Trade Shows: Can’t Live with Them, Can’t Live Without Them

Life was simpler when I wrote my first article on trade shows in the mid-90s.  We went to trade shows because it was the only place to see, and to make, complete product presentations, and discover new, meaningful, features and products.  There were also a lot more specialty retailers.  The shows were the only place they and brands could efficiently connect and do business- by which I mean write orders.

All that’s changed.  It’s not that it doesn’t still go on, but it doesn’t have to happen at trade shows like it used to.  There are other choices caused by consolidation, the internet, and changing consumer behavior.

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Deckers’ Quarter: More Sanuk Travails and the Public Company Conundrum.

I’ve reviewed Deckers’ 10Q for the three months ended December 31, 2016 and their conference call.  The company earned $41 million on sales of $760 million in the quarter, which isn’t bad.  But that’s down from net income of $157 million on revenues of $796 million in the same quarter last year.

The problem?  I’m sure regular readers already know.  Yup, it’s mostly Sanuk again.  But’s let start at the company’s top line.

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An Analysis of Free Trade


I’ve been sitting on this for a while trying to figure out whether or not offer it up.  It’s certainly not action sports or active outdoor focused.  And, in our current environment, it’s inevitably going to be perceived as having a particular bias.  I’d say it reaches a solid conclusion based on the data it utilizes.  If that’s a bias, so be it.

It’s a defense of free trade from the Fabius Maximus web site which I follow and highly recommend.  It’s conclusion, however, is based on actual data; not anecdotal evidence, not a one minute story on the nightly news, and certainly not a tweet.

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Trade Shows, the Buy/Sell Cycle, and Changing Consumer Habits

Over the last months or maybe a year, I’ve watched the trade show discussion as dates have changed, unchanged, and we’ve all tried to figure out the role of trade shows.

We agree, I think, on the following:

  1. We need some trade shows
  2. Right now, there are too many
  3. Face time is a primary benefit
  4. It’s become harder to justify and time and expense of exhibiting or attending
  5. It’s been a long time since the shows were critical to order writing

The people at Emerald Expositions, who “…operate more than 50 trade shows, including 30 of the top 250 trade shows in the country…” and who bring us Outdoor Retailer, Interbike, and Surf Expo, are trying to adapt.  So is Reed Exhibitions, the owner of Agenda, that has “…a growing portfolio of over 500 events in 30 countries…” and SIA, whose show many of us will be off to next week.

I’ve been thinking that all the discussion about when the trade shows should be held was kind of missing the point- changing behavior from our consumers, who are pretty much in charge now, means an internal industry focus on trade show dates that match our production cycle requirements isn’t, well, completely in touch with reality.

I was going to write a really great article on trade shows, the buy sell cycle, and changing consumer habits.  But then somebody I know sent somebody else I know a just excellent article and he sent it to me.  It’s called “The Big Shift” by David Clucas.

On the one hand I was kind of disappointed because I was gearing up to say cogent, insightful things.  On the other hand, now I don’t have to write it, and I can still bask in the glow of David’s smartness by pointing you to it.

Two of my takeaways from David’s article are the changes that are going to have to happen (and are happening) in production and inventory management and the advantages that big companies have.  Those advantages include having less need to exhibit at trade show, though that doesn’t mean trade shows in some form aren’t important to them for other reasons.

Meanwhile, here’s a shorter article on a large mall in in the Pittsburgh area that just sold for $100.00  No, I didn’t leave out any zero.  The buyer, Wells Fargo, already owns the dirt under it.  It opened in 2005 (not great timing) and is about half occupied.  Expect to see more of this.

What Will Retail Be Like in Five Years and How Will You Prosper?

That was the question asked at a meeting last week at the Agenda trade show.  The meeting was attended by various invited brands and retailers and by me.

This meeting has been going for maybe four shows now and has generally been thoughtful and productive.  That’s a welcome improvement from the larger group meetings that used to be held at ASR.  They tended to be a bit acrimonious and have limited value.  Except that I got a free breakfast.

I had to leave before the meeting ended for a dinner engagement and didn’t get a chance to put in my two cents worth.  But the topic keeps churning my brain.  Typically, that means I should write about it.

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The Impact of Demographics on the Active Outdoor Industry

I’ve just finished reading a book called The Methuselah Effect, by Patrick Cox.  As I’ve said, I often get intriguing business ideas from non-business books.  This is one of those times.  I really recommend this book.  The trouble is, it doesn’t seem to be on Amazon, which I’ve never seen before.

Anyway, the book is about advances in biotechnology and how they are going to impact health and longevity.  The first chapter title is, “Fewer Births, Longer Lives: Society’s Aging Changes Everything.”

His premise, which I found convincing, is that people are going to live longer and be more active.  But there are going to be fewer people.  He goes on to says in the first page, “From here on out, every generation will be smaller than the one before it.  After 200,000 years of population growth, mankind’s numbers are shrinking.”

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What Is the Value of Advertising?

I read with some amusement as well as concern this article about an apparently still ongoing and massive online advertising fraud.  I imagine you’re all aware of it.  Meanwhile, back in this article, I mentioned the increasing use of ad blockers, especially by millennials.  And within the last week or so, I questioned, as I pointed you to four article on changes in retail, how TV advertising was being received.  What I said was, “Perhaps it explains some of the advertising I see on TV these days where a brand tries so hard to find a compromise message that reaches the sensibilities of more than one group that you walk away not sure what product you just saw advertised or why you should care.”

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Some Waypoints in the Evolution of Retail

During the last couple of weeks, I’ve come across a number of articles that speak to the evolution of retail.  Here they are for your consideration in no particular order.

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The Buckle Has a Lousy Quarter- Kind of. Well, Not Exactly. Can the Outsized Returns Continue?

As I’ve recently written, Tilly’s and Zumiez were kind of caught by surprise by their very positive end of October quarterly results.  But because the surprise was of the positive kind, nobody seemed to care.  Though perhaps they should.

The Buckle, on the other hand, reported a 14.6% decline in revenues from $280 million in last year’s quarter to $239 million in this years.

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Zumiez Has a Good Quarter Too

Zumiez’s 10-Q for its quarter ended October 31 reported an increase in sales and profits.  I used the word “Too” in the article title because it sounds a bit like the Tilly’s results I reported a few days ago. Zumiez, like Tilly’s, would like to point to all the good things it’s doing as being responsible for the result.  And no doubt it’s fair to do that, but Zumiez, like Tilly’s was surprised by the strength it’s seeing and is cautious as to whether it will continue.

Net sales rose 8.4% from $204.3 to $221.4 million.  “The increase primarily reflected an increase in comparable sales of $8.2 million and the net addition of 35 stores (made up of 27 new stores in North America, 5 new stores in Europe, and 5 new stores in Australia partially offset by 1 store closure in North America and 1 store closure in Europe) subsequent to October 31, 2015. By region, North America sales increased $14.7 million or 7.8% and other international (which consists of Europe and Australia) sales increased $2.4 million or 14.6% for the three months ended October 29, 2016…”

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