Trade Show Evolution: The Boardroom with the Vans U.S. Open. I Like It, I’m There.

Over the years I’ve had a lot (some would say way too much) to say about Trade Shows. I’ve suggested there were too many, that they were too expensive, that the internet made them less necessary, that they’d lost focus, weren’t efficient, and that the way product was sold into broader distribution made them less important. 

The poster child for most of these issues was ASR which, as you all recall, went away a couple of years ago. I don’t think my concerns are all resolved, but there’s been progress.
 
And the smartest thing anybody did in the wake of ASR’s closing was, well, nothing. Absolutely nothing. This brilliant doing of nothing was conceived and implemented by Surf Expo.
 
You remember all the noise and wringing of hands that accompanied the closing of ASR. Everybody wanted to know what was going to “replace” ASR. There were various proposals and discussions among all the usual suspect organizations about doing a new trade show. Happily, in my judgment, nothing happened.
 
I say happily because the last thing we wanted to do was replace ASR which, I think it is generally agreed, had become a flawed model. But when ASR went down, people lost streams of income. Having carefully studied this for many years, I have determined that nobody likes it when they lose a source of income, and they will flail about madly trying to replace it.
 
Flailing there was, but no new event emerged. A little time needed to pass, things had to settle out, and we had to get a better idea of just what it was we needed, because it sure wasn’t to “replace ASR.”
 
In the fullness of time, the Agenda show evolved to be part of the solution for the street and skate part of ASR. I never saw Agenda as a surf trade show and, frankly, how well did having skate and surf under the same roof at ASR work out anyway?
 
Then enough time passed. Nike walked away from the U.S. Open, Vans (owned by VF) became the title sponsor for the event owned and operated by IMG and GLM Fashion Group that runs Surf Expo and LAUNCH LA bought The Boardroom. The stars became aligned (and a bunch of people worked really hard).
 
The result is that we get the event announced today and described in this press release. I’m saying event because trade show doesn’t do it justice and I don’t yet have a better word to describe it. Here’s what the press release says in part.
 
“A celebration of surfing, surfboards and the shapers who make them, The Boardroom will be held within the Vans US Open of Surfing in a 50,000 square foot freestanding pavilion that will be floored, carpeted, and fully climate controlled. It will feature shaping competitions, seminars, entertainment, autograph signings and hundreds of booths filled with surfboards, legendary and contemporary shapers, surf apparel and accessory companies. The Boardroom will be a hybrid trade/consumer event with two days exclusively dedicated to retail buyers and media as well as two days also open to the general public.”
 
Here’s an event, then, that involves the surf industry, its customers, the media and the world’s best surfers.   It will be all about surfing and, I hope and assume, we won’t have an Invisilign tent on the beach this year. I don’t know- I just had a hard time seeing their connection to surf.
 
The industry needs this kind of focus and excitement.   Whatever this thing is, I’m enthusiastic about going to it like I’ve haven’t been about a trade show in years. I’m expecting to have fun, which is kind of why I got into this industry in the first place. 

 

 

12 replies
  1. Bob Hall
    Bob Hall says:

    Back when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, I put forth a similar argument for the ski (now “snow”) industry. Fall events should be CONSUMER promotions, not trade promotions. Heck, carry that notion clear through January, too! The industry already spent way too much time gabbing with itself, while skier days languished. “Follow the money” and one is quickly reminded that it’s CONSUMER enthusiasm that drives any of these markets. Good for you, Jeff, for speaking up! You have it right!

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Hi Bob,
      I think in this case it’s Surf Expo that got it right. I’m just agreeing with what they’ve doing.

      Thanks,
      J.

  2. janet
    janet says:

    Hi Jeff,
    I can’t help but wonder why we in Portland, Oregon, have our “first” Snow regional rep show starting on January 4. I guess this is the “American Way?” Ignore friends, family & the holiday, and get all your dealers to show up in a groggy haze; not really knowing any sell through?

