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The mood at Surf Expo last week was more positive and stable than the atmosphere at the show last January.
That show had come on the heels of economic collapse of the fall and discounting holiday disaster of 2008, which had manufacturers and retailers reeling at the time.
This year, retailers reported that holiday sales had stabilized with some retailers up or down slightly.
Surf Expo added a few new features to the January show this year including a Stand Up Paddle area with a wide collection of board manufacturers and a demonstration pool. The area was busy during the show and SUP retailers were excited to see so many brands and equipment represented.
“The SUP area is huge,” said Mikke Pierson, co-owner of ZJ Boarding House in Santa Monica. “I’m the SUP buyer for our store and there’s probably a lot of brands over there I don’t even know. It’s a great chance to check them out – SUP is an important part of our business.”
Surf Expo Show Director Roy Turner said SUP has been a bright spot in the hardgoods market and Surf Expo is committed to supporting anything that sparks an interest in boardsports.
And because SUP has a substantial rental market, Surf Expo also found ways to introduce the resorts that exhibit at the show to SUP with demonstrations and information specifically targeted for resorts.
Since Surf Expo gets dinged by some in the action sports industry for the resort area of the show which is perceived as not cool, Roy said introducing resorts to SUP and SUP to the resort market was a good way to bring the two different worlds together and hopefully create a business opportunity for both sides.
Also new to the floor was the Bangers for Bucks skate contest where 10 skate teams from key retail shops competed. The goal was to involve important shops in the show and give manufacturers an opportunity to get exposure in those stores. The prizes included product from brands that the stores can stock and sell.
Roy said both retailers and manufacturers win with the contest – retailers get free product for their stores and manufactures get their product in the store.
Plus, it brought important skate retailers to the show, which in turn enticed many skate brands to attend.
Skate retailers and manufacturers that attended the International Association of Skateboard Companies meeting with the Board Retailers Association during the show praised Roy for putting excitement back in the skate area.
Overall, Roy said 100 new companies exhibited at the show vs. last January. However, some of the big companies took smaller booths. Roy said total show revenues would turn out within 10% of last year’s totals and the show remains “very profitable.”
Roy said Surf Expo sent upwards of six figures to get buyers to the show, and several brand executives told me the most important aspect of the show was that the right buyers were there.
“We’ve been slammed all day,” Sanuk President John Vance told me Thursday.
Dac Clark, president of C&C Companies, which has the license for Sanuk, said a lot of accounts that previously didn’t want to bring Sanuk into their stores were spending time at the Sanuk booth.
“We are seeing a lot of accounts that we tried to sell before but that weren’t ready to add another sandal line because Reef had done such a good job and (Florida Reef rep) Rick Zappone is such a great salesman,” he said. “Nobody is throwing Reef out, they are just letting other people in.”
(Above: Dac Clark and John Vance.)
Billabong Americas President Paul Naude said traffic was a little slow on Thursday but Friday was busy and the preview day on Wednesday was very busy.
“There’s a cautious optimism among East Coast retailers, which I think is a positive,” he said.
In general, aisle traffic at trade shows has been down in the last 18 months, but you can’t judge a show by that anymore, he said.
“Those days are over,” Paul said. “You judge by are the retailers you want here? If yes, then it’s a great show.”
Ocean Minded General Manager Andy Palmer said the right retailers were definitely there.
“Although traffic seemed fairly light, the buyers that were there seemed buoyant and in the mood to do business,” Andy said. “In fact, we opened 20 new doors and had an excellent response to our new Fall 2010 closed toed shoe and printed apparel programs. All in all despite the tough economy, a great Expo.”
One of the big brands that was absent was Rip Curl. I asked Rip Curl USA President Kelly Gibson why Rip Curl skipped the show.
"We decided to skip the Jan/Feb shows this year and invested directly to consumer marketing to drive customers in to our retailers shops this Spring/Summer," he said. "In addition, we feel that 2010 is the appropriate time to take our total marketing spend up. We have more than doubled our advertising page count for the first half of 2010. We have also doubled our digital spend for the same time period. We also have a major focus on marketing in-store with windows and racks."
Rip Curl will return to Surf Expo and ASR for the shows that launch Spring 2011, he said.
Some manufacturers got creative with their booths, including Analog and Gravis which used wooden pallets it bought for $200 to create a space with a unique vibe.
Analog/Gravis General Manager Kevin Meehan said the team came up with the idea when it was brainstorming concepts for new in-store fixtures for retailers. They realized the display could be expanded for a trade show booth as well.
Kevin said coming up with the new idea, which was both low cost yet creative, really rallied the team together.
“It was invigorating,” he said. “There was a sense of ‘Look what we did.’ “
I asked Roy Turner what he has planned for the next Surf Expo show in September.
In addition to getting feedback from exhibitors and retailers, he will study videotapes of the floor to see how the SUP, Bangers for Bucks and other special events and sections were received.
Surf Expo pays about $100,000 for a service that uses 17 cameras to continually tape the show floor and registration area. Roy will use the tapes to determine what areas were well attended, whether open or closed booths work better and to analyze traffic flow. He’ll use the feedback from those who attended along with the data from the tapes to make improvements for September, he said.
Also in September, Surf Expo will bring back the wakeboarding section, a market that action sports brands can tap into, Roy said.
“We want to bring these two groups together,” he said. “It’s important not to isolate,” he said. “It’s not how the marketplace works any more.”