ASR's trade show offers youthful inspiration

Welcome to the Action Sports Retailer trade show, which made its yearly fall pilgrimage to the Long Beach Convention Center to showcase the wares of top skate and surf companies.
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The winter trade show circuit has begun and how refreshing to go to one where CEOs are too cool to have business cards, where crowds gather not to see the latest product but watch two guys beat each other up on TV, and a 15-foot-high poster of a dominatrix waves a paddle at you. Welcome to the Action Sports Retailer (ASR) trade show, which made its yearly fall pilgrimage to the Long Beach Convention Center to showcase the wares of top skate and surf companies Jan. 23-25.

Considered a must-go show by exhibitors, the exhibit hall looked a little airy on the edges. Rather than being filled with exhibiting companies, the arena area of the convention center housed freestyle motocross exhibitions and demos. In the past, ASR has drawn upward of 500 exhibitors, but show management said they had closer to 350 this year.

"There are not as many little companies and startups. They don't have the money to exhibit," said Lori Jenks, ASR' s director of operations. "There are quality buyers and good steady business on the floor. We're happy with the business being done."

Notably absent were snowboard companies as SIA continues to dominant that side of the market and SIA's show dates were nearly a direct conflict. ASR is moving its 2004 fall show back to San Diego and plans to take the third to last weekend of January. Jenks said the move would position ASR as a preview show again and hopefully draw more snowboard companies back to the show floor.

Among the aisles of T-shirts and skateboards, only one snowboard company was to be found in a 10x10. Girl Boards, a snowboard line with boards and graphics designed for women, doesn't make the trip to Vegas for the SIA show. Owner Adria Escalante said ASR is closer to her home base of Oxnard, Calif., making it easier to see her dealers and suppliers and less expensive than SIA.

Why should you care about ASR? Sometimes when we were cruising down the aisles of fortress-like barricades created by the tall and unfriendly walls built up by manufacturers, we wondered that too. However, the youth-oriented ASR can teach the outdoor industry a few things about tapping into the youth vibe by what's being produced and displayed there.

A few quick notes on what we saw:

Footwear: Much like the outdoor industry, earth tones predominated the suede and leather shoe lines of many ASR exhibitors. Dickies was getting ohh's and ahh's from appreciative female passersby for its earth brown and green sneakers which looked a lot like a cross between a low-top Converse and Adidas sneaker. Adidas' popular sneaker style "inspired" a lot of look-alikes from other shoemakers. Nike was on hand with a skateboard shoe line with two styles that featured the bright green color and star design of a Heineken beer bottle. Not to be outdone by its brethren, though, was an all-silver, metallic-looking skate shoe from the company. Still a dominant theme in the industry is the bowling-inspired shoes that keep hanging on.

Colors: In addition to earth-toned greens, browns and slates, pink, light blue and red held a special place in the hearts of ASR exhibitors and popped up in many a clothing line on the floor.

Retro: Retro styles had a strong following and popped up in different incarnations. Dickies had shoulder bags that were throwbacks to the '80s with rainbow patterns and colorways. Kimiko, which designs surfwear and loungewear for women and clothes for babies, uses graphics collected from 1940s magazine ads and cards to decorate its apparel. Girl Boards used pinup girls and movie poster art in its mini catalog. The "real" Gidget was even on hand to sign copies of her autobiography.

SNEWS View: Manufacturers lamented low attendance, which was given an early estimate of 12,000 with no official numbers in sight. Dropping paper isn't the name of the game at this show, it's all about being seen, hanging out and networking. Companies see it as a necessary evil to drop cash to exhibit at ASR. Although always known for showcasing smaller innovative entrepreneurial companies, ASR booth prices have now become too high for many of them to exhibit -- so what was a real draw for the show is shriveling -- for both the exhibitors and attendees. And those that are still coming seemed to have shrunk booth sizes to afford the show. Jacking up booth prices to the point that excludes the little folks is an ironic strategy by VNU, ASR's parent company, since those same small companies inevitably help the industry grow and bring more business to ASR's trade show floor.

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