me nice to have a virtual tradeshow, where all buyers can view product on-line 365 days a year.

Jessica said...

Alan, we at My Vintage Baby definitely agree with you. You are very correct in the fact that all we hear about from ENK is how many manufactuers they've added at each show- but where are the reports on how many retailers attended??? Often the people strolling the trade show both aisles are other manufactuers- not exactly who we all travel away from our families and pay a lot of money in order to show our newest designs, huh?

Alan Macomber said...

Are bloggers & social networks killing the big shows?
from Scobleizer -- Tech geek blogger by Robert Scoble

I’ve noticed a trend lately (actually I noticed it back when I worked at Microsoft and my bosses kept refusing to buy booths at conferences, saying they didn’t return the ROI, but that trend has grown and grown big time). Big companies are throwing their own parties to get news out inside of going to big trade shows. Last night I was at Facebook’s party, where they told everyone they had just passed 140 million users. That deserves a blog post of its own, but we’re here to discuss the trade show crunch.

Earlier in the year we attended a day-long event where Electronic Arts introduced a bunch of bloggers to Dead Space, here’s our video with the producer of that.

I’ve watched as Apple invites a few hundred bloggers and journalists into a conference room at its headquarters in Cupertino and gets the news out to the world without having to go to an expensive venue.

What changed?

Blogging and online video.

Big companies are looking at the millions of dollars they spend for booths (not to mention bringing employees to) and are realizing that it’s just not getting the return on investment that they should get.

My sponsor, Seagate, told me they are reducing their spend this year at CES. AMD and Delphi are doing the same thing and I’m hearing about many other companies who will either stop going, or reduce the size of their booths, either this year, if they could, or in 2010 (contracts make it tough to shrink booths as fast as companies might want).

The news is all over the place about Apple’s decision to stop going to MacWorld. It’s being discussed on FriendFeed big time. This post’s thesis got 40+ comments in about an hour.

To me this makes total sense. Why? 44,000 people go to MacWorld. Hell, a lot more people watch Engadget report from that much cheaper conference room.

And Apple has the personal touch already thanks to their stores. They don’t need to meet with consumers anymore in expensive trade show booths that, simply, aren’t a very good experience anyway.

So, what should we expect over the next year? A lot of bad news for big trade shows.

What’s killing them? The Internet. You can launch a product live now from a living room. Thanks to Stickam, Ustream, Qik, Kyte, YouTube, Flixwagon, Viddler, Vimeo, SmugMug, etc and blogs.

Just give the people on Facebook something to pass along and talk about and your product is out there, big time.

I wonder, will 2009’s CES be the last one I attend? I remember when I thought that about Comdex, which everyone thought was too big to die.

I think it’ll be a miracle to see CES make it to 2011. Why? Blame it on the bloggers.

That all said, I’m participating in a bunch of events at CES and I’m tracking them all (and ones at Macworld) on my calendar. Hope to see you there. It might be our last time!

Trade Show Displays said...

Nice informative post

Retail Displays said...

Thanks for this information

Trade Show Graphics said...

very useful topic thanks for the post.

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