For those who have been around for more than a decade, and seen the twists and turns the action sports industry has endured, it doesn't come as a shock to say that the only constant has been – and will continue to be – change.
The evolution of trade shows and our industry is cyclical: In the wake of ASR, brands and retailers looked to what was next. That something was a shifting perspective on the industry, as new, youthful brands filtered into the space, creating a renewed energy and innovative ideas about what defined "action sports."
Agenda Show was the new kid on the block, championing a few up and coming brands that hadn’t been on retailers’ radar until then. Fast forward to 2018, and Agenda is celebrating 15 years as a show; A whole lot has changed, yet some comparisons can still be drawn to the past.
Agenda's massive footprint at the Long Beach Convention Center seemed to be ever-growing as each show marched on. But last week, at Agenda’s summer show, that footprint was slightly smaller.
While some may point to industry consolidation, or other factors like an unpredictable retail climate, Agenda Show Director Neil Wright says that's just not the case. Reports indicate that retail is healthier than it’s been in a while, and business is still getting done – even if that looks different compared to five years ago.
"What this kind of transition has caused [retailers] to do is carve very separate lanes that accommodate a lot more of the market share,” Wright says about some of the major players like Zumiez, PacSun, Tilly’s and Urban Outfitters. “The overlap five years ago was insane with brands stomping all over each other but now [stores] have carved out their own brands and their own niche.”
The show’s landscape has also evolved, and is reminiscent of years past at Agenda, when smaller start-up brands were the focus. This could be exactly what the industry needs in order to ignite change and facilitate future growth. Wright points out that the absence of many larger companies allows smaller and mid-tier brands to get more face time with important accounts.
Last week's show saw a somewhat steady stream of traffic from a diverse cast of retailers ranging from REI, Urban Outfitters, Sun Diego, Zumiez and Hobie, to boutique and specialty stores like Seattle’s Wayward and Texas- and California-based Stag.
Many of the brands we spoke with agreed that the value of bringing everyone together under one roof is still paramount.
DC VP of Footwear Cory Long says he sees the merits of people gathering in one city, yet he still believes that tradeshows and our industry are in need of a revolution. "Our market has changed – some things are still important and some are not," Long says. "No one has all the answers, but there needs to be a scalpel taken to it to see what is needed and what isn't."
DC was one of several heritage brands present at the show. Also on hand was Body Glove, Matix, Katin and Nixon, which all had busy booths during day one of the show.
Nixon VP of North American Sales Brian White said, "The show is certainly transitioning, and its value is changing.” He says Nixon had a productive day one, and was excited about the consumer-facing day.
Wright says the show’s new executive team – including himself, VP of Marketing Rob Weinstein and Group Vice President for ReedPOP West Ron Walden – will be hunkering down and searching for new ways to grow.
The show certainly hasn't been complacent – In July 2017, they introduced Agenda Festival, which opens the final day up to the public in a whole new, experiential way. This summer, Agenda also partnered with Dew Tour, with both events running simultaneously at the Long Beach Convention Center and playing to a youthful audience with live concerts, art installations and a chance for consumers to directly interact with the brands and personalities inside Agenda's walls.
Attendance reports from Agenda put the crowd at 15k fans during the weekend Festival – a day featuring musical performances from Brockhampton, Lil Yachty, Billie Eilish and more.
Some brands have embraced the concept of opening up the event to a consumer audience, while others have remained on the fence, confirms Wright.
Larger brands have a harder time transitioning from a B2B to a consumer-facing platform: “Their relationship with a trade show is communicating through the sales function of a business. If we were talking to a marketing department, they would see the value in speaking to the consumer," he explains.
After some key learnings from the first round of Agenda Festival, and from working with consumer-facing events like ComplexCon, Wright says his team is working through these nuances and will do a better job of communicating to the different departments within larger companies to make sure everyone is equally as excited and understands the value.
When asked if Agenda might consider opening up the entire three-day show to a public consumer, Wright hesitates and says that the future format is still TBD. Agenda remains confident in the value of the B2B platform.
“By January we will have a lot solved,” he said. “We had a bunch of strategy meetings leading up to this, but the next important step was talking to retailers and brands to see how this show went for them. Most of the feedback has been generally positive and pretty exciting.”
Wright does believe, however, that it will take a community effort, pointing to the most recent example of partnering with Dew Tour as the industry coming together in solidarity and finding solutions. “We can’t alienate and have an elitist attitude – we all have to do this together,” he adds.
For Nixon, the show’s consumer interaction has potential: "We value feedback and like supporting our team riders and the Dew Tour event," White added.
The weekend brought an uptick in foot traffic, creating busier aisles inside the Agenda Festival and lots of interest outside at Dew Tour, as consumers walked freely between the two activations.
Chinatown Market x Dickies Bootleg Workshop, as well as Champion, RipNDip, Levi's, Herschel Supply Co., Dr. Martens, New Balance, The Hundreds, WildFox and Shaper Studios gave fans a chance to shop and experience activations.
Three-year-old surf brand Slowtide took full advantage of the opportunity, engaging with their audience by showcasing and selling their summer collection, as well as doing an hourly raffle and giveaway, with about 350 sign-ups over the course of the day.
“As a brand that is really figuring out the balance between wholesale and direct to consumer, we are looking to a younger generation and how they are buying, and really how much value there is in getting that direct feedback,” says Slowtide Co-founder Dario Phillips.
Wright says the goal is to make the show and festival as productive as possible in future iterations, no matter what format it takes on.
“We are in a place where we are cognizant of the change that’s happening,” he says. “We have the ability to really pivot and do something special. We are going to figure out what that is and it's going to be pretty amazing.”
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