In the past, I’ve been more than willing to criticize trade shows, suggest changes, and express our mutual uncertainty as to what the role of trade shows should be and how they should perform that role. Even recognizing that the winter Long Beach Agenda typically has lower attendance than summer, I was surprised at the low attendance and the brands that did not attend. I also heard from more than the usual number of brands that attended only because they got free booth space.
Among the brands I noticed that were not there were NHS/Santa Cruz, Powell, Stance, Spy, Volcom, Billabong, RUCA, GoPro and Sole Technology. Perhaps some of them are not usually January participants anyway. Some are busy with other, probably more pressing, issues.
The consumer day was cancelled. One would assume that was because not enough brands supported it. That might makes sense, it was suggested to me, because it’s too soon after the holidays for the kids to be enthusiastic. Concrete Wave founder Michael Brooke had an interesting take on the show. Here’s a link to his blog.
The consensus among most of the people I talked with was that January Agenda had run its course. It wasn’t just a handful of people who said that. And the brands that had already spoken with their feet are echoing the same sentiment.
This is not like when ASR, having completely lost touch with reality, staggered to its end and self destructed. The value proposition of this show has simply run its course.
Aaron Levant and his then partner, Seth Haber, were prescient in starting Agenda. Seth left a couple of years ago, and Aaron didn’t require any additional prescience to get the hell out of Dodge now. As has been publicly announced, he’s joining a startup on March 1 that’s not in our industry. There’s a lot of that going around. I will look forward to hearing what he’s involved in.
There were three interesting things at the show. The first was the number of brands I’d never heard of before. Other people had the same comment. Second was the “booth” from Rebel Eight Clothing with a coffin and basic funeral parlor looking set up with lots of roses bemoaning the “death of wholesale.”
I feel their pain. And being something of a contrarian in both my investing and how I think about our market, I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps this wasn’t an indication of the bottom in the decline of the wholesale market. In truth, I don’t have any idea.
The business model I’ve been flogging for years has its genesis in my uncertainty about how things are going to evolve. I’m going to talk about that in a presentation I’m doing at the Know Show this week. Probably should have called my speech, “I Have No Idea,” but that didn’t seem like the best way to draw an audience.
Finally, I saw the Shark Wheel. If you didn’t see it at the show, or weren’t there, or both, you need to look at it. You shouldn’t take my word that the technology and engineering make sense. Read about it on their web site. No, the wheel isn’t square- I had that reaction the first time I saw it. This, if you think it works, is exactly the kind of small risk that could be big I encourage retailers to take. I had a long enough conversation with them to believe they might be onto something. They think, and I probably agree, that skateboarding will be their smallest market.
Back to the issue of what’s going to happen to trade shows. There will be more consumer-focused events I expect. That’s not news to anybody. They would have evolved regardless of what happened to traditional industry trade shows; this is not just an evolution from one to the other.
Traditionally, brands exhibited and retailers came, or were supposed to. Lots of brands and lot of retailers in one place = successful trade show and value in showing up.
For years now, brands and retailers have been getting together outside trade shows. It’s been particularly the case that large brands meet with large retailers outside of show venues. The internet has simultaneously let both brands and retailers do some of the things they used to do at trade shows.
I’m going to use Zumiez as my poster child for how things might evolve.
Zumiez currently has two big events. The first is their 100K (just last week I think) where they get together their top sales people with the heads of the brands they sell for three days of fun, partying, snowboarding, and recognition at Copper Mountain. It’s a great event.
Their second event is Rocktember held this past year in September at their corporate headquarters. All (I think) of their sales people are invited as are many of their newer, smaller brands. It’s fun, networking, education. I see the value of the brands being able to talk to so many of the people who sell their products as huge.
That event is threatening to overwhelm the space at Zumiez’s headquarters.
I don’t know this, but I’d be somewhat stunned if somewhere in Zumiez some group of people isn’t talking about how these events should be expanded, moved, combined, or something. This would be driven partly by Zumiez’s relentless process for finding, grooming, and growing (and dumping if they don’t work) new brands.
We will see more out of those two events, but I don’t know what form it will take. If one were to evolve into something resembling a trade show, or at least what trade shows are becoming, I wouldn’t be surprised.
I suppose the reason I don’t know is because, and Zumiez continues to be a fine example, brands are now retailers and retailers are brands. The traditional trade show model was based on a distinction that no longer exists to the extent it used to and was a rationale shared by mutually dependent, but not competitive, retailers and brands.
What’s the new rationale? When we can answer that, we can begin to know the appropriate format.