Q&A: Not Too Overwhelming, Not Too Tiny— What Trade-Show Size Is Just Right?
A shift has been occurring along the trade-show circuit over the last few years as many larger apparel-industry expositions are becoming more segmented, turning toward a shows-within-a-show model, catering to buyers who want to shop around without a particular buying mission. Other, smaller shows promote their brands as intimate, category-specific events that speak to a particular buyer who wants a more personal experience to focus on certain products. Producers from many of the industry’s most-influential events spoke with California Apparel News to reveal whether a perfect trade-show size exists.
Show Director, Fashion and Apparel
Apparel Sourcing USA
At Texworld USA and Apparel Sourcing USA, we aim to serve the demands of the industry. As a relatively large apparel show, we cover the entire supply chain, including large-scale retailers, buying offices, merchandisers and wholesalers but have developed many niche platforms to meet the specialized needs of today’s buyers. For example, startups, DTC brands and designers do not require or need large-volume orders. As such, we developed a special feature area for those seeking low minimums and partnered with StartUp Fashion along with other like-minded organizations that support our initiatives.
This industry is evolving rapidly, as is our platform to address these changes. We have chosen innovation to be our spotlight for the 2020 editions, which will be the undercurrent of every aspect of the event beginning with the broad range of diverse exhibits and an expanding selection of functional fabrics from international suppliers representing more than 11 countries. In addition, Texworld USA will feature a special curated area concentrating on the innovation of processes and advancements of today’s revolutionary fabrics. This is coupled with a core presentation on new materials, colors and trend forecasting.
The spotlight on innovation upholds our commitment to sustainability, which we feel goes hand in hand with technology. Demonstrated throughout the show floor, we continue to elevate the issue with an increase of manufacturers offering eco-friendly sourcing options, the addition of topical educational forums and support from our longstanding relationship with Lenzing fibers, which continues to set the standard on this subject.
A key component of our events is ensuring that the educational programs are complementary. With business models changing, the ability to navigate through the shift in the industry is crucial, and our platforms seek to address these changes within the programming. Composed of the traditional seminar sessions, engaging panel discussions and guided tours led by industry experts, this edition will be enhanced by the introduction of a new conference, FashionInnovate. Happening on day one, FashionInnovate was developed to bridge the world of fashion and technology. This one-day conference will bring thought leaders together in an open forum to share insights on the latest trends, technology and tools in the textile-and-apparel industry.
The dedication to creating meaningful content and highlighting innovations from a global perspective remains the cornerstone of our vision for Texworld USA and Apparel Sourcing USA as we solidify our position in providing a full-service platform to the marketplace.
CEM, Executive Director
Of course not all exhibitors or product assortments will be the right match for every show attendee. Apparel trade shows across the industry are becoming more segmented to meet the changing needs of retailers who are finding growth in emerging sectors. Feature areas at an event should fill an evident need and act as a response to the retail industry.
For example, last year, Offprice launched a new feature area, Boutique, to offer more options for buyers looking for unique, elevated pieces for their stores. Like many sectors in retail, what’s considered “off price” falls within a range of price points. We found that retailers who were willing to pay a little extra for a higher level of product were struggling to find affordable options.
At its debut, Boutique received such a positive response from our attendees that we were able to double the size of the section for the following trade show. Feature areas or shows within a show help buyers make the most of their time and uncover new possibilities for their assortments that keep them competitive during this challenging time in retail.
As trade-show organizers, it’s our duty to present an array of what’s available in the market but also encourage attendees to adapt smart buying strategies that are proving their worth. Makeup, beauty accessories and other cosmetic items are continuing to show their strength in the off-price market as more consumers continue to purchase small add-ons. In turn, we’re launching a new section dedicated to beauty products at the upcoming Offprice, Feb. 3–6, 2020, in Las Vegas.
At Offprice we believe retailers should test new categories of products and see what works for their shoppers, which is why we’re investing in new, specially curated feature areas for our attendees. This doesn’t mean that smaller events should be discounted for their worth.
Regional events will continue to play an important role for retailers of all sizes. For many multi-store buyers, finding time in the calendar to travel to trade shows is becoming increasingly difficult. For small boutique owners or emerging retailers, the cost of travel and lodging can quickly add up. Market shows, like the one Offprice is hosting in New York City May 5–6, 2020, give retailers more access to key exhibitors in the industry in a more local setting.
