MAGIC Trip Report: Todd Hudson

I know I already said we’d finished up the trip reports but we have one last entry. Todd, a pattern maker in the Bay area, is pinch hitting for me today as I work on another tutorial. Of all of us, he had the most feedback on Pool so be sure to read that if you’re thinking of showing there. Thanks Todd!

February 13th through 16th, 2007, I attended MAGIC, Project and Pool in Las Vegas. I’m indebted to my friends for letting me borrow badges to get in. My reason for being there was to walk the shows. My business partner James Kessler and I are planning a menswear line so I wanted to see what was out there in our target market. Here is what I witnessed.

The first day I arrived at MAGIC at the end of the day 15 minutes late for Robert Silverstone’s lecture “How To Retain And Motivate Your Sales Team”. One area he covered was active listening skills. I’ve been taught these techniques many times before I find them to be very effective. I’ll give you a summary of some of the listening tips. Try to understand what the other person is trying to say about their own experience rather than telling them your own related experience. Let people know you’re listening by paraphrasing back what they said. Ask open-ended questions (like a defense attorney would if examining their own witness). And finally, don’t interrupt people while they’re trying to tell you something. You can learn so much if you just open your ears, hold your tongue and let people talk themselves silly. Sometimes it takes people awhile to tell you how they’re feeling and they retell it five different ways before you really understand where they’re coming from.

Silverstone also talked about his trademarked GROW principle. He had an entire class scheduled during MAGIC to explain the GROW principle and he was plugging a 3 day course in Sedona, AZ to learn the GROW principle. When I heard it explained, it reminded me of the RAIN principle my meditation teacher taught. Silverstone has a book called “In the Moment”. I think he took Buddhist principles as a basis for his corporate coaching and trademarked them! Anyhow, he gave pretty good advice to the audience and I liked his energy. He has real experience working in the apparel industry too.

It was a challenge walking into the seminar late and trying to find Kathleen sitting in the audience. I couldn’t see her when I walked in so I sat in some random seat and then I noticed her hair right in front of me. She ran out at the end and I had to chase her to the door so I could get my fan-boy awkward introduction experience. I got it.

Kathleen, Malia, Sally and I went to the Best Western lounge to have dinner. It was a lot of fun. A gentlemen was dining solo near to our table. Kathleen and Sally teased him until he agreed to sit with us (he wanted to but didn’t want to impose). Robyn, originally from Scotland, was a really nice sales rep for a knitwear producer. He lives in the Philippines. His company also has production in India. I kept running into him at the tradeshow the next few days and he was doing well with interest from manufacturers to contract with his company. When I introduced him to my German friend Axel, Robyn spoke fluid German with him. Everyone loved Robyn cause he was such a nice guy. If people like you, you can sell anything.

Later, my business partner James showed up for dinner. Kathleen and Sally were toying with the idea of crashing the $120 per ticket MAGIC costume ball that night. James is a vintage clothing dealer and stylist so he has a whole bunch of clothes at his house. He offered to dress them for crashing the costume ball but he lived too far away so it didn’t happen.

James and I left to take care of our business that night. Our business consisted of seeing a band play a show. It was a successful evening for me because the drummer cornered me at the after-party and insisted that I make him custom shirts.

This year Pool was right next to MAGIC but you needed a specific Pool badge to get into Pool even if you were a buyer. It’s a lame policy considering they’re owned by the same corporation. My friend and I walked into Pool with our other friends’ Pool badges and walked around a bit. BORING, BORING. Wednesday at Pool was totally dead. Maybe all the buyers were out “doing business” the night before like I was. From what I saw, the goods being offered were dead too. If I was a buyer I would have been disappointed. Who buys this crap? There were too many lame t-shirt companies and too much overpriced womens wear. A few places were offering denim but it was obvious by their huge booths they had a lot of money behind them. Otherwise there were barely any wovens. I didn’t see anything I would make, sell or wear. Either that means Pool is the wrong market for my product or that there is a void waiting to be filled.

According to the Pool website, Pool costs about $4000 for an exhibitor to get a basic 8’ by 12’ booth space. You can share one for about $2500. Most DEs I talked to barely broke even with orders taken during the event. They were all disappointed with their sales. People in the trade I talked to, including a buyer for a major retailer, think that Pool will probably only last two more seasons at the most and then be absorbed by MAGIC.

I also learned that best use of a tradeshow is to make appointments with buyers beforehand so that you spend your time at the tradeshow showing product to people you have already introduced yourself and your product to. If you don’t have any existing accounts, start contacting potential buyers before you even pay your registration fee. If you can’t get enough appointments set up with potential buyers, you may not even profit by going to the show. $4000 plus transportation, plus union fees to move your booth into the building, plus hotel, plus food, plus drinks, plus roulette is a lot of money to risk. I seriously think that a lot of people attend because of the experience of being in Vegas during a trade show week rather than the trade show itself. People really party and spend money like crazy in Vegas. It was fun but I’m glad I didn’t invest very much money in the experience.