    Reps complain they can’t make any money..everyone stresses when they should be playing on snow………….. SIA was supposed to be the kick off trade show for Snow. Of course bigger companies are making deals and have December deadlines. But those folks aren’t going to a 1/4/2013 preview are they?

    Just wondering…….

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Hi Janet,
      That was also one of the complaints at Agenda which, as I recall, also started on January 4th. Seems early to me too.

      J.

  3. Kel
    Kel says:

    I really have the opposite view of this release. If you had of come to one of the Sacred Craft shows you would have found a cool vibe of like minded people all interested in boards, surfing and more boards. This forum will host very few of these people. The 250,000 or more people that come to the US Open of surfing are mostly there for the party. The heritage of the show will be lost. I read this release with a sadness of something that was cool has been lost forever.

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Hi Kel,
      I think there has to be room for both. There will be a lot of people there for the party, but let’s be glad they think surfing is worth a party. I’d ask you to remember that without an at least somewhat broader consumer base, we don’t have much of an industry. Ask the core skate brands how it went for them when they tried to ignore the longboards the consumers decided they wanted. A lot of us bemoaned the “selling out” of snowboarding when the ski companies took it over too. We lost a very cool underground niche, but gained a bigger market. I won’t characterize that as good or bad, but I think there’s a certain inevitability to it. Business cycle, competitive behavior, and all that stuff. I didn’t get to Sacred Craft and maybe I’d feel differently if I had. But I’m glad that the surf industry has found a way to pull as many surf or at least surf lifestyle interested people together at one place and time.

      Thanks for the comment.

      J.

  4. Kel
    Kel says:

    The broader consumer base are all wearing Holiister, the wannabee surf brand.

    Attending the show won’t be cheap that’s for sure, ASR was very expensive to do Union controls. Once you paid your money to exhibit then it was a slap in the face to be in the middle of a giant party with virtually no buyers to be seen.

    The West Coast market is so well serviced by companies and reps that the show will have nothing new. Sorry to sound cynical but we saw the demise of ASR coming a long way off.

    The consumer days might turn the event into a giant clearing house right on the beach with 250,000 people attending, it might have a short term silver lining for some.

    Good luck to them, I hope Scott Bass got paid out in full up front for his sake.

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Hi Kel,
      Can’t say you’re wrong. We’ll see. It’s just that I still like the idea of a completely surf focused event. As the boarder consumer base, if the surf industry doesn’t sell to them, we don’t have much of an industry. Or maybe we’ve got a great industry, but it would be an awfully small one.

      Thanks,
      J.

  5. Aaron Levant
    Aaron Levant says:

    Jeff, it seems that you have a soft spot for your buddy Roy. Anytime something having to do with GLM/SurfExpo comes to your attention, you seem to give it a glowing review regardless of the facts.

    I recall reading your post on GLM’s Launch LA show last year and you also gave that the 2 thumbs up, but that turned out to be a big flop from what I gathered from other industry experts and brands who attended that show. I guess all I could ask for is some objective journalism on your part hen it comes to reviewing your buddy Roy.

    I just think its funny that you saw this as a new ground breaking business concept that has never been done before. (it’s not like Agenda launched a show with the US Open of Surfing/ IMG Sports in 2009, or that Sacred Craft also had a shaping demo on the beach that same year…) But what do I know with my silly facts… If Huntington Beach was a great place to hold such industry gathering then maybe Agenda & Sacred Craft (Now called The Boardroom) would still be there in HB. The bottom line is that HB during the US Open is not a great solution for a sizeable industry gathering for many reasons, but I will just let me friends from GLM find that out the hard way.

    Not to mention if the formula of a hybrid B2B/B2C event was so compelling to the industry and brands, then why did ASR fall just after buying Sacred Craft from one Mr. Scott Bass and at the same time buying Crossroads from Jamie Thomas on the skate side of things and co-locating them with ASR?

    It’s a tad disappointing to hear that you “never saw Agenda as a surf trade show” but I guess you were too busy investigating the drama of the long board vs. short board skate controversy at my last show to really look around. Just so you have all the info, over 70% of Agenda’s 550+ brands are core Action sports brands and over 60& of those brands either are core Surf brands or identify Surf as a major component of their brand ethos. So if having almost every single major brand all to why to micro brands in the surf apparel, footwear & accessories market does not make Agenda a “surf trade show” because we do not have as many hard goods as SurfExpo then I think you have a twisted view of the situation or you just like to play favorites.

    I think the biggest thing you overlooked is that they are holding this event over the same days as Agenda Long Beach is being held, now that is just counter productive for the whole industry further fragmenting the already crowded show market.

    Anyways as this blog is just your take on the industry and your opinions on stuff, I guess your entitled to your view, but I have to say I think you have this one dead wrong.(I’m sure this will spark a good chain of comments at the very least)

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Hi Aaron,
      Thanks for taking the time to respond. Thought I might hear from you. You’re not the only one who thinks I might be wrong. There’s one comment a ways below yours and I’ve had a couple of others from people who contacted me directly but chose not to put their comments on my site. I did and do like the Launch idea. As to how it will work out, or if it will work out, we’ll know in a few years. Kind of like when Agenda started. The main thing I like about the upcoming Huntington beach extravaganza is that it’s 100% surf focused and involves everybody and anybody who’s interested in surf. You correctly note that this isn’t the first time it’s been done (I found that out from one of the private comments made to me) though I expect this will turn out to be way bigger than others. As to whether or not it will be successful, whatever that means, we’ll know in a few years.

      The numbers you’ve provided me about the brands at Agenda make me think I’ll need to take a closer look this summer, and I will. Maybe, as you suggest, it is the lack of hard goods that makes me see Agenda as not a surf show. But I can tell you that among the people who attend your show, the ones I talk to at least, see it as skate and street wear. Maybe that’s wrong, or maybe I’m talking to the wrong people. And to be honest, I’ve sort of watched Agenda succeed as, from my perspective, THE skate and street wear show. I mean, in that niche, you win. ASR kind of tried to be everything to everybody and blew up.

      With regards to the date overlap, my understanding is that the trade part of Huntington Beach is the first two days, and then Agenda starts. I sort of thought, “Great, I can go to both in one trip,” though I can certainly see why you’d prefer different dates and feel it’s “just counter productive for the whole industry further fragmenting the already crowded show market.” You and I probably agree that the whole trade show market is too crowded. And I’m sure you and all the other people who own and run trade shows would like some shows to go away- as long as it’s not their show. Frankly, I’d like to see fewer too. But organizations that put on trade shows want to grow and prosper and who can blame them. You think the market is too crowded, but are apparently considering doing something on the East coast. Every business does what it perceives to be in its own best interest, even if that turns out not to be in the industry’s interest. That’s just normal competitive dynamics.

      The problem I’ve got is that I do think there are too many shows (although of course the market will determine that too) but I still welcome shows that try new approaches to the market. That’s kind of a contradiction. I’d defend it by noting that over the years I’ve questioned the roll of trade shows and suggested that the internet, broader distribution involving larger companies, a poor economy and other factors require trade shows to be and act differently. These new shows (I guess there’s another new one in the LA area this summer actually, and you’d talked with the guy who’s putting it on) may be part of the evolution that addresses these new conditions, so I like to see them try even as I know they won’t all succeed. I liked Agenda when you started it because it gave smaller brands a chance and felt closer to the core of the market. It was different, and you never know what different is going to lead to.

      I hope it’s obvious to everybody who reads my stuff that I have no problem with people thinking I’m wrong. Because I have been and will be again. The point is to have the conversation about the issue. Some of the best I’ve ever had, and where I’ve learned the most, is talking with people who thought I was out of my mind. We didn’t necessary end up agreeing, but I like to think we both learned something.

      Thanks for the comment.

      J.

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