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Surf Expo was interesting on many levels this year. With a recession going on, many brands found creative ways to reduce costs while still being at the show and booking East Coast business.
Dozens of brands opted to rent prefabricated booths instead of transporting their heavy, expensive booths around the country.
Quiksilver and Roxy took a very creative approach to reduce costs yet still have a big presence at the show. The company set up tents that it usually uses for events, rolled in the Quiksilver and Roxy RVs, and put up screens with brand images to create a unique working space. I heard one retailer say he liked the openness and approach better than the closed off, mega booth, and every time I looked, the tables were busy with appointments.
The Quiksilver team told me the new approach, which will also be used at ASR, will strip 75 percent of the costs out of showing at Surf Expo and ASR combined.
Many others rented prefabricated booths that they then made their own by decorating the space with brand imagery.
Billabong and its group of brands brought their regular booths, as did some others.
Hurley was not at the show, nor was Nike 6.0 or Converse. I saw Ipath, Circa, Vans and Osiris, though many other skate shoe brands were not there.
Many larger brands told me they were busy with appointments with retailers from Virginia south to Florida, but that retailers from the Mid-Atlantic north did not come because they did not want to leave their stores with only three weeks of summer business left.
Surf Expo Show Director Roy Turner acknowledged Mid-Atlantic retailers found it tough to attend because of the earlier date, and while several brands told me they missed the Northeast retailers, Roy says the New England area shops traditionally do not attend the summer show because they do not buy in the first quarter because of seasonal climate differences.
Click here for Roy assessment of how the show went and the challenging date issue due to the Jewish holidays in September and other factors.
Some brands also said the "A" accounts came and a lot of business was getting done, but some of the "B" and "C" retailers did not show. Many of the smaller brands, which rely on the walk up traffic, noticed a slowdown.
However, while the aisles were not as crowded, the inside of booths were often jammed with retailers reviewing lines, especially with the bigger brands.
(Right: Inside the Volcom booth.)
In general, however, I did not hear a lot of doom and gloom, as many brands and retailers appear to have accepted the new economic realty and have learned to do business in a down economy.
Here are a few comments about the show from exhibitors.
Ocean Minded used a prefabricated rental booth after hearing retailers' feedback on the subject at a SIMA and BRA Boot Camp in March, said Bob Tanner, director of marketing, right.
"(Retailers) said they don't care what the presentation is at the show," he said. "They want to see the principal players (at brands) and the new lines."
Ocean Minded realized "significant savings" by keeping its fancier - and heavier - trade show booth at home, Bob said.
Ocean Minded's appointment business at the show was strong, but foot traffic appeared to be down with walkways less crowded.
"But all the important (retailers) showed and are here working," he said. While Florida appointments were strong, accounts from the Northeast, New England and Mid-Atlantic weren't as plentiful, he said.
Rick Petri, executive vice president at Rip Curl, said the Rip Curl booth was busy with appointments with retailers from Virginia south to Florida or "half the East Coast." Rick said the talk centered on cementing the relationship between Rip Curl and retailers and gaining more real estate in stores.
"We see a positive year in front of us," Rick said.
(Right: Rip Curl's Paul Harvey and Rick Petri.)
Rip Curl's big focus for spring is the technical Mirage boardshort, which has been well received by retailers, who also like the marketing behind the boardshort, Rick said. The message is wearing the Mirage is like wearing nothing, and a video clip shows surfers surfing with boardshorts, then without boardshorts (no body parts are shown.)
Toby Bost, CEO of O'Neill Clothing, said O'Neill was busy at the show with appointments, though many retailers from the Northeast were not there. He said he had great face time with retailers, which he said is so important, and that he heard optimism from retailers heading into spring.
"I'm hearing good things from the right (retailers)," he said. "I think people have found the bottom."
O'Neill sees an opportunity to grow in Spring 2010 and is planning some categories, like boardshorts, up, especially after the success of the Hyperfreak this year, Toby said.
(Above: Toby Bost and Steve Ward.)