Many small retailers begin their journey to a trade show by seeking out vendors and marketplaces online. Almost everyone has a cell phone or laptop, and it’s simply convenient to browse products at times that work for you, even if it’s at midnight in your jammies. An omni-channel approach is reflective of what we’re seeing in retail—both bricks-and-mortar and an online presence are key for remaining relevant.
We created Offprice365, our online marketplace, to help more business owners introduce themselves to our community and begin planning for an upcoming Offprice event by browsing merchandise throughout the year. For many, touching and feeling products in person will never go out of style, but the online option makes an event more accessible for newcomers.
Perhaps there is no “perfect size” or setting for a retail-buying event. Instead, the quality of the product assortment, the value of the feature areas within a show and the access to emerging areas of growth are key for successful trade shows.
Coast’s business model has always operated as a boutique trade show based on retailer requests. They enjoy the ease and comfort of conducting business in a curated environment as opposed to the stress of larger shows. We handpick each vendor and keep the show at an intimate, walkable size to ensure retailers are happy while also introducing new brands.
I have attended larger shows, and they are very overwhelming despite being segmented into neighborhoods or themed areas, whether by price point, contemporary designers or European collections.
Coast has achieved success in several cities including Miami, Chicago, Boston, New York and Nashville. Buyers continue to appreciate the convenience of its focused edit over big events that take days for them to write orders. I’m not sure if there is a recipe for a successful show, but I believe that retailers are forcing us to look at our businesses and what they need from us. If we listen to them and support them, we can create the right brand mix that will drive their businesses to succeed as well.
The intimates and swimwear industries are large and can feel highly segmented. Major, large-scale industry events such as the Paris, New York and Las Vegas Curve trade shows are vital to understanding the industry’s direction, offering opportunities to meet with key decision-makers and collaborators in addition to forming relationships with exciting up-and-coming players in our industry.
Eurovet, as the leading trade-show organization for intimates and swim, is listening to the needs of our retail buyers. We are making changes based on what the market is asking for including shows tailored to niche markets, new regions and shows-within-a-show.
Several years ago, the Salon International de la Lingerie in Paris introduced to the market a show-within-a show called Exposed, a curated section of next-generation designer brands. I am excited to announce that we are bringing Exposed to Curve New York in February 2020. This will be the best setting for fashion-forward lingerie brands to present their collections to buyers.
In addition, in February 2020, for the first time, the leading fabric show for swim and intimate fabrics suppliers, Interfilière, is joining forces with Curve and will present its IFL Lab, an area dedicated to innovative mills and manufacturers. By bringing Exposed and Interfilière LAB within the Curve New York show, we will offer a fresh perspective for buyers, press and attendees to better understand the future design direction of the intimates industry.
If there is such a thing as a “perfect show size” it won’t be perfect for long because the industry is so dynamic and, therefore, the buyers’ needs are always evolving. I tend to think not in terms of size or model but rather more holistically.
Today’s buyers and retailers must think beyond specific categories because their customers don’t think that way. For those of us who design and put on shows, it’s our responsibility to create a floor plan, flow and mix of product that will make for a fresh, exciting presentation—not an overwhelming or exhausting one. We all know that some choice is great but too much choice is, well, too much!
Brand Assembly has always believed in curating brands and products that represent a lifestyle rather than a single sensibility. We get such positive feedback from buyers who feel we create a manageable, digestible experience with enough variety that we can still be that one-stop shop they want. It’s also important to us to create a positive experience for the brands we are showing because while it’s absolutely about the buying audience, we also know that a show that feels right and that performs for our selling audience is part of what builds buzz and momentum.
Vice President, Fashion
Womenswear In Nevada (WWIN)
Both buyers and brands are increasingly looking for a feeling of intimacy in their trade-show experience, which is part of the reason I believe that regional shows are having so much success today. The shows feel more manageable, curated and also tend to be less costly for all involved, which will always be a draw.
That said, an effective event producer can create that same feeling regardless of the size of the overall event by thoughtfully developing neighborhoods with a specific point of view that makes sense for the buyer as well as programs to connect buyers and sellers, such as our unique meeting program, MATCH!, which creates productive and collaborative connections for both parties.
