It’s Tradeshow’s Season. I Started with Agenda, But I’m also Thinking About SIA.

Among the things I liked at Agenda, the one I liked the most was Shmooza Palooza, the jobs fair jointly sponsored by Agenda and Malakye.com. 500 people preregistered for it and it was busy every time I looked in. It’s great to sell a few more T-shirts or another snowboard, but it’s even better to help somebody put food on the table. The guy who probably didn’t get a job at this job fair is the one who told one of the recruiters he had gotten a college scholarship and taken the money to use for a surf trip. It’s somehow troubling he apparently thought that would make him sound credible.

On a personal note, I have a kid who graduated from college last spring and has an actual job with benefits and 401(k) plan. Most of his peers are not so fortunate and I think he knows how lucky he is. My wife and I feel like we won the lottery.

The other things I liked at Agenda included flying into a small airport, $100 hotels, and the food trucks. It was a pleasure to get good food at a fair price instead of bad food at an expensive price. I also liked having the booth numbers at the top of the booths where they were easy to see, though I understand this isn’t new. And as always, I liked seeing some new brands, or at least brands I haven’t seen before. I hope they do well.
 
I didn’t like it when people referred to Agenda as the "new ASR," because I remember what happened to the old ASR. I had written before, when ASR first closed, about the pressure Agenda, or any other trade show, might come under as it succeeded and grew. That analysis, I think, is still valid. But Agenda has done at least two things that should mitigate those pressures to some extent. First, they got the hell out of San Diego to the more attractive cost structure of Long Beach. Second, they are keeping the feel of the show more or less the same as it grows by keeping most booth sizes the same. Or at least keeping them from getting too big.
 
Yes, I know a few brands had larger booths. I noticed it too. But I don’t think that’s different from how it was in San Diego. It’s just that a new location makes you see perceive things differently even if they ain’t.
 
The new location makes it difficult to compare last year’s Agenda this with year’s. But then I’ve always been cautious about reaching conclusions based on how busy a given booth was at the moment I walked by or how crowded the aisles felt. The question is do brands and retailers feel like the show is a good place to get business done, and nobody at Agenda complained to me about that.
 
Next, I’m off to the SIA snow show in Denver. Nothing could improve that show more than a lot of snow during the next 10 days. Last year, as you know, was an epic snow year.  I never expect two great years in a row, but I was really hoping that this year would at least be okay.  Last year’s great show, coupled with the residual fear from the recession, meant that retailers have been cautious on their inventory and most of the old stuff was gone. There wasn’t much left over product at deep discounts, and customers learned they had to buy quickly and at full price to get what they wanted. The result was a great year not just for sales but for profits as well.
 
Though it hasn’t always been the snow industry’s mindset, you really can sell less and earn more, and I was hoping for another year to cement that kind of thinking.
 
What I’ve heard so far is that brands, in general, didn’t over produce and retailers didn’t over order due to over enthusiasm from last year. That’s good. We should never let ourselves be deluded into believing we’re great managers and sales people just because it snows.
 
Still, it appears likely that we’re going to get to Denver with some of the dreaded inventory overhang in the one season snow business. Hmmm. Maybe an overhang is a non-alcohol induced hangover.
 
My guess it won’t be as bad as it has been in past years because there won’t be as much product to deal with, and discounting didn’t start in August. Yet, inevitably, brands will want to get paid on time, won’t want to offer discounts, and won’t want to take product back. Retailers will want to delay payment, get discounts, and send back product.
 
I’d note that retailers, generally, haven’t panicked. From what I can tell, there’s been more resistance to discounting early and often than in prior years. No doubt it’s partly because there’s less inventory, but I also trust it’s because we’ve learned a few things. 
 
There have been some instances recently where brands (not just in snow) didn’t necessarily replace their whole product line every year. Certain pieces got carried over. I guess it’s mostly in apparel, but I’m wondering if it might not work with select hard goods.
 
Let’s start by acknowledging that there are no bad hard goods out there anymore. Everything’s durable, functional, and more or less good looking. And hopefully, you’ll also agree with the following:
 
·         Though the economy appears to be improving a bit, sales increases are still not easy to come by and generating additional gross margin is important in increasing profits.
 
·         Inventory scarcity improves product perception and makes consumers less price sensitive. It also reduces working capital investment, which we finance oriented people like.
 
What I’m asking/hoping is that the tension between brands and retailers not be allowed to turn back into the zero sum kind of game it’s been in some past years. Can some product that sold well this year and is maybe in short supply be kept in the line for next year?  Can retailers and brands share the burden of a poor snow season such that product doesn’t turns up at the wrong time, in the wrong place, and at the wrong price? At least not too much.
 
I get to look at this from the 10,000 foot level and don’t have to worry about keeping a factory busy or generating enough cash to pay the bills (though I have had to do that with snowboard brands. I mostly didn’t enjoy it). Except in the very short run, we are all better served by holding prices where reasonably possible and keeping product scarce. Please remember that when all those meetings start in Denver.  Let’s build on what we’ve started.