Trade-Show War: SIMA Declines To Endorse ASR’s Back-To-School Show

The Surf Industry Manufacturers Association (SIMA) Trade-Show Committee announced today that the trade organization has declined to endorse ASR’s back-to-school order-writing show, scheduled for March 20–21, 2002 at the Waterfront Hilton in Huntington Beach, California.

The decision, reached during an unscheduled SIMA board meeting on Tuesday, was announced to both ASR and Surf Expo this morning.

Ever since Surf Expo announced in April that it was planning to hold a back-to-school trade show at the Anaheim Convention center on March 11–12 — prompting a de facto trade-show war between ASR and Surf Expo — many retailers and manufacturers have been waiting for SIMA to make its position known.

The situation grew even more dicey when rumors began to circulate that ASR was planning to go head-to-head with the new Surf Expo event by offering a similar order-writing event in Huntington Beach. This show, which will be in addition to ASR’s February expo in Long Beach, put additional pressure on SIMA to make a stand.

Why is SIMA’s input so important? After all, the trade organization is not directly involved with the management of either the ASR or Surf Expo shows. The answer partially boils down to cash.

Surf Expo and ASR are currently the primary revenue sources for our industry’s trade organization. Through two complex contract agreements, SIMA endorses ASR shows west of the Mississippi and Surf Expo shows to the east of that divide. Without these contracts, SIMA’s operations would be hit with a severe cash crunch. And because of this twisted love triangle, once Surf Expo announced its California show it seemed SIMA was destined to irritate either one or the other of its largest two patrons.

The matter almost came to a head May 18 at SIMA Surf Summit 4, when an impromptu meeting was called after the trade-show war threatened to derail one of the retail panels.

Off-the-record sources say that meeting addressed two issues: First, that SIMA should poll its entire membership on which back-to-school trade show they’re planning to support. Next, that until such a vote occurs, ASR General Manager Court Overin shouldn’t use SIMA’s name when marketing his show.

With today’s announcement, SIMA hopes it’s removed itself from the entire mess — which shows no sign of ending soon as both companies reportedly are pushing forward with their plans. Here’s how SIMA Trade Show Committee chair and …lost President Joel Cooper explained it to us this afternoon:

TransWorld SURF Business: What’s SIMA’s position regarding the two competing trade shows?

Joel Cooper: SIMA cannot get involved in the competition between the two trade shows. We don’t have the authority to get involved, and it’s not our position to get involved. They are separate enterprises and they compete. However we have a contractual obligation to ASR and to Surf Expo that we cannot endorse any show from Surf Expo that’s west of the Mississippi and any show from ASR east of the Mississippi. So when it comes to the West Coast Surf Expo show we are not contractually allowed to endorse the show. So the only question that remains was whether we were going to endorse the ASR show on the West Coast.

TransWorld SURF Business: Did ASR seek SIMA’s endorsement?

Joel Cooper: Yes they did. At this stage SIMA has only been involved in endorsing what we classify as major trade shows. There are numerous rep and regional shows throughout the country. SIMA does not have resources, nor the desire, to get involved with those shows. As a result, once all the information was given to us from ASR, our position is that this is not a major trade show and we don’t need to get involved in regional or rep shows. Therefore we are not going to endorse the ASR show. That’s purely because of the fact that it’s a basically a rep or tabletop show — depending on how they want to classify it.

TransWorld SURF Business: So despite the contract, you are not compelled to endorse any show.

Joel Cooper: We are not compelled to endorse any other show. However, we are compelled to not endorse a show that crosses a territory. So we don’t endorse ASR in Atlantic City. Everyone goes to it, but we don’t endorse it because it crosses a boundary.

On the West Coast we cannot endorse anything that Surf Expo does. On the other hand, even if there were no Surf Expo on the West Coast, our position would still be the same. We don’t get involved in regional or rep shows.

TransWorld SURF Business: Is that a new policy that’s come in light of this situation?

Joel Cooper: No. You know how many regional shows there are? SIMA doesn’t have the resources to start getting involved in ten or fifteen or twenty regional shows. Our position has not changed. The reason why we didn’t have a position at Cabo is that we didn’t have the details of what it the ASR show was. They both said, ‘We are doing a trade show.’ When ASR told us the facilities, which are going to be the Hilton, it became evident that this was not a major trade show.

As far as the individual companies are concerned, we want to leave it to them to decide which show is best. We’re not going to recommend one or the other.

TransWorld SURF Business: What does a SIMA endorsement provide a show?

Joel Cooper: We represent a major cross section of all the surf manufacturers in the United States. So what an endorsement means is that we will promote it to our members. That’s not to say that we can put a gun to our members and say they have to go, but we will promote it to our members. It gives it credibility because we’re saying that this is a show we should all be involved in. But our non-endorsement of a show doesn’t mean that we don’t think you should go. Every company makes its own decision.

TransWorld SURF Business: ASR General Manager Court Overin has publicly said that Surf Expo’s back-to-school show violates the spirit of the contract SIMA signed with both organizations. What’s your response?

Joel Cooper: To say it’s against the spirit of the contract is putting us in an unfair position, because we can’t take sides nor can we stop the process of what is pure competition.

The spirit of the agreement was that we were going to back the existing shows. We are not changing our position. We are backing ASR in California. Certainly the September ASR show is the dominant, