Surf Expo’s West Coast Trade Show Stirs Industry

Surf Expo announced in a press release that it will launch a back-to-school show catering to the surf market on March 11¿12, 2002, at the Anaheim Convention Center in California.

While that might not sound like earthshaking news to some, others view it as the start of an all-out turf battle — the equivalent of the Crips rolling up into Blood territory and showing their colors.

Both of the companies involved — Surf Expo and ASR — say those types of comparisons are overblown, but no one can deny that Surf Expo’s announcement cranked up the heat in an already competitive market.

In this trade-show version of WWF Smackdown, both sides seem equally matched. ASR operates two industry-mainstay shows in California, another smaller trade show in Atlantic City, and has been researching the launch of a New York City event. Its dominant geographic market is the West Coast — specifically Southern California.

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Surf Expo is the key player on the East Coast — especially in Florida — and operates two rock ‘em, sock ‘em expos in Orlando, Florida; produces three newly acquired Radshows along the Middle Atlantic; and now a show in California.

So, what’s it all mean? TransWorld SURF Business contacted the two main players in the brouhaha. First up is Lori Kisner, VP of sports/retail for DMG World Media, the parent company of Surf Expo. We then talked to Court Overin, general manager of VNU Expositions, the parent company of ASR.

àƒ,à‚• Lori Kisner, VP Of Sports/Retail For DMG World Media

TransWorld SURF Business: Why did you decide to do a back-to-school show, and won’t this ruffle the feathers at ASR?

Lori Kisner: Yes, that was a consideration, absolutely. But regardless of how badly it pisses them off, they’ve been given their chance for five years. I’m not in the business of ignoring my customers. When they ask for something, you gotta do it. I’m in the business of producing events and when I’ve got the majors in the industry saying, “We’ll support an event out in Anaheim and we don’t care whose ground it stands on, come out and do it,” I’ve got to do it.

TransWorld SURF Business: It also gives you a foothold on the California market.

Lori Kisner: Yeah, it’s an introduction to that market — we know it well. But at the same time, there’s no back-to-school order writing being done — except for in footwear — at the February ASR show, and with Court’s recent announcement that he’s moving ASR to January, that means that there will be no representation of back-to-school at ASR shows in the future. So that opens up the opportunity for us to really produce a non-competing event in California.

The show that I’m developing won’t take away business from his February ASR show. Those people are going to continue to do that from a PR standpoint — as they have for the last twenty years. It’s still a very good, high-profile, P.R. event.

All we’re doing is creating a nice manufacturer-to-retailer business environment show. There won’t be any fashion shows or promos, and it’s not going to be a publicity event — it’s going to be an order-writing show.

TransWorld SURF Business: ASR has done a lot of tremendously positive things for the industry, but it’s never seemed like an order-writing show.

Lori Kisner: No, and I bet Court and a lot of people out in the California market will say these retailers don’t like to write at shows, they just like to come and look. Well that’s because they’ve never been given a venue that is conducive to order writing.

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When we talk to these retailers and we ask them, “If you haven’t been to an order-writing show, would you?” they unanimously replied, “Absolutely.” They told us they’d love to be able to go up an aisle and compare one line to another — side by side. They’d love to do business that way. But they haven’t had an environment coucive to doing that for a very long time — and that’s why I say our approach is totally different.

We are trade-show producers, and there’s a need for a back-to-school trade show out there. It’s on a smaller scale than our main Surf Expo. It’s a viable business for us that’s in demand and we’re not in the business of ignoring those requests. So does this impact of ASR? It only impacts them because they’ve missed the opportunity of doing it themselves.

Plus, who is the one who decided that ASR has to remain on the West Coast and Surf Expo has to remain on the East Coast? Does Roxy only stay on the East Coast? Does Billabong only stay on the West Coast? We have produced events worldwide.

As far as SIMA’s concerned, no they can’t endorse this, and I’m not asking them too — but the industry can. That’s what’s needed. If anybody wants to make this into a war, so be it. But that’s not the way we’re approaching it. We’re approaching it as when your customers come asking, you’ve got to respond — and that’s what we’re doing.

TransWorld SURF Business: Is this the beginning of a larger West Coast presence for Surf Expo then?

Lori Kisner: I’ve just written up our five-year goals and nowhere in there does it say, “Take over the West Coast market.” The only thing it ever says about the West Coast market is starting a back-to-school show. That’s all it says.

If we wanted to take over the West Coast market we would do it through acquisition. That has been discussed, but neither party is interested. DMG won’t sell to ASR and ASR won’t sell to DMG. We’re going to develop shows that continue our growth. Court starting a show in New York shows that he’s growing. This show in Anaheim shows that we’re growing too.

àƒ,à‚• Court Overin, General Manager Of VNU Expositions

TransWorld SURF Business: Has there been a call for a back-to-school show that’s been unanswered in California?

Court Overin: A number of the large apparel manufacturers have been requesting an opportunity to present their fall product to the marketplace. And that’s been going on for about three years or so. We have been doing research, working with SIMA and with the trade-show committee — with Joel Cooper who is the head of the trade-show committee — researching the options and really what the marketplace wants.

The research shows that the entire marketplace does not want a fall back-to-school show. It’s really some select surf-apparel manufacturers, some of the larger retail stores, and some of the larger chain stores who would like to have the option of a back-to-school show in March.