Today, the world of trade shows has become multiform. All these fairs of diverse forms live together in order to adapt to the international markets’ evolution and to answer the variety of professionals’ expectations: more-specialized events with clear and easily readable offerings—through products and services—corresponding to the need for speed and efficiency.
As far as Première Vision is concerned, even if we only deal with one activity domain—the fashion industry—we choose to develop a complementary offering of shows with different formats.
We have events on a larger scale, like Première Vision Paris’s next edition, Feb. 11–13, which is about 2,000 exhibitors spread out over five halls. However, within this unique event, the exhibiting companies are divided into six main universes by specialty of know-how: fabrics, yarns, leather, designs, accessories and components. These complementary offerings, organized by sector to be clear, allow visitors to find more easily the materials and providers they are looking for. We have even developed events within the event with spaces such as the Smart Creation Area, dedicated to eco-responsible materials and service solutions, and the Wearable Lab, presenting technologies adaptable for fashion.
Then we have another format of events— proximity and specialized shows, which are dealing with one specific market or one specific kind of offering: Première Vision Sport, in Portland, for sport brands; Première Vision New York, which addresses the U.S. market and is now a sustainable show presenting a specialized and eco-responsible offering of materials; and Blossom Première Vision, which is dedicated to luxury and high-range brands’ pre-collections.
With Denim Première Vision, our show dedicated to contemporary and sustainable denim fashion, we opened a new kind of trade fair. For three seasons, it has been evolving into a roving event, going from one European fashion capital to another, such as Paris, London and Milan. The objective is to invite the international fashion and denim communities to broaden their business perspectives, discover new sources of inspiration and directly meet new market opportunities.
In addition to our 12 international trade shows, in 2018 we launched our unique business-to-business e-commerce platform: the Marketplace Première Vision. Digitalization proposes a new format of trade fairs that are complementary to the regular ones.
The Marketplace Première Vision is a true online catalog and a professional-community space, designed to prolong and complement the business relationships initiated at Première Vision’s physical events. It lets visitors—fashion brands—sample or order products from various exhibitors and pay for them in one easy transaction. The Marketplace is both a business-to-business e-commerce site, with a select catalog of products exclusively from the collections of its exhibitors and available throughout the year, and an editorial product, providing access to Première Vision’s expert fashion information.
International Market Centers, Atlanta Apparel
Our industry has moved away from a one-size-fits-all model as the demand rises for a more diverse product mix, agility to respond to rapidly changing trends and regularly refreshed stock. The key to an effective trade show is meeting buyers where and when they need product. It is for this reason that Atlanta Apparel presents the brands, resources and education retailers need at multiple shows throughout the year to help them grow their businesses.
Recognizing that we have to change and adapt with industry shifts to be successful, we have established a regular feedback loop with both our buyers and exhibitors. From at-market feedback to the calls our Buyer Services team makes and fields, we are always checking in with our customers about market frequency and needs. Based on this input, the constant message we hear is that buyers need access to regularly held quality markets where they can get product as frequently as they need it. Once a year or even twice a year may not be enough, and, most importantly, buyers want markets at a scale where they can be productive and spend time writing orders. For this reason, the size of the Atlanta Apparel markets makes them valuable experiences for buyers. These markets have the selection found at larger shows, presented in a curated, easy-to-shop format. Buyers are not overwhelmed by too many choices as they select the must-have pieces that their customers will want for the upcoming season.
As another example of how the trade-show landscape has changed, Atlanta Apparel updated their date pattern for temporary exhibitors in 2020 to create more efficiency for retailers and exhibitors. The shift to a three-day trade show and five-day market for showrooms four times per year in January, April, August and October and a three-day trade show or four-day permanent showroom market in June was driven by feedback from our attendees. This frequency lets buyers visit the market center as many times as they need to throughout the year and have enough time to balance visits to both temporary exhibits and permanent showrooms.
Atlanta Apparel’s eight annual markets feature the latest looks in contemporary, young contemporary, ready-to-wear, fashion accessories and more, plus specialty categories such as children’s, plus-size, bridal and special occasion.
Manager, Buyer and Community Relations
California Market Center
Expositions are certainly in flux as buying patterns have shifted over the past few years. Retailers and buyers have more access to brands than ever before, with regional shows and road appointments creating a more-personalized buying experience.
