Requiem for the ASR Show. Now What?

At the moment you hear about it, it’s kind of a surprise. But when the initial shock passes, it’s not. I thought The Editors over at Boardistan put it best. Back in 2009, referring to ASR, they said;

“We have to wonder what happens to the entire trade show business model when they have to pay retailers to attend. Lord knows retailers need to be treated well these days, but it still seems to bring us back to the question that’s been plaguing the boardsports business for several years: are trade shows even relevant anymore?”

I couldn’t have put it any better. Or at least not so succinctly. In fact, I didn’t put it succinctly. In the summer of 2009, I wrote a long article about trade shows in general for Transworld Business. Much of what I said then is still relevant. On the assumption that you don’t want to hear me re-pontificate it all, I’ll just include the link here. If you don’t read the serious part of the article and haven’t seen it, you might just to go to the section “In the Beginning,” where I wax biblical. There’s always room for a little humor. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever written.
 
What Went Wrong for ASR?
 
As I’ve heard it, the straw that broke the camel’s back was the decision of a number of large brands not to participate in the show. But the poor camel had been under stress for quite a while and the recession, exacerbating a number of existing trends, accelerated the process.  What are these trends?
 
  • Fewer retailers. And the ones that were showing up brought fewer people.
  • Brands showing product and getting orders outside of the trade show environment.
  • The internet and everything you can do on it
  • The union/convention center cost structure.
  • Industry consolidation. Big companies don’t have as much need of trade shows. See the second point above.
  • Recognition that competing against your competitors at trade shows with your show presentation is silly.
  • Slower industry growth.
  • More trade shows while demand was falling. Crossroads. Agenda.
  • Declining clarity as to just what the action sports market is. Did starting Class help ASR, or did it cause confusion as to just what the show was about and who should attend?
 
And then there’s that old bugaboo called momentum. As I’ve said, companies, trade show or otherwise, get in trouble due to denial and perseverance in a period of change.
 
In hindsight it’s easy to see what ASR should have done; Blown up the existing format and started over with another ASR show that recognized changing conditions. Specifically, that the show was essentially a regional show for smaller and new brands. And if that sounds a bit like Agenda well, okay. Maybe they should have just bought Agenda.
 
I hasten to admit that’s all easier to say than to do. It’s that momentum thing. I’m pretty certain ASR boss Andy Tompkins was quite aware of all the factors I listed above. I know he was. He lived with them every day. Yet it’s hard to imagine him (or anybody in his position) going to his boss, and his boss’s boss a couple of years ago and saying, “This isn’t working. We need to blow it up and start with a new focus and a smaller show.” Or maybe he did and got overruled by some people further up in the organization who aren’t quite in touch with our market. Big organizations often don’t make difficult, unpleasant changes until forced to.
 
With that short forensic analysis of what happened behind us what happens now?
 
Everybody’s talking
 
Just from the flurry of public discussion after the announcement, we can assume that IASC is talking to Agenda is talking to SIMA is talking to BRA is talking to Crossroads is talking to Surf Expo is talking to IASC. And if there was some talking going on at Outdoor Retailer and SIA I wouldn’t be surprised.
 
It’s public knowledge that certain of these organizations have (had?) deals with ASR that provided them with a certain amount of funding. Nobody much likes it when revenue goes away. I know I don’t. Those who lost income will want to replace it. Where? How? From whom? That will be a lot of the focus right now.
 
Concrete Wave is sponsoring a show by an organization called  Homegrown called the Midwest Skateboard Industry Summit next May.  As they are selling booth space for $200, I guess it also has elements of a trade show.  I suspect there will be more announcements from various players. 
 
There was an immediate reaction from various sources that Agenda had “won” and ASR “lost.” I didn’t see it that way. I don’t expect Agenda to take over the ASR space. I just don’t think the ASR format and structure for a trade show is valid any longer for the reasons I list above. I’ve also written (see the above link to my earlier trade show article) that anybody who tried might find themselves with the same issues that lead ASR to close.
 
Aaron and Seth at Agenda have themselves a small, solid, regional show. Can they grow it? I expect them can. They have. How much? And in which market? Is Agenda fashion or action sports? I’d be really careful saying “both.” ASR, with Class, tried to be both. When they opened Class, it was a symptom of the problems- not part of a solution.
 
The action sports industry is going back to what it used to be; a fairly small industry and its customers consisting of participants in the sports and the immediate circle of people who may not be participants but are committed to the lifestyle and truly interested in the sports. The rest is fashion; a style sold to customers who’ve seen surfing only on TV and have never been near a skate park. Bigger public companies looking to grow are after that market. They have to be to find growth. They may have their roots in action sports, but it’s getting harder, if you just look at their customer base, to call them action sports companies.
 
That has a huge impact on what our trade shows should or shouldn’t be. It’s incumbent on anybody running a trade show to figure out who their market is. Trouble is, I’m not sure either “fashion” or “action sports” really describes it. Youth culture might be closer.
As all this talking among the various industry organizations goes on, I hope it’s not just about replacing ASR. Let’s assume there were no trade shows. What would we want ours to look like?
 
First, it should look however the retailers want it to look. And as I indicated above, it would initially be regional and would be for new and small brands. Maybe it gets combined with the industry boot camp or other conferences. Perhaps it’s not only brands with booths, but venture capitalists, attorneys, bankers, accountants and other organizations that can help new brands and are interested in them as customers.
 
There should be a web site associated with the show that doesn’t just promote the show, but encourages interactions among the participants. Would it be closed to retailers for a day just so the focus could be on how these companies could run their businesses better? I’d like to see us try and charge non-endemic companies a big price to show up and be educated about the industry. I hope whoever runs this new show has authority to decide which companies can exhibit regardless of who belongs to what group.
 
If we’re going to break some new ground, let’s do it quickly. I find myself sitting here wondering if I should go to Agenda, Surf Expo, or Outdoor Retailer instead. Obviously, some companies are going to be looking for a replacement venue.
 
Fundamentally, however, we have to start by asking if we need another trade show. Maybe there will be surfboards at Outdoor Retailer, skateboards at Agenda and brands that tend towards fashion at Magic and some fashion shows I don’t even know about. Remember that skate had more or less pulled out of ASR, so it’s hard to argue that skate and surf have to be together, though one trade show makes it a whole lot easier for retailers.
 
Whatever happens, I hope the discussion among all the people who are talking is more around what the industry needs or doesn’t need rather than the requirements of the organizations they represent.
 
This is great opportunity to do the trade show we want if we’re really sure we want it.
15 replies
    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Thanks PT. I’m also getting some feedback from people telling me I’ve blown it on this one. I’m asking them to be more specific and I’ll try and publish some of their comments without identifying anybody.

      J.

  1. john bernards
    john bernards says:

    you forgot the big contender–which is positining themselves with skateboarding and Maloof–that is magic

  2. bob rief
    bob rief says:

    Yo Jeff…..good one, mate..there are lots of finger prints on the muder weapon..here’s some feedback from one who may have attended more “shows” than most any other working guy around:
    1. timing became irrelevant. The show schedule is based on space availability, not the new business cycle
    2. major brands own too much retail..no need to show product to themselves
    3. “buyers” stopped buying when sellers began to merchandise the buy and guarantee it for sell thru..for the erstwhile “buyers”..the fact is that retail inventory is mostly owned by the major brands!
    4. retailers put no value on the show. why should they, the rep has written his order.
    5. cost/value equation is out of whack..way too expensive. I figure the cost about $28,000 per keg of beer at our size.

    My guess is that portion of the trade will turn to the other Nielsen property, the fall OR..as an alternative. Its “on time,” a very good show in a good place with a nice, and new to the SIMA member, retailer. But the “beer/cost” ratio at OR is just as onerous. And the January EXPO may get a blip as the eastern retailer seeks a break from January weather at home.

    Of course there are a few good trade fair options out of channel..MAGIC, Shoe Show, etc, for the players who want to be out of the surf channel.

    love,
    bob

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Bob,
      I think you’re right- about having attended more shows than any other working guy around. And, you make some good points that I didn’t think of too. I don’t have near the clarity I use to have on just what the business cycle is. I suppose “fast fashion” (as well as the retail ownership you mention) is changing it for some companies. Or maybe I mean making it less relevant. And obviously, you don’t have to show yourself your own product.

