Industry Grapples With Terrorist Attack Aftermath

Unfortunately for Surf Expo, this weekend’s trade show in Orlando, Florida has become a barometer to gauge our industry’s reaction to the tragic terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington D.C.

According to Lori Kisner, VP of sports/retail for DMG World Media, the parent company of Surf Expo, the September 21-23 show will go on as planned and by a three-to-one ratio retailers want it that way.

In order to gauge the manufacturer’s mood, TransWorld SURF Business sent out a short e-mail to a cross section of industry leaders, asking whether the events of last week had forced them to reexamine their plans to attend the Florida show.

Some responses were confident — even defiant — but an equal number showed the trepidation many people are currently grappling with in the wake of the worst attack on U.S. soil since the Civil War.

“We feel as a company that it’s vital that we participate and go on with business — even in the face of the tragic circumstances,” says one industry leader, who asked to remain anonymous. “If we don’t the terrorists win.”

Split Marketing Director Mark Sperling lost a friend in the attacks. “Danny Lee was on American Airlines Flight 11, en route from Boston to Los Angeles, which crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center with 81 passengers and eleven crew onboard,” says Sperling, adding that Lee was heading home to help his wife give birth to their second child.

In spite of the loss, Sperling says he will attend Surf Expo. “Some of our staff will not be going due to personal belief and fear,” he says. “We understand that a majority of the retailers probably will pass on this show. We will try to accommodate this situation by making an effort to visit each store or have customer service deal with them.”

Tom Holbrook, national sales manager for Quiksilver, will be attending: “We need to carry the ‘flag’ and demonstrate to our customers that we continue to believe in our industry and our country.” However, Holbrook says Quiksilver is planning on a “lighter” expo and is scaling down the number of staff attending the show.

Richard Woolcott, president and founder of Volcom, will be at the show: “Wall Street is open — see you in Florida!”

To generalize, it appears companies with trade show booths are planning to attend — although with a smaller crew in tow. Several companies will keep their marketing departments at home but are sending their sales staffs. Other industry executives, who didn’t have a booth but planned to walk the show, have changed plans.

Bruce Beach, president of Electric, decided yesterday that his company will not attend Surf Expo. Electric didn’t have a booth and was planning to walk the show and meet prospective reps for the Florida territory. “Before last week’s tragic events, our primary safety concern was the shark situation in New Smyrna,” says Beach — underscoring just how much things have changed.

“It’s also important for us to consider how safe it is to fly,” continues Beach. “If the U.S.A. attacks Afghanistan while we’re traveling, the risk of another terrorist attack on the U.S.A. may increase sharply. The safety of everyone at Electric is much more important than selling sunglasses or snow goggles. I have flown over 100,000 miles each year for the last three years on United Airlines, and the security measures in the U.S.A. on domestic flights for all airlines are an absolute joke.”

Scott Sorenson, vice president of marketing at Dragon Optical, also decided not to attend the show. “We didn’t have a booth, and I was only planning on walking the show,” says Sorenson. “Why add to the current airline hassles? Beside, I don’t think anybody will be thinking about sunglass purchasing right now.”

Chad DiNenna, cofounder of Nixon Watches, also scrubbed his plans. “I’m not as concerned about air-travel safety,” he says. “If the flights are going, I will too. However, it makes little sense for me to go if the people I need to meet with will not be there.”

Tim Swart, Clive’s marketing director, made a personal decision not to attend — although the brand will still have a booth. “I was going strictly from the marketing perspective, and I am not too excited about getting on a plane right now.”

One executive says that he had originally planned to attend the show, but is now giving it a pass. “I had to cancel a “must” trip last week,” he says. “So I will be traveling — just not to Orlando.”

Another company founder was turning to his reps to decide the company’s course of action. “I think the reps should have a big say in this area — based on what they’re hearing from the retailers — on whether or not they will attend the show.”

While the show will certainly go on, it will be interesting to see the mood on the trade-show floor once it gets underway.

“If the show is still on, I don’t want to go, but I will have to,” says Body Glove Marketing V.P. Scott Daley. “Several of our sporting-goods retailers have canceled and a lot of international and Caribbean Island accounts have also canceled. My wife and family aren’t happy with me having to do my job and travel to Florida at this time.”

Body Glove Promotions Manager James Crush is even more blunt: “I don’t think they should have the show. It seems in poor taste,” he says. However, he says he will attend. “I think it will be a big waste of time and money, and it will be difficult for exhibitors and retailers to travel to Orlando. As we all know, trade shows are a big party and I doubt many people want to party right now.”

Redsand President Jim Austin will also be attending the show — “but I’m not happy about it!” he says. “I’m very disappointed in Surf Expo. Most manufacturers are going to pay big ticket show prices for little regional show results.”

Counter Culture CEO Mike Lesher says he and his crew are planning to go, but is weighing his options past that: “We’re still going to Surf Expo. We may bail out on ASR Atlantic City though. We’ll see how Surf Expo goes.”

According to Billabong U.S.A. Marketing Director Enich Harris, “I don’t want to go, but someone has to do it!”

Some companies, however, are trying to return to business as usual. “In polling reps and retailers, it seems most accounts still plan on attending and want the show to go on as planned,” says Ezekiel Sales Manager Royce Cansler, who will attend the show.

Another company president — who will also be at the show — had this perspective: “The show tends to be somewhat regional, so attendance isn’t completely reliant on air travel. Plus it sounds like South American accounts should be able to travel by the end of the week.”

One company president says he’s “absolutely” still planning to attend. “We just finished our staff meeting regarding the same questions about whether we’ll be at the show,” he says. “In the New York Times business section Sunday, there was some excellent advice from a group of CEO’s. The upshot was this: be calm, tell the truth, put people first, get back to business as soon as possible. It seems to me that this is good advice. The best thing we can do, beyond dealing with the grief for those whose lives have been lost or impacted, is to get back to business.

“I personally think that the global surf community represents many of the qualities that the world needs: inclusiveness, brotherhood, camaraderie, and irreverence spring to mind,” he continues. “We are going to do our part, although we are a very small player in the scheme of things.”