Amazing (and underrated) wholesale tradeshow opportunities

oasis_gift_showThere’s three levels of wholesale trade shows for clothing designers and manufacturers. First are the biggies, so large as to be international aka first tier (MAGIC, Outdoor Retailer, shows in NY and LA etc). Second tier are shows in so called secondary markets; there’s constant debate which those are but definitely include shows in cities like Dallas, Atlanta and Chicago. The third tier or tertiary shows are regional market shows and are held in many cities with a convention center and a population base of half a million or more. This would include cities like Houston, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Phoenix and Albuquerque. The latter is what inspires this entry.

I know nothing about regional shows, I stick to the majors because I only need (or thought I only needed) the high points so I’d never been to a regional show until today. I feel like such a dope but these shows can be an incredible opportunity. What was I thinking? I should have made an effort to figure this out long before now. Okay, so maybe you knew all about regional show but I didn’t. I’m jazzed, the OASIS show I attended today was great!

This is how I happened to go. Several months ago I read a mention somewhere on the web that so and so was going to be showing at a wholesale gift show called OASIS to be held in Albuquerque this April. I’d never heard of the show but I tracked it down and emailed the show’s management with a request to be added to their mailing list. You have to do that with the smaller shows; most sites are not as robust as people expect and few have automated sign ups. I thought it would be good to write about since it was local and wouldn’t be a hassle to go, plus I’ve never been to a gift show (and Miracle raves about them so much) so all in all, I didn’t have many expectations. I figured “blog filler”. My real intent was to go and hopefully find out about a local hotel show that’s been held here several times a year for years but it’s not advertised and I don’t know who knows so I can’t figure out where and when it is. So that’s why I was going. A field trip downtown on a Friday afternoon to end the week, have lunch with gal pal Sal (who came along) and have a filler post with local flavor for my trouble.

I spoke to a few exhibitors, everyone seemed to be very pleased with the show. All (yes, all) said sales were great, that by 1:00 PM of the first day, they’d sold as much or more than they did on both days of last year’s show (this is the second year).  They all said it was a great value; I looked up the cost of exhibiting and found that booths are $550!

One exhibitor I spoke with told me a few things that I’d rather not attribute (until I know whether I can) but he had quite a few insights. This guy has been manufacturing clothes for 30+ years, he said that ten years ago, most producers did two or three big shows a year (like Magic etc) and called it good because that was enough to feed their sales goals and get them through the year. But that all changed, he says that it is much more cost effective for smaller operations to do five or six regional shows a year, especially if you don’t have road reps visiting customers. The reason for the switch is that mom and pop shops stopped attending and buying at the larger shows and started relying more heavily on road reps but he said that was bad because their merchandizing mix got stale with fewer new products added into the mix. He says that he regularly finds buyers at regional shows who had once bought from him at Magic that had stopped ordering from him once they stopped going (he has no road reps). At the regional shows, he’s reclaiming his share of their business because these events are more convenient and accessible to them. Then he said that surprisingly, regional shows aren’t so regional anymore, that buyers travel from distances that were unheard of in the past. He says it’s more likely buyers are attending based on the draw, the particular focus or niche of the show. The OASIS show being of southwestern flavor, tends to attract both locals and buyers from out of state who carry southwestern style products. I don’t know if you know this but that includes buyers from places like Germany and Japan. Both places are crazy for southwestern stuff.

I plan to write more after I return tomorrow but it would be worth your while to research regional shows if you think you’re ready to exhibit. I liked this particular show because it was well organized, signage was clear, it was uncluttered, not noisy, you know, a business like environment.  I suppose if you’re looking for a party (like Project) this wouldn’t be it but it is what it is. There were other differences between this show and the majors, namely cash and carry. I’m definitely not used to that but that holds a lot of appeal for a lot of buyers and some exhibitors. Something to keep in mind.

Unfortunately, finding the regional shows can be a bit tricky. I didn’t find this one mentioned in the apparel calenders (although there are other regional shows like Kansas City and New England Apparel Club) so it will help to ask around. I think I found this show by reading the upcoming events section on the website of a small clothing manufacturer. OASIS also has a Phoenix show that has been doing well for a few years, this Albuquerque show being an expansion of their business. One reason the smaller shows are hard to find is because they are often clubs. By clubs I mean a couple of reps got together and decided to make it happen because they’re willing to risk that their markets were big enough to sustain it. By the way, this is how MAGIC started. MAGIC stands for Men’s Apparel Guild in California. It used to be a men’s clothing show only and they moved it to Las Vegas because exhibition space in California was becoming prohibitive and they also thought they could piggyback on guy-friendly Vegas to get buyers in the door. In those days, it gave men a legitimate reason to go to Vegas without their wives. Those were wild and wooly days.

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  1. Victoria Ranua says:

    I was recently a guest at the Northstar regional market held in Minneapolis (St. Paul actually). Having never been to market, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but everyone seller I talked to had good things to say. There was a great diversity of products and buyers at most of the booths. I will be considering starting at Northstar when I am ready for market.

  2. Jay Arbetman says:

    Unless you are an established rep or being shown by an established rep, big shows and Chicago/Atlanta/Dallas second tier shows are pretty much a waste of time. In fact, I know of very few people other than the established reps that go into the Chicago Show and meet with success. (Sadly one of the worst regional shows in the country)

    Why is this? Simple, location is for the most part determined by seniority. At most shows, the most senior reps actually have a hand in the booth and/or room assignments. Welcome to your booth in the janitor’s closet!! So instead of getting a shot at say 100 cents on a dollar like you expect, 80% or more is already spent before you even get a glance. This is how the apparel business continues to “eat its young”.

    Is this to say that shows are a hopeless case? Not exactly and here are some guidelines that may help.

    Walk a show before spending your hard earned money on booth space.
    Do not under any circumstance, put money into a secondary location at a show.
    With a few notable exceptions, don’t listen to a thing the show promoters are telling you.
    They are all liars and scumbags.
    (exceptions would be Northwest Sales in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Victoria at Apparel Mini Marts which runs several Midwestern shows, WWIN in Las Vegas which is run by pretty much the best folks in the business)

    All in all, your best bet is to find a good rep if you are going to go into a show. I’m sure their are exceptions to this, but their aren’t many.

  3. Unfortunately, some of these shows are rep-only shows. NEAC (New England Apparel Club comes to mind, although they will let manufacturers in, but a couple of years ago, there was no space and a waiting list of reps). Another is the Travelers Show in the mid-atlantic. I couldn’t even get in to walk the show.


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