Byline: KARYN MONGET
NEW YORK -- The often fragmented trade show circuit here is pulling together to capture more buyers from around the globe.
Show promoters are attempting to coordinate scheduling and putting a greater emphasis on customer service, special events and amenities.
Even as vendors worry about the cutback in retailer buying trips, trade show executives still can boast that New York is the focal point of American fashion and that it's the best place to draw international retailers as well. Over the past year, that image has taken on a new luster, with the 7th on Sixth runway shows, organized by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, giving the New York collections a focal point -- under tents in Bryant Park -- and a heightened panache.
At the same time, the new Fashion Center Business Improvement District, funded by a property tax assessment on real estate owners, has hiked security and sanitation in the SA area, and will be implementing marketing strategies this fall, such as information kiosks at airports here.
Among trade show producers, David Larkin, vice president of corporate development at The Larkin Group, said the firm is developing several promotional ideas to assist both exhibitors and buyers. The Larkin firm produces the International Fashion Boutique Show, International Fashion Fabric Exhibition and International Fashion Kids Show.
"We're expanding the whole social aspect of the shows," said Larkin. "We're also trying to provide a better product and make that 10 percent who don't know whether they should participate, participate in the show."
At the Aug. 27-30 International Fashion Boutique Show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, Larkin said there will be seminars on how to put together an effective booth and more creative services will be available as well, such as mannequin and fixture rental and an on-site designer to help vendors with their displays. Also, a formal fashion show is being planned for the first time.
Larkin noted that mailers will be sent to his company's retail mailing list detailing "fun things to do in New York" and featuring a "Passport to Soho" that will include discounts at local restaurants, bars and clubs, and a list of activities here that are free.
A cruise around the Hudson River also is planned for retailers and some exhibitors Aug. 29. The cruise will cost $10 and will feature a barbecue dinner and a cash bar. "We'll come to a crescendo in October during Fashion Week, and we'll organize a retail roundtable," he continued, noting that here also will be a focus on a foreign buyers' program.
"At the last Boutique show in May, we had buyers from 52 countries, and we expect a lot more in October," he said.
At CMC, owner and show organizer of Fashion Accessories Expo, an accessories trade show, Steve Levine, group show director, said: "It used to be like in the movie "Field of Dreams" -- if you build it, they will come. That's not the case for trade shows anymore."
"Retailers and vendors are much more price-sensitive regarding product, travel, general costs and return on customers," said Levine. "We realize we have to be customer-service oriented. That's new to the trade show business."
Levine said basic ads and mailers "aren't good enough anymore. Now, we're looking to telemarketing, and getting exhibitors involved in promotions, mailers, ads and phone calls. Most exhibitors don't do anything -- they rely on the trade shows to get it done."
A series of trend events, fashion shows, seminars and sweepstakes are being planned to make all of the FAE shows "more exciting," he said. CMC is also developing an FAE buyer club program of discounts on various services and will be providing lounge areas for buyers. The FAE shows here are held at Jacob K. Javits Center and at Pier 90 and Pier 92.
Three FAE shows are staged in New York and two in Las Vegas.
Elyse Kroll, owner and president of ENK Productions Ltd., however, said she is firm about staging her three trade shows only in New York. She produces Accessories Circuit, Designers' Collective and Fashion Coterie.
"We are based in New York as a fashion center, and I feel it's very important to bring retailers to New York," said Kroll, who discontinued doing shows in Los Angeles and Las Vegas in 1990.
To bring in more buyers for the Aug. 7-9 Accessories Circuit to be held at The Plaza Hotel, Kroll will be staging her show to run concurrently with FFANY, the Fashion Footwear Association of New York's shoe show.
"We'll be offering retailers a super show that in itself will introduce new traffic," said Kroll. "A lot of shows that sell shoes have also begun to sell accessories."
Kroll noted that the holiday/resort show in August is "typically smaller" with around 120 vendors. She said the joint venture is expected to draw over 200 accessories exhibitors, many of whom are expected to be new accounts.
"This time the response is booming," she continued. "More exhibitors are signing up because they feel there will be more retail traffic."
As for branching out internationally, Kroll said she is "investigating bringing in small groups of designers and having pavilions at existing trade shows in Italy."
Marshall Lester, director of Blenheim Trade Shows Inc., the U.S. apparel trade show division of Blenheim Group PLC, said merchandising collections by category will be the newest direction at New York Premier Collection at the Javits Center.
"We will have a strong presentation of upscale foreign collections," said Lester. "We'll be merchandising eveningwear, sportswear and young designer collections in their own areas."
He also noted that another strategic move was to change the show dates of Premier Collection to Sept. 25-27 from Sept. 18-20.
Lester noted the change -- which puts Premier Collection into the same time frame as several other shows, including Fashion Coterie -- was made to save buyers additional expenses and time, and to eliminate the need for American and international buyers to choose between shows.
Lester said he anticipates 15 percent of the 5,000 buyers expected to attend Premier Collections to be foreign buyers.
"We've been getting lots of inquiries from Latin America, especially Venezuela," said Lester.
Carol Bigman, owner and show organizer of Exposition Associates, which produces Intimate Apparel Salon five times annually, noted, "I've concentrated for the last year and a half on building the smaller markets -- January, March and August -- by increasing mailings and advertising."
Helping to round out the New York trade show calendar are a variety of other specialized shows, such as Private Label Expo, which features vendors offering private label programs in women's, men's and children's wear and accessories; Showroom, featuring contemporary-to-designer women's apparel, and StyleWorks, highlighting contemporary to young designer lines.
(Fabric shows are another key facet of the trade show scene. See story, page 10.)