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Outdoor Retailer to host June pre-show for apparel companies and retailers

Responding to an increasing rumbling from the apparel side of the business that Summer Market is simply too late in the buy-sell cycle to be meaningful, Outdoor Retailer has decided to launch an invite-only, Chicago-based pre-show during the first week of June in 2005.

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Responding to an increasing rumbling from the apparel side of the business that Summer Market is simply too late in the buy-sell cycle to be meaningful, Outdoor Retailer has decided to launch an invite-only, Chicago-based pre-show during the first week of June in 2005.

Peter Devin, group trade show director for VNU, the owner of the Outdoor Retailer trade shows, told SNEWS® that OR believes it can “serve the needs of the market by creating an opportunity for retail buyers and apparel manufacturers to conduct line previews in a more efficient and less expensive manner.”

In essence, up to 25 retailers will be invited along with up to 25 apparel brands for a three-day event held at a hotel in the Chicago area. Each manufacturer will pay approximately $10,000 to attend and for that receive a private hotel suite for showing its line, as well as breakfast, lunch, and what Devin is dubbing a “heavy hors d’oeuvres.” For retailers who are invited, all expenses will be paid according to those retailers we spoke with who had already been approached by OR to gauge interest.

“This is intended as a working event, not a trade show,” Devin asserted. “We see this as a service model where retail buyers and apparel brands can meet to preview lines in 90 minute to four-hour appointments. Rather than the apparel companies or retailers flying all over the country in May and June which they are doing now, we hope this can perhaps alleviate some of that stress and expense by providing a consolidated time frame in the middle of the country to try and accomplish the same thing.”

Naturally, there are concerns. The Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) board, while not coming out and either endorsing or condemning the move, did state reservations in its most recent board session in Colorado when the idea was discussed.

“The board is not endorsing the Chicago show at this time,” Frank Hugelmeyer, OIA’s president, told SNEWS®. “We are very concerned with how the early show might affect the health of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market. The big issue for us is that Summer Market is too late in the buy-sell cycle for apparel brands and must be moved forward to remain relevant.

“The issue the OIA board believes is the most pressing is working with the OR show to address the apparel side of the business by moving the dates earlier to make Summer Market the most relevant national show that it can be,” added Hugelmeyer.

In every case, manufacturers we spoke with, including key apparel brands such as Mountain Hardwear and Prana, told us that their attendance was going to be dependent on whether or not OR could secure 25 key retailer accounts that would make the show worthwhile — at least as a preview event.

“I am more open to the Chicago show once I stop thinking of it as a solution to the current show dates,” said Demian Kloer, general manager for Prana. “It depends on the list of retailers. If OR can bring in 20 of the top 25 retailers in the country, it is not a bad idea to consider since then we will have the added value of hanging out with core retailers, getting an early read on our line, and getting to know their needs better.”

Getting the key retailers to commit is the sticking point. Most of the manufacturers we spoke with also echoed that the key list of retailers they would need to see at Chicago include a significant percentage of the ROI buying group retail members. Trouble is ROI has its own early show scheduled for the Salt Lake area from June 10-13.

ROI retailers include: Adventure 16, Alpine Shop, The Base Camp, Bill Jackson’s, Black Creek Outfitters, Buffalo Peak Outfitters, Casual Adventure, Champaign Surplus, Elephant’s Perch, Great Provision Outdoor Co., Half Moon Outfitters, Massey’s Professional Outfitters, Mountain Miser Ltd., Nat’s Outdoor Sports, Outside Hilton Head, Outdoors Inc., Pine Needle Mountaineering, River Sports Outfitters, Rock Creek, Skinny Skis, Summit Hut, Sunrise Mountain Sports, Travel Country Outdoors, Ute Mountaineer, Wild River Outfitters and Wilson’s Eastside Sports.

How likely is it that the ROI retailers will want to also attend the Chicago show? Not very, though perhaps a few might embrace the idea of attending both the Chicago OR show and the ROI early show a week later, simply because the Chicago show is free — other than the investment of time. John Mead, president of Adventure 16, told us that he is intrigued by the idea — especially since it is at no cost to him — and would send one or two of his buyers simply because he believes it is important to support any idea that might make for a better and more efficient buying process.

It is important to point out that when we asked retailers, such as A16, if they would consider attending the OR Chicago show if it was not an all-expense paid venture, most said no, or hmmmed and hawed a lot, including Mead. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Mead also expressed support for the ROI show as his first priority should a choice have to be made. “I am very concerned at how this may affect vendor participation at the ROI show and the ability for us to see the lines we would expect to see at the ROI show,” added Mead.

Vendors that attended last year’s ROI early show included: Asolo, Chaco, Deuter, Ex Officio, Gramicci, Indigenous Designs, Kelty, La Sportiva, Life-Link, Lowa Boots, Lowe Alpine, Marmot, Montrail, Mountain Hardwear, Optic Nerve, Pacific Cornetta, Pacific Outdoor Equipment, Patagonia, Princeton Tec, Royal Robbins, Salomon, SmartWool, Smith Optics, Timbuk2, Vasque, Wenger and Wigwam. Not one vendor we spoke with gave any indication that this was an either/or decision — ROI remains a definite yes for attendance, with Chicago as a possibility.

“The ROI early show has been a very constructive show for us,” said Mike Wallenfels, vice president of sale and marketing for Mountain Hardwear. “The Chicago show, while certainly an interesting idea doesn’t seem to answer the real issue and that is solving the current timing of Summer Market.”

Devin does not dispute the fact that Summer Market might need to begin inching toward earlier summer dates. In fact, he’s already reserved August 3-6 in 2006 — a full week earlier than the current scheduled dates of August 10-13.

SNEWS® View: We do applaud Devin for trying to be creative. To those who simply point fingers and accuse VNU of trying to exact more money from the industry as the only motivation for the Chicago show, we say, chill out. With $250,000 gross income, after you pay for the air and lodging expenses of 25 retailers, as well as cover the hotel suites of and food for 25 manufacturers over four days, and add in promotional, administrative and organizational costs, the profit margin becomes thin at best. However, we also believe Outdoor Retailer is acting like Microsoft here — offering up a patch solution to a currently flawed situation when in fact an entirely new program is what is needed. The bottom line is, Summer Market needs to be moved earlier in the summer and as an industry, we had better begin supporting that idea and helping OR work toward meeting it, or we run the very real possibility that our very precious national show will become either less relevant and meaningful simply because the timing is off, or it will become smaller and as a result less meaningful and relevant simply because the apparel brands opt for their own show earlier in the season.

For those hardgoods companies that will immediately begin to complain they can’t exhibit earlier in the year, we say that there is nothing like a firm deadline to exact commitment. If OR changes the dates, you’ll adapt and you all know it. If the European companies can make Friedrichshafen in late July, then there is no reason European, Asian and U.S. companies could not make product in time for a late July Summer Market show is there? Further, many hardgoods and apparel companies have been meeting earlier deadlines already, thanks to the needs of REI buyers who require longer planning times in their ordering process. Sure, there is grumbling, but the deadlines do get met or the sales do not get made.

And yes, we know that retailers appear to want the show later, not earlier. Having once worked the retail scene ourselves at the management level, we can state most assuredly that attending a trade show in early August or even late July with a good idea of what your store needs to buy for next season is not out of the question for a good retailer. If a trade show is good enough and compelling enough, retailers will attend, no matter what the timing is — as long as the timing is not something ridiculous like early July.

Why do apparel brands need an earlier show? Think lead times. While U.S.-made products operate under a slightly shorter lead time, apparel made in Asia and other parts of the world requires a minimum six-month time from the moment an order is placed to the time the product arrives in the warehouse. Add a month or two for more technical fabrics. So, working backward, since most apparel brands are seeking to have product in their warehouses for delivery by early February, any product ordered after Aug. 1 is outside of the ordering window. This means retailers placing orders at Summer Market are doing so during the drop-dead (don’t even think of making a change) ordering window for many apparel companies and as a result have no opportunity for any input into the lines. In fact, many apparel companies have to speculate more as a result, which means the entire process is more of a gamble than it needs to be.

The reason apparel brands hit the road with their rep samples in May, June and July is to meet their deadlines at the overseas factories and to be able to offer preseason terms, many of which also end, at the very latest, by mid-August and only then because they’re struggling to accommodate the late timing of Summer Market. The fact is, by the first of August, most of the major apparel brands have the vast majority of their lines already sold, not out of choice, but out of necessity to minimize costs and meet factory and delivery deadlines.

What does the industry gain by moving dates into the first week of August, or better yet, the last week of July? Suddenly, the show is in the minimum six-month production window for apparel companies. Retailers can view lines and have input. Apparel brands still have an opportunity to drop colors that retailers don’t like, move a pocket, modify a seam or even change the fit. Preseason terms and discounts become more reasonable to manage. Manufacturers have a better grip on the entire buying process and don’t have to guess about August numbers. Emerging companies enjoy the growth and impact of a national show where everyone continues to attend. Everyone wins. In our opinion, OR can’t move the show earlier soon enough.

Speak up and sound off with your views on the timing of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market. Head to the SNEWS® Community Forum. Click here to post your views and to read and respond to what others have said.