Changes in the economy and consumer shopping patterns have forced buyers to shop smarter and focus on brands that will sell at full price within their stores. Many brands view larger shows as a marketing platform to promote brand awareness, create industry connections and command their space in the marketplace. Brands participating in smaller events are generally spreading their budgets across as many shows as possible in order to enter the marketplace and build their brand.
Large and small shows are using the show-within-a-show model as a form of experiential shopping, providing options to shop and reasons to stay at a show. Buyers’ time is shrinking with the increase in shows to attend, so shows must create multiple experiences for buyers to enjoy while attending. Maximizing the experience is essential for buyer-brand engagement, as show pricing and travel fees are increasing nationwide.
Expositions and brands will continue to adapt to the marketplace. Where several years ago a brand applied budgets toward vertical booth build-outs, they are now developing activations within their booths to drive traffic and customer engagement. There is no perfect show size as large and small shows have different needs to meet and services to deliver. It is relative to the type of attendee and the transactions taking place at the show, whether monetary or marketing. Outside of expositions, brands are finding permanent showrooms necessary on both the West and East coasts to conduct business operations, sales and marketing.
Functional Fabric Fair
A shows-within-a-show model only works when the event organizer really dives into doing matchmaking. I don’t think it works to keep a certain number of companies happy. If I spent 20 percent of my time trying to get 50 exhibitors, I would spend 80 percent of my time trying to get the sourcing directors from the brands that exhibit on the other side of the wall to come to the show and set up appointments.
I don’t think a lot of event organizers take the time to make sure that they line up appointments for these guys. To be successful with a show within a show, the organizers have to be proactive and line up meetings.
My show is successful, but I don’t have a huge universe. Smaller, digestible shows are what I used to like to go to. Maybe that is the answer for more sustained longevity. We pepper into our shows other things, such as a really cool lineup of speakers, and we made a really cool archive in which a lot of iconic brands donated iconic pieces. I had a Marmot piece from 1972, I had a Filson piece from 1920, I had a Woolrich piece from 1930, I had the original Banana Gore-Tex piece from 1971, I had some real high-end guys send cool high-end stuff. I didn’t advertise it, but when visitors arrived, they could see the 1938 Eddie Bauer first down jacket on display. I had 15 killer pieces that were just an extra add-on.
We have a section called The Forum. I ask all the exhibitors to give me their top 10 swatches so we start out with 1,400 swatches and we narrow that down to the 300 best in 10 categories, so we help to educate the attendee, too. Now, attendees can go and find those pieces. We do these little things to help them navigate the show.
Dallas Market Center
When we ask buyers directly what they value most from their market experience, they mention two things: inspiration and efficiency. These two values drive our business, and heading into 2020 we are full of confidence and new energy to create markets as must-see moments of retail discovery, inspiration and business intelligence.
How are we accomplishing this? One example is the “Five Senses” market theme we are launching in the new year, designed to instruct and inspire the retail experience. Every market will be a sensory journey guided by products and trends. We are also deeply invested in providing customers with a well-merchandised selection that matches their core needs but also offers the unexpected, the unique and even new categories from which to create the best retail experience possible.
Inspiration might come from showrooms, temporary exhibitions such as Brand Assembly, along with pop-up exhibits for beauty and health and wellness. That’s also why we have nearby neighborhoods of gifts and stationery, holiday and home products that can help retailers stand apart if they want to diversify their merchandise mix and create a multi-category retail destination. We are changing it up show by show in order to encourage retail discovery. That’s really the new heartbeat of Dallas—trying new things and even breaking some rules.
The second value is efficiency. Now, more than ever, the most precious commodity an independent retailer has is time; they have to make the most of a trip to market. They don’t want to travel between locations if they can help it. They want to quickly survey what’s new. They want to easily order the bestsellers and discover some new options to help differentiate themselves. That’s why we continue to create new product neighborhoods, remerchandise existing ones and encourage discovery into adjacent neighborhoods of diverse categories.
To create inspiration and efficiency for large-volume buyers, we have substantially increased our private buying suites, staff and services to help department stores and major stores survey specific categories on their own schedule, most often away from the show calendar. At the same time, we want to make a special effort to help new and growing businesses. For partners such as the Boutique Hub, an organization serving online and bricks-and-mortar stores, we help with the in-person connection to resources, tools, training and sales representatives they need to thrive.
In 2020, all of these efforts will dramatically accelerate as we debut a complete neighborhood of Western apparel and accessories showrooms in advance of the arrival of the WESA shows and as we launch what we are calling the Total Lifestyle Market, a summer event when our apparel and accessories show takes place together with other markets. We’re looking ahead, creating better value for exhibitors and working together to help retailers distinguish themselves as destinations superior to their bricks-and-mortar or online competition.
Hisham and Kari Muhareb
NW Materials Show
NE Materials Show
While there is no perfect show size, there is an undeniable need for large shows. People attend trade shows because they want a lot of variety and choice. The impact of any show is that it gathers multiple vendors in a single location for easy one-stop shopping for trade consumers. At the end of the day, brands are putting out good money for flights, hotels and meals to attend any industry show so it better be worth it. Large shows offer access to more vendors, and they typically have value-added offerings built in, like industry seminars, educational opportunities, speaker panels and networking events.
Smaller, more-boutique shows fulfill an important need for smaller-batch makers. Vendors at smaller shows may be more willing to lower their minimum order quantities, making them accessible to small-batch makers.
A show within a show can be the best of both worlds. A great example of this is the recent collaboration of the NW Materials Show and Première Vision Sport. Première Vision Sport brought a curated selection of its fashion apparel offerings, including sportswear materials and prints, as a complement to the footwear-focused Materials Show. There is so much cross influence between footwear and apparel that combining the shows was a natural fit.
In the outdoor, performance and athleisure markets, new designs are increasingly being considered from head to toe. Materials Show attendees, who are mainly footwear-product developers, designers and materials managers, encouraged their counterparts in apparel to attend to see the new offerings from PV. Attendees shopped the entire show floor, finding inspiration and innovative uses for materials from both the footwear and apparel worlds. Plus, they all enjoyed the color and trend-forecasting presentations available at the show. Brands looking for maximum variety and more connections for their supply chain had all the benefits of a larger show. Attendees who wanted a narrower focus could shop the show within a show, leaving ample time to visit, explore and connect with all vendors in their field.
At the end of the day, it’s supply and demand. If the brands are supporting smaller, regional shows by attending and creating connections with suppliers, the show will go on.
Liberty Fashion & Lifestyle Fairs
The ideal model is dependent on purpose and strategy. Liberty Fairs has always been and will continue to be the best curated show in the men’s market because of our need to not only drive commerce but to elevate the experience on the show floor.
As trade-show organizers, our responsibility is to be proactive and move the market and not be reactive based on the changes. We study the market closely and use that as data to set the tone. Although we have expanded throughout the years, Liberty Fairs’ key focus is quality, not quantity. We are true merchants at the core and understand the need to collaborate with the smaller shows to make it seamless for the industry. Our mindset and landscape are ever evolving in order to better serve our brands, retailers and the press.
At our shows, we occupy from approximately 30,000 square feet to 50,000 square feet. That way, the buyers can navigate the whole show in a day, unlike other shows that are just too much. I don’t know how a buyer would be able to shop those and have clarity to find different brands.
With CALA, we like putting our regional shows in the buyers’ own backyard so they don’t have to leave their shops for very long. We try to create that intimate experience with the show being fully catered, small and personal. The reps can spend time with the buyers and better service their clients.
It seems the regional shows are becoming a lot more popular. The business is evolving and changing. We’re able to put on a show very efficiently at a good price. It insulates us from the competition because we do all the shipping and provide all the labor, allowing us to put on a show that can’t be touched in terms of pricing.
We’re pretty interested in opening in other markets, perhaps the Pacific Northwest, maybe in Portland, or in Orange County in California, and maybe something in our own backyard.
What I would like to do is open a men’s show. There is a lack of men’s shows on the West Coast. It’s something I am interested in doing and maybe even opening a men’s section in the San Francisco CALA show.
Chief Commercial Officer
Informa Markets, Fashion Group
Our events are designed for an efficient shopping experience for the retailers and to maximize their opportunity to see new products. For years, we have developed marketplaces to serve the fashion industry, and within those marketplaces we have specific events that represent all verticals and targeted levels of distribution.
The fashion portfolio of Informa Markets creates innovative platforms that connect and inspire the global fashion community. Our approach is to build fashion marketplaces supported by digital platforms, clearly identifying communities and then building highly curated neighborhoods.
One campus, multiple events and targeted neighborhoods create a dynamic shopping experience and opportunities for our audiences to connect. Together with our media partners, influencers and bloggers, we are able to build an audience for each community. Whether you attend Project, FN Platform or any of our shows in Las Vegas, we have events that we have built communities in to connect our retailers and brands.
Apparel Sourcing Show
Guatemala Apparel & Textile Association
The shows in general have been increasing in terms of more shows of more industries or topics. Depending on the region or country, the offering will be bigger or smaller. Asia shows would be huge, yet Latin America and Central America shows would be smaller. So, we could say that the perfect size for a show will be determined by the market, demand and offerings.
As show organizers, we aim to give more personalized attention; therefore, we prefer smaller shows where you can have real business connections, with personalized attention from the exhibitors and more-focused products. The time management becomes more productive and enables business transactions to accelerate. In a time where computers and mobile phones are replacing eye-to-eye contact, a small event allows you to feel more comfortable while doing business and sourcing for suppliers.
Swimwear Association of Florida
I do believe that a perfect trade-show size exists. If a promoter knows his or her audience, then he or she can determine what is right for the event. You never want a trade show to grow to a point where you are filling space just to fill space. Losing touch with your core undermines the goals you are trying to accomplish.
Your trade show’s reputation stands supreme above all—provide the brands that your retailers want to see and your vendors want to surround themselves with. Keep in mind to always introduce new brands into the marketplace that fit your parameters and that provide fresh new approaches.
Fashion Market Northern California
I don’t think that there is a perfect show size, especially with show traffic and attendance constantly changing. A small show does bring many advantages. Fashion Market Northern California is the only open-booth venue on the West coast run by sales representatives.
We support small businesses, shop local and shop small. We are a small, friendly venue, easy to shop and navigate. Our friendly staff is there to welcome everyone with a smile. The proximity of our host hotel is within easy access to the show—no freeway or traffic to contend with.
Our treats in the morning and afternoon are very comforting. With all of these personal and intimate touches by the organizers, the buyers notice it and appreciate it.
We find that our buyers have positive things to say about a small, easy-to-shop venue like ours. They’ve mentioned that at large shows they get lost and don’t receive any personal attention.
There is no perfect answer to the right size for a show, but FMNC gives an experience that no other show offers. We publish a “show book” in advance of the show that helps the buyers prep for their shopping experience. Being prepared allows them to have more time to shop instead of spending time navigating the space.
The overall “friendly village” atmosphere of a show like ours will continue to serve buyers’ needs without the stress of large venues. Staying and shopping closer to home at a smaller show also provides buyers with many options and plenty of variety under one roof.
Assistant Show Manager, International Sales Director
Apparel Textile Sourcing
The more decision-makers, on both the buy and sell sides of a B2B relationship, an event can help bring under one roof at one time often works to the benefit of everyone involved—exhibitors, attendees and organizers combined. The show-within-a-showmodel has become a part of the Apparel Textile Sourcing exhibition experience as the shows are now threefold through visitors meeting with exhibitors; the FashionLab conference for SMEs, new brands, and other businesses doing $10 million per year and below; and the Enterprise Connectpanels and keynotes for large brands and retailers that address many of the domestic and international trade factors that effect B2B and B2C fashion companies across the supply chain.
It is tough to say if there is such a thing as a perfect size for an event. However, the unwritten rule that trade shows can follow is the balance between being small enough to be digestible in terms of information gathered from exhibitors or seminars and large enough for effective diversity in product assortment in order to gain real transactional relationships with enough partners to build a season’s collection once everyone returns to the office.
When organizers do their part to bring all parties together, a successful show becomes dependent on the attitude and strategy of each exhibitor and attendee. We have seen exhibitors and attendees come in with a laser focus looking for only a couple of new key partners and others that use the show as a buffet of new relationships. Bottom line, it is best for each executive at the show to have a plan in advance of attending and leverage our staff on Manufacturer.com to help them have the most productive sourcing or selling process for matchmaking before, during or after the shows.