We’ve actually had several options on the table with SIMA. One is a New York City show at Pier 92. A portion of the SIMA board said that April would be the better time frame for the smaller companies, others said it would be better in the first couple of weeks of March.

TransWorld SURF Business: What’s SIMA’s involvement?

Court Overin: They are a valuable partner to us and all the players sit on that board, so we thought it was important that we talk to them as a group to make sure that we’re making a product that’s right for them.

What has come out of it is that the manufacturers see a need for a New York show. They all feel that it would be great to be able to get in front of that Tri-State area, and get in front of the key press, and to really reach all those retailers on the East Coast with our lifestyle and our product. But the timing difference between having it in April or having it in March is an issue for the two different types of manufacturers.

What I had presented to SIMA a couple of weeks ago was, “Well, if the April time frame is too late and we really can’t do anything in early March because that’s too early, what about if we do a West Coast show for you.”

TransWorld SURF Business: A couple people compare Surf Expo’s Anaheim show to Fort Sumter — where the U.S. Civil War began. What’s your reaction?

Court Overin: This is exactly why SIMA was formed in the beginning, because the surf industry felt there needed to be some boundaries on how many trade shows there were going to be and who was going to do what. They didn’t want retailers or manufacturers or trade-show producers to individually have control over what happens where.

Surf Expo coming out here to the West Coast to me is a breech to the spirit of that agreement. Part of that agreement was that we shouldn’t be out there in the Southeast doing anything that would compete or make the market split, and we would hope that Surf Expo would do the same thing here.

It would be different if Surf Expo was looking to do a show in the Pacific Northwest or even up in the Bay Area. That would be a different issue. But to come to Anaheim, which is right between our two venues, I think that is a breech of the spirit of the agreement.

TransWorld SURF Business: How, if at all, will the back-to-school show affect the ASR show?

Court Overin: From my understanding what they are proposing is a regional show, and a regional show in a convention center is very expensive. You’re dealing with unions and labor, drayage, with electrical, with the high cost of space and security and all the things that come along with that. I think it won’t be a very cost-effective show.

It will have a draw for some regional buyers throughout Southern California, but I don’t think it can compete with the international buying base and the national buying base that comes to our show. There might be some people who choose to do one show or the other, but we have some things in the works for out here on the West Coast.

TransWorld SURF Business: So things are still on a professional level between ASR and Surf Expo, it’s just business as usual in a competitive marketplace.

Court Overin: It will always remain on a professional level, but we’re competitors. I certainly think with the options we provide to the industry over the next couple of weeks, they will see our option as a better alternative and that our brand is a stronger brand.

Because we’ve been doing shows here in Southern California for 21 years, and because of the relations we have with facilities and with our vendors and through the product that we provide, we’ll be able to provide a more cost-effective show with a better turnout.

TransWorld SURF Business: Anything else?

Court Overin: The last thing we want to do is to be firing bombs off back and forth at each other, confusing the retailers, having them not know where to go, or which show is going to be which. Yes, this is about business and it’s about the bottom-line contribution to our parent companies, but it’s also about uniting the marketplace, and keeping the marketplace strong. I believe putting too many shows in and trying to compete will confuse the retailer and in the long run will hurt all our businesses.

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TransWorld SURF Business will update this story as it develops.t’s your reaction?

Court Overin: This is exactly why SIMA was formed in the beginning, because the surf industry felt there needed to be some boundaries on how many trade shows there were going to be and who was going to do what. They didn’t want retailers or manufacturers or trade-show producers to individually have control over what happens where.

Surf Expo coming out here to the West Coast to me is a breech to the spirit of that agreement. Part of that agreement was that we shouldn’t be out there in the Southeast doing anything that would compete or make the market split, and we would hope that Surf Expo would do the same thing here.

It would be different if Surf Expo was looking to do a show in the Pacific Northwest or even up in the Bay Area. That would be a different issue. But to come to Anaheim, which is right between our two venues, I think that is a breech of the spirit of the agreement.

TransWorld SURF Business: How, if at all, will the back-to-school show affect the ASR show?

Court Overin: From my understanding what they are proposing is a regional show, and a regional show in a convention center is very expensive. You’re dealing with unions and labor, drayage, with electrical, with the high cost of space and security and all the things that come along with that. I think it won’t be a very cost-effective show.

It will have a draw for some regional buyers throughout Southern California, but I don’t think it can compete with the international buying base and the national buying base that comes to our show. There might be some people who choose to do one show or the other, but we have some things in the works for out here on the West Coast.

TransWorld SURF Business: So things are still on a professional level between ASR and Surf Expo, it’s just business as usual in a competitive marketplace.

Court Overin: It will always remain on a professional level, but we’re competitors. I certainly think with the options we provide to the industry over the next couple of weeks, they will see our option as a better alternative and that our brand is a stronger brand.

Because we’ve been doing shows here in Southern California for 21 years, and because of the relations we have with facilities and with our vendors and through the product that we provide, we’ll be able to provide a more cost-effective show with a better turnout.

TransWorld SURF Business: Anything else?

Court Overin: The last thing we want to do is to be firing bombs off back and forth at each other, confusing the retailers, having them not know where to go, or which show is going to be which. Yes, this is about business and it’s about the bottom-line contribution to our parent companies, but it’s also about uniting the marketplace, and keeping the marketplace strong. I believe putting too many shows in and trying to compete will confuse the retailer and in the long run will hurt all our businesses.

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TransWorld SURF Business will update this story as it develops.