      And what really bothered me about the cost of the beer (though I admit I was drinking it- not buying) was that it was usually pretty bad beer.

      Thanks for posting,
      J.

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Boardshop,

      There is the action sports business that caters to participants in the sports and to the first level of non participants who are close to the life style and enjoy watching. Then there’s the fashion business. Or maybe I mean youth culture. Not sure what to call it. I think the real action sports industry is much smaller than we got used to thinking it was. You can’t exist only in the “core’ if you want to be a billion dollar company. A lot smaller than that actually. Feels like there’s this space between core and fashion. It’s in that space where brands get into trouble. Or maybe it’s youth culture that straddles them.

      Thanks for the comment.
      J.

  3. markfitzy
    markfitzy says:

    Not much to say, other than that was a really shocking week. Hearing about ASR was not… news on Andy Irons death was. A brutal blow…

    I cannot say I disagree with much of the above, other than to say, “Yes Jeff, Agenda has skateboards”. One thing they don’t have is a single surfboard in the whole house.

    Surf was too exclusive these last 10 years. Got schooled by A&F, H&M, F21 and Zumiez on how to run a solid retail program. Too bad the surfers were leaving the uncool kids kicking sand on the beach. Those kids soon got wise and have done a better job selling our story.

    Nielsen cares very little about surf, although they did let a few of their involved employees throw just about everything against the wall before they pulled the plug. See how easily they emailed their, “Come to OR”, pitch? Like a surfboard is relative in Salt Lake.

    ASR started dying the day Nielsen bought the show. They didn’t even try to sell it! Think of the cash flow they could have made if they opened it to the public? Literally Millions (like Comic Con). But then that would make surf a little too inclusive… Wouldn’t want that either…

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Mark,
      Yes, I believe ASR could have pulled it out and made themselves relavent had they begun to take some action a bit sooner. As I suggested, maybe the action they needed to take was just too drastic for them to contemplate. It will be interesting to see if surf and skate end up at the same show, at least on the West coast. They already are together at Surf Expo on the East coast and that show seems to be doing well.

      thanks for the comment.

      J.

  4. RICK WILSON
    RICK WILSON says:

    ASR, The industry will survive.In two years we’ll forget all about it and have few memories that meant anything. No more parking problems,long lines, expensive food and high cost of local hotels…… yeah good times…….

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Rick,
      Well, I will miss ASR but will get over it and, as you say we’ll move on. But I do wish they had chosen to make some different decisions over the last few years. As I’ve said, I don’t have a care where/who it is, but we do need one place for the industry to get together for the benefit of the retailers.

      Thanks for the comment.
      j.

  5. RJ
    RJ says:

    As I have read this whole article, it makes me wonder why core and fashion can’t be together as long as it’s within action sports. To me people in the industry seem to make to many waves that are not needed.
    The bottom line is youth, dreams and business. Most of us were in the core of it at are youth, then it becomes a dream and we try to create a business model out of it. ASR, in my opinion lost it’s foot hold because it only based everything on the large fish, the bigger companies, the ones who had all the money for PR and marketing. I did ASR personally and it was a huge loss of money to us as we scraped together what we had to do the show. The booth was expensive and it was basically a big party through out the show and you could tell their were hardly any buyers at the show; we even spoke to buyers and they told us first hand they wanted to hurry up and leave . On another note, everybody has to start somewhere and whether you think you have the coolest brand or not, it’s the trade shows that can suck you budget dry because buyer interest can get lost in a trade show thats out of control. As far as Agenda goes, well they need to stay rooted and remember where they came from. It’s the smaller companies that keep the trends going and the larger companies who follow. Agenda needs to remember this and not let the money get to their heads. All it takes is a couple other trade shows who cater to the grass root new up and coming companies; to start just like they did. I really dislike they way they are already making keeping everything under lock and key and possibly discriminating new up and coming companies that i’m sure would like to do their show. I have known a couple of new brands that are a grass roots company and live the lifestyle, but were treated like smucks by Agenda.
    This is not a good business model and if it keeps up, it will be their own demise.

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