The New LAUNCH LA Trade Show; I Wondered When This Was Going to Happen

Well, what a long strange trip it’s been.

It was just about a year ago that the demise of ASR was officially announced. Since then, as the trade show environment has evolved and people have worked to figure out how to adapt, I’ve written a few times about trade shows. Here, here, here, here, here, here, and here actually, from oldest to most recent.

You would think that would be enough, but yesterday’s announcement of the new LAUNCH  LA trade show has compelled me to take pen to paper (metaphorically speaking) and review the events of the past year. At some level, the launch of LAUNCH (sorry- somebody had to say that) kind of represents the end of this phase of our trade show evolution. Let’s see why this is by reviewing a little trade show history and evaluating the LAUNCH concept.
Since ASR Died
Remember how the announcement that ASR was folding was kind of a surprise, but not really once you adjusted to the initial shock? Agenda saw (correctly) an opportunity and I’d say they’ve benefitted from ASR closing. I’ll be curious to see how it works out as they move to Long Beach and grow to the next level.    Outdoor Retailer has tried to get some refugees from ASR to exhibit at their show. One thing we all agree on is that the goal of whatever happened next was not to replicate ASR.
Our various trade associations all found that funding they had been receiving from ASR went away with that show. Naturally they wanted to replace that, but they were also concerned where their members were going to gather, exhibit, and go to see products and do business.
There were I gather a lot of gyrations and conversations among the trade associations and existing trade show organizations, but obviously they weren’t able to reach a cooperative agreement on a new show. As I wrote in one of my earlier articles, the surf and skate disagreements over ASR contributed to the skate hard goods companies pulling out of ASR, and it wasn’t quite clear to me why they were going to get along now in a trade show environment. Skate’s sort of found a home at Agenda for the time being.
I also asked in my writings if we needed a replacement for ASR and noted that starting a trade show from scratch required a whole bunch of money, experienced people, and a long lead time. In other words you had to finance and build an organization and not expect it to bear any fruit for maybe a year. 
Meanwhile, lurking in the lichens, was Surf Expo whom we haven’t mentioned yet. I guess I’ll start by noting that Surf Expo Show Director Roy Turner is on the non-elected SIMA Advisory Board, as you can see here on SIMA’s web site. I wonder what advice he gave them about trade shows.
Surf Expo did a few things right. First, they didn’t try to rush in to fill a perceived void left by ASR. Second, they stayed away from all the gyrations as all the other players tried to negotiate a coalition that would create an ASR replacement.
Now, I’m sure there were various calls from various organizations to Surf Expo asking them to be part of that coalition and the third thing Surf Expo did right was to recognize that if they wanted to do some kind of West Coast show, they didn’t need help to do it. They already know how to put on trade shows.
Fourth, and most strategically, Surf Expo figured out that the only thing that really mattered was whether they could create a show format that retailers and brands found valuable. If they couldn’t do that, who cared?
Finally, they determined that the show needed to be a youth culture rather than action sports show. And that brings us to……….
LAUNCH will be held next July 25th and 26th in Santa Monica and given the timing, I imagine most of the product there is going to be seen for the first time. It is not a West Coast Surf Expo. It is not an action sports show. It is not a replacement for ASR. Here’s how they describe it.
“LAUNCH LA is a juried event and our panel of experienced and influential experts will screen each company based on quality, design and originality in order to ensure the best product assortment from leading men’s and women’s contemporary fashion labels, footwear and accessories brands, lifestyle and action sports lines, as well as swim, apothecary, and technology collections.”
It was probably inevitable I’d like the idea since I more or less suggested it back in July when I wrote: 
“If I were going to create a youth culture trade show from scratch, I’d start by developing the list of brand’s I’d want to have exhibiting. Would it include some surf/skate/snow brands? Sure. But I think I might want Apple there (who knows if they’d want to come). And Facebook. And some music companies, and some game companies, and some other brands and activities that I don’t even know about because I’m not quite as cool as I used to be.”
“The show I envision wouldn’t be about skate or surf or moto or fashion though I suspect it would include elements of all of those and more. It would be about ‘STUFF THAT’S IMPORTANT TO PEOPLE AGES 14 TO 25.’”
If they do this well, it will be a badge of credibility to be allowed to exhibit at LAUNCH. That, of course, implies some limits on growth, but I don’t see that as a bad thing. I also note they’ve chosen to call it “LAUNCH LA,” implying there might be, for example, a “LAUNCH NY.” Maybe they’ll eventually hit some other cities as well. I don’t know this, but it feels like they might be starting down a road towards a group of similar regional shows featuring the most relevant brands and products from those regions.
This will get particularly interesting if (when?) the jurors they have chosen as the arbiters of who gets to exhibit turn down some of the larger, well established brands. If they don’t do that, and we end up with most of the same old brands exhibiting the usual products, it will jeopardize the credibility of the whole concept. From the web site, I get the feeling they are going to require the selected brands to focus on one or a few products that in some way are innovative, technically or otherwise.
It also appears to me that there’s no limitation on which companies from which industries might end up exhibiting. I like that. A really cool and well-designed product from an industry we don’t usually associate with our world could show up. I hope there are some surprises. It will help the show’s cachet.
And as long as they’re going to have jurors for innovation and design, maybe they should have some to vet the brands for their business practices. Retailers would know that any company exhibiting at Launch could probably be counted on to deliver. Performance is typically a concern of retailers when they choose new brands.
For some years now, I’ve been asking what industry we were becoming. I’m still not sure I know the answer, but when a show like LAUNCH LA is started focused on design, fashion, and innovation- coolness if you will- rather than skate, snow surf, or another sport, I know I’m not the only one thinking along those lines.
The announcement of LAUNVH LA marks the end of the reverberations caused by ASR going away. I suppose I shouldn’t just assume that this new show will be successful, but there is a hole to fill and I’m pretty sure the people bringing us the show didn’t decide to announce it without researching the concept and how it would be received.
I’m looking forward to hearing more about how, exactly, exhibitors will be chosen.