The other problem with shows like Pool and United (a concurrent independent street wear show I did not attend) is that they attract exhibitors and buyers that have little money to invest. Another words, it’s a bunch of credit risky people running around trying not to spend too much money they don’t have and at the same time putting in orders or accepting orders that they can’t make good on. My friend, a yoga/dance/casual wear DE, did Pool in New York last season (I think it was the first show Pool was under the same ownership as MAGIC). She said she picked up some of her lousiest buyers at Pool. They were the type that don’t pay and cancel orders. She said the best buyers she picked were some that wondered in from the Project show. In Las Vegas, the guards at Pool wouldn’t let buyers with Project badges into Pool without making them wait in line for Pool badges and maybe even pay another fee. Basically, the people running the tradeshow made it a hassle for buyers. Also, my friend’s cute yoga wear was placed next to a bunch of skate shoes and other stuff totally unrelated to her product.

The rest of that day I spent at Project. According to my friends, Project costs exhibitors about $10,000 for a 10’ by 10’ booth. The format is different from Pool because the booths are like a cross between an office cubicle and a chicken coop. All the cubicles are in rows and aisles stacked against each other and you can’t see over the top of them easily. It was held at the Sands Expo Center. It was probably 4 times the size of Pool. The manufacturers are older and more established than the exhibitors at Pool. There was a ton of denims, woven, shoes and accessories. I spotted some real live garmentos at Project. I walked the menswear section in about 3 hours. I had quite a headache by the third hour.

My final day at the tradeshow I spent an afternoon at MAGIC. My business partner and I arrived at MAGIC near the streetwear section. Before we even entered the building, we were barraged with loud music, celebrities, low riders and hoochie mamas. It was “hiphy.” I was annoyed. We ran inside the showroom without issue (I was wearing a Project badge) and found the textiles section. It was really skimpy. I do not recommend trying to source fabric at MAGIC. We did however, spend $135 on a book called Fabric Services Trims at the Fashiondex booth. I recommend it. We also spent awhile at the Mode Information magazine distribution booth where we perused pricey textile look books and oversized Gap Press Japan magazines. I highly recommend the any of the magazines published by Gap Press Japan. You get really clear pictures of collections presented in major runway shows and no advertisements and just a few interviews. The rep at Mode Information was really nice and gave us a few issues of a textile industry magazine they distribute.

After visiting the textiles section we got lost in the streetwear section looking for the tailored menswear section so we had to exit and then re-enter. At this point in the day, the celebrity guests and performers were everywhere so the security guards were checking all badges. They wouldn’t let me in with a Project badge so James got me a guest badge.

We found the tailored menswear section and it was pretty much dead. I guess all the action was over at the streetwear section that we escaped from. The clothing we wanted to see (such as Ben Sherman) was all hidden behind temporary showrooms that you had to have an appointment to get into. We just wanted to have a peak, but if you’re not a buyer and you didn’t have an appointment with the right person beforehand, they would not let you even peek.

On the plane back to Oakland I was fortunate to sit next to a buyer/DE for a skateboard/snowboard shop in the Bay Area. He also sells limited edition t-shirts and other garments with prints by featured artists under his own brand. He walked all the shows I’ve mentioned – MAGIC, Pool, Project and United. Before he went to Las Vegas, he already had a plan of who he wanted to meet with and he didn’t see anything new that wanted to buy besides those that he planned to meet with beforehand. Even though he walked all those shows, he didn’t pick up one new brand. He was also walking them just to check out what other designers are presenting. He said that he also did not place any orders during the trip but that he would have to meet with his business partners back home and decide with them before placing any orders. He said that the trip was useful because he was able to meet with the reps for the products he was already interested in or that he already carries. He says that in the skatewear industry, reps do not typically go around visiting retailers. Distributors send out catalogs with pictures of the products and price lists and order forms. He said that skate shop owners don’t want to bother with all the schmoozing, communicating and contracting required for traditional apparel buying. I presume they’d rather just put in an order and then spend the rest of their time skating or hanging out with shop customers. In my personal experience, skate shops have tiny staffs and a very “hanging out at home” type atmosphere. Customers will hang out there all day just talking about skating and watching skate videos and then skate near the shop. Some guitar stores are like this too.

To me, the way skate shops buy merchandise sounds similar to how independent record stores and distributors work. The independent record label can make it or break it by getting in with the right independent distributor (such as Mordam) that will get them in the right record stores at the right volume (such as Amoeba in San Francisco or Other Music in Manhattan). The people who work in the independent record supply chain, like skaters, would rather spend their free time playing in bands and touring than negotiating contracts for sales reps. Music recordings are a very different product from apparel but those record stores sell t-shirts, books and posters as well as music.

Based on my interviews with exhibitors and buyers, I don’t think you can plan to break even or profit at MAGIC, Pool or Project based on walk-up business. Before I pay my registration fee, I would try to contact potential buyers and make appointments with them and try to estimate how much they would order from me. This will ensure I’m spending your time at the booth actually selling product in person rather than waiting for some random buyer to walk up that may not exist. The casinos aren’t the only gamble in Las Vegas.

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