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6 January 2015

Trends in Tradeshows: It's Time For An Evolution

Contributor Sarah Ditty


In this report, find out what's happening across fashion industry tradeshows in 2014/15 and how the future of trade events will embrace digital technologies for ROI. Image: Pure London

2014 ended in a shake-up for the fashion industry trade show landscape. Bread & Butter, one of the industry’s largest and most influential trade fairs, cancelled its January 2015 edition. After 13 years and 28 shows across three European cities and nearly 100k visitors each season, Bread & Butter was forced into insolvency due to lack of interest from exhibitors.

Several direct decisions and indirect sector trends led to B&B’s eventual demise. Firstly, B&B had seen big success having moved from Berlin to Barcelona from 2007 to 2010. But when it returned to Berlin’s Templehof airport in 2010, it also launched a new format, stricter admittance on “vertical companies” (big companies that don’t necessarily stock other brands) and consumers, and attendance fees for PR and marketing agencies.

Plus, it was costly. Bread & Butter charged considerably more than its younger competitors like Premium and Seek, charging between €300-500 per square metre (not including the costs of the stands).

Secondly, the market for fashion industry trade shows has changed. The number of exhibitions has proliferated, competition between tradeshows for both exhibitors and quality attendees has become fierce and trade has moved increasingly to Asia and the U.S.

And finally, the way that trade shows operate, their very existence and fundamental format, is being challenged by today’s increasingly digital way of working.

5 ways that fashion industry trade shows are changing:

1) Proliferation of shows

2) Moving Far East

3) Footfall is becoming increasingly unpredictable

4) New forms and formats are needed

5) Tradeshows need to embrace the digital space

“People just aren’t patient enough to spend a day on the trade show floor,” says Lindsey Rosenthal, chief strategist of Events for Good, in a new report from the ASAE Foundation, Center for Exhibition Industry Research Foundation. “Exhibitors aren’t seeing the kind of interaction they seek at these events anymore. And neither are participants.”

“The trade show used to be the place where you’d make your list of the products you need, and you’d find the exhibitors,” Aaron Wolowiec, CAE, founder and president of Event Garde told ASAE. “But today, we’re such a must-have society. I don’t wait a year to find the new partner I need; I get on the internet.”

In response to the end of Bread & Butter, Hypebeast readers echo this growing belief. One remarks “Trade shows are the past and have been for a while. Buyers have what we call the Internet now.” While another reader responds “True indeed, why waste $5,000 or more to show your collection to other brands who will knock off your ideas when you can use that toward marketing.”

Fashion industry tradeshows – Moving Far East

So what’s coming next for the future of trade shows? We’ll delve into this further below, but let’s be clear traditional trade shows aren’t quite dead yet.

Going back to our point about the changing market, let’s look at what is still happening across the industry trade show space. What shows are still gaining speed, what shows are exhibitors and buyers still finding worth their while?

It’s clear that fashion, garment and textile industry trade shows are turning towards the east.

Texworld held its first show in Istanbul just last November, opening to more than 5k visitors and 115 exhibitors from ten major textile producing countries.

This season, CHIC is combining with Micam and relocating to Shanghai in March 2015, from Beijing where it has been based for 22 years. This is mainly to take advantage of a bigger space allowing for more visitors and because coastal Shanghai boasts better logistics and trading infrastructure than inland Beijing.

The British Footwear Association told Drapers the partnership would be a “very positive change for this growing show (Micam) and those interested in entering the Chinese and Far Eastern market. With an estimated 110,000-plus visitors across the two shows, both will benefit from each other’s footfall and marketing opportunities.”

The Hub, which launched at AsiaWorld-Expo Hong Kong in 2013, aims to help UK brands expand into the Far East. The latest edition featured 115 brands (an increase on previous seasons), including household names like Barbour, Cheap Monday and Gola Classics.

Although Drapers has reported mixed opinion on The Hub and some of these newer, younger tradeshows. With numerous tradeshows popping up across these emerging markets, it seems there might just not be quite enough footfall to make it worth everyone’s while.

Robert Keyte, owner of accessories brand Robert Keyte Silks said: “We made a few contacts but we won’t go again – there weren’t enough visitors. It’s a really nice show but for some reason there was just a lack of visitors.”

Fashion industry trade shows – Mixed performance

In Europe too trade shows have been unpredictable at best. Beyond the failure of once-seminal Bread & Butter, other exhibitions seem to be staying afloat or growing modestly.

In Germany Ethical Fashion Show, run by conference-giant Messe Frankfurt, has converged Greenshowroom and Ethical Fashion Show Berlin and exhibitor registrations have increased by 30% to 160+ international labels.

On the flip side, Capsule, the global trade show for premium brands and directional designers, has cancelled its German edition in January due to clashing dates with Berlin’s Fashion Week and New York Men’s Market.

Pure London seems to be faring reasonably well. Over 375 brands are confirmed for its next event, an increase of 54% on the same time last year, and its audience remains around 11k, almost 80% of which represent independent retailers.

Moda in Birmingham celebrated 20 years of trade. Michael Hirst, owner of Step Outlet in Oldham explained to Drapers that its new layout has made Moda easier to navigate. Cathy Villiers told Moda: “We’re very pleased with the show. We normally go to Pure, but we thought we’d come over here instead this year. Today we’ve seen a lot of new brands and the atmosphere has been very welcoming.”

It could be that UK trade shows may be seeing a slight resurgence in attendance since UKTI has cut its Tradeshow Access Programme grants support for SME-sized exporters by around £1m.

Elsewhere, tradeshows remain a mixed bag. Pitti Uomo in Florence and Who’s Next in Paris have offered free or substantially discounted exhibition space to the UK Fashion & Textile Association for January and March 2015 following the government’s budget cuts.

There was a noted lack of department store buyers at Who’s Next in Paris last season, brands reported to Drapers.

The upcoming edition of White Milano happening this month is expected to host 180 brands, 20% more than last year’s edition, particularly in the rapidly growing luxe-athletic market. The Shape launches this March concurrently with LA Fashion Market and features athletic and leisure wear, a market seeing exponential growth in the U.S.

Womenswear tradeshow Vision has now closed and has been replaced by Revolver, happening during Copenhagen Fashion week at the end of January and takes place in two venues.

Gallery in Copenhagen changed format, hosting buyers in many brand showrooms rather than one single fair in 2014 and now joins Pure in Shanghai.

Christian Gregersen, chief executive of Gallery Studio, told Sportswear International that his experience had taught him there is a “better chance of doing business” by visiting showrooms directly. “The traditional fair has not changed for decades unlike its visitors, who wish to experience the city life as well.”

Transforming the traditional trade show model

It’s true the traditional trade show model has changed very little over the past several decades, and it’s high time it does.

Anita Tillmann, the head of Premium and Seek exhibitions told Sportswear International that “the market seems to be deeply insecure.”

Jörg Wichmann of Panorama Berlin told Sportswear International: “There will be modernization and consolidation for the benefit of the trade visitors and exhibitors alike. In fashion you cannot stick to nostalgia.”

With the proliferation of shows, exhibitors are demanding to see a demonstrable ROI, especially since typical exhibition costs are so high, and attendees, especially buyers who are very time-starved, just can’t commit to spending hours traipsing around giant conference centres, airports, hotels and foreign cities.

The Scenarios for the Future Convention Exhibitions & Tradeshows of 2016 report surveyed thousands of professionals who attend or exhibit in trade shows internationally.

This report concluded that new forms and formats of – and within – events will need to be developed to accommodate the future education and networking needs of both exhibitors and attendees. These new forms and formats must be what the report calls “aggressively-evolutionary” – arguing that many aspects of trade shows can be replicated online.

Andrew Hyncik, an experienced International Marketing executive, gives 7 reasons why trade shows don’t work anymore.

He explains that “perhaps they [traditional trade shows] may have made good sense two or three decades ago (prior to the digital era) but today, they increasingly feel like a relic of the analog age. The realities of the recent global recession have negatively impacted our customers’ budgets and their travel allowances. As they discover new on-line substitutes for live-attendance, they are unlikely to return to congresses as they have in the past.”

The costs of designing, building, shipping, setting up, tearing down and storing exhibition materials adds up quickly and then when you factor in exhibitor fees, flights, hotels, travel expenses, time spent preparing and organising client visits – all of this can easily run into hundred of thousands, just for one show. This seems wildly out of reach for brands that are just starting out or have other budgetary constraints.

Try a digital format, save time & money

If it’s true that buyers are making less orders at in-person trade shows and opting to use the internet to scout out new brands, then why not take advantage of this growing trend.

The most important part of a trade show is making that crucial contact with an interested buyer or someone who wants to feature your brand in their publication, helping to attract more industry buyers and customers.

The advantage of going with a digital trade show is that you can broadcast what you do and showcase your products to hundreds of people within a matter of minutes. And you can do this without spending much money or traveling anywhere. Literally, within minutes you can capture the attention of that potentially game-changing contact rather than spending days of your time and a huge chunk of your budget.

The disadvantage is that you’re not making one-on-one, face-to-face physical contact with each potential buyer. And of course, personal relationships are very important. However, these business relationships are typically built over time anyway, so why not open those doors first in the smart way – online.

The chances are high that you already use tools like Skype for meetings (300 million people do) and that it’s helped you do business with people from all over the world.

Let the digital showcase act as your jumping off-point, the best way to peek interest in your products and start conversations with prospective clients.

This is usually what happens at physical events anyway, so save your pennies and do it online. Then spend your precious time, energy and money following up on the leads that count.

Brand Preview 2015 – A digital showcase of sustainable fashion brands

On 26th & 27th February 2015, we will be hosting the annual SOURCE Brand Preview, where you will be introduced to more sustainable, ethical fashion brands from around the world than any other exhibition.

And to capitalise on this growing digital trend, we’re hosting this entirely online – through 12 targeted sessions covering a wide range of different segments of the market. This means you can check out the products most relevant for you without the hassle of your usual trade fair.

For brands exhibiting, you’ll be able to showcase what you do and your products to hundreds of industry professionals in a matter of minutes without traveling anywhere. Make sales leads or find partners and collaborators at a fraction of the cost of a physical trade fair. Find out more about Brand Preview here.

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