New Jersey Trade Shows

What happens when an organization like ASR abandons the people they profited from for years by canceling their annual Atlantic City, New Jersey trade show?

Nothing really. A few industry individuals from New Jersey say, “Screw ’em!” and do it on their own. Maybe there isn’t an MC, maybe it isn’t located in a convention center, perhaps there is no “check-in” or badges, and there isn’t a street course for kids to skate. But when you take out all the hype, what you have are two grassroots shows that served the same purpose and were just as productive (and more practical) as the old Atlantic City show.

The first of the two shows was held in a small Howard Johnson’s hotel in Cherry Hill, New Jersey on September 11. The second, and much larger show, was conceived by Mike Freihofer, owner of Resolve and Surf News magazines. It was held on the music pier of the Ocean City, New Jersey boardwalk September 26-27.

Cherry Hill (Part One)

The Cherry Hill event was, for the most part, a quaint regional footwear show. DC, Circa, Podium Distribution, Hawk, I-Path, Sole Technologies, Adio, and Vans all attended. The shoe reps who have additional lines brought them along, and a few other vendors attended, which added Volcom, Clive, Split, Fox, Oakley, and NHS Distribution to the list. With the exception of Circa (due to earlier deadlines on orders), all of these vendors attended the Ocean City show as well.

Jennifer Carr, Northeast sales rep for Circa Footwear and Four Square Distribution, organized the Cherry Hill gathering and even bought lunch for everyone there-not the type of treatment ASR offers at all. “I think it’s a shame that ASR canceled the Atlantic City show, although it began losing its appeal a few years back and fewer people were attending, so it kind of became a regional show. But when ASR decided they weren’t doing the show, we (footwear reps) knew we had to do something. It saves the shoe reps a lot of time on the road and is very cost-effective. It can save a lot of time for shops as well,” said Carr. “It’s a convenient time and location for retailers and reps alike. We had retailers there from Philly, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, and Maryland.”

Jennifer also insists that it is just by accident that the event is in the hometown of the infamous Wally Hollyday-built Cherry Hill Skatepark of the 1970s-widely considered to be the best park ever built.

Ocean City (Part Two)

The Ocean City show was a far more elaborate production than Cherry Hill. Held on the music pier of the boardwalk, with booths indoors and outside, Cherry Hill attendees could conveniently watch the surfers or visit the skatepark a few blocks away. Of course just as many surf and softgoods vendors attended as did skateboarding-related companies, but such is usually the case with any East Coast show. In addition, softgoods companies such as Rusty, Hurley, Counter Culture, Billabong, Ezekiel, Stussy, Alphanumeric, Nikita, Obey, Electric, Von Zipper, and Nixon represented skate clothing and accessories. Lib Tech, Element, Sector 9, and local board companies like Seed, Animal, 5Boro, and Hoodlum (with appearances by Atlantic Distribution, Coastal Distribution, and Satori wheels) assured attendees there’d be no shortage of hardgood vendors. Footwear booths included adidas, Airwalk, Genetic, Epic, Globe, Osiris, and Dr. Martens.

Mike Freihofer of Resolve and Surf News hosted a similar show in March for back-to-school deadlines, but he felt that his show didn’t go so well. On the contrary, word had spread that people were suggesting to Surf Expo that they do more regional shows like Freihofer’s. He was a bit surprised by the response: “Reps and shops started calling me when ASR canceled, suggesting that I do a show again to replace Atlantic City because it was an important show for a lot of people. So one thing led to another, and the thing really took on a life of its own.” Freihofer is surprised that ASR pulled out of New Jersey because of the good following they had: “I understand it was their business decision, but I find it hard to believe that they weren’t making money. As for my show, I kind of break even.”

The only real gripe about the Ocean City show was from a few reps who said their shops found out about the show too late or never heard about it at all. However, Freihofer wanted to reduce the cost for the vendors, and to do so he needed to avoid overspending money on advertising and all the bells and whistles of an ASR show. Instead, he left it up to the reps to call their retailers. “Any regional show is about reps communicating with their shops-and the shops are going to go.” Freihofer says, “We could always do more as far as promotion and stuff like that, but I am a one-man show. I don’t make that kind of money. When I looked around, I saw some pretty critical shops there doing business.”Actually, plenty of shops were there and thankful that Mike stepped up to the plate and hosted the show. But for many of them, the issue at hand isn’t so much when or where the next trade show will be or who is responsible for it, but the current recession and to what extent it has finally hit the skateboarding industry. And where it has hit, skaters and parents are buying less, and they’re buying for price.

Scott Cartwright, manager of Out Of Bounds in Scotch Plains and Rutherford, New Jersey, knows that footwear is a great barometer of economic change. “There is a tremendous focus on price lately.” Cartwright said. “Parents aren’t stoked that a 90-dollar pair of shoes lasts their kid a month or even less. We have been selling way more shoes that retail for 55 to 72 dollars. Either that or we can blow through a lot of the pricier shoes if we mark them down 25 or 30 percent. Even with softgoods, in the last year or so we tend to sell double or triple the amount when the people know it’s all on sale.”

John Ference, manager of Center City Sports in Mays Landing, New Jersey, has been a bit luckier. “I really haven’t seen any dip in the sale of skate hardgoods or footwear. We slowed down a bit in the summer, but it’s picking up, and it has been one of our best years ever for footwear. People are asking for less tech shoes, and with that you’re seeing a price drop, but I think fashion is driving things so much that customers are still buying as much as ever. The Ocean City show was just as productive for us as any ASR show could be. Everyone we deal with is there.”

So it seems that Freihofer and Carr have done a wonderful service for the reps and shops that depended on ASR over the years. “The whole surf and skate industry really refers to the Northeast as an ATM,” says Freihofer. “They kind of walk up, grab a bunch of money from it, and they don’t really do a whole lot else. It’s been on autopilot for so long, and people really take it for granted.”

As always, we in the East keep our fingers crossed for a little more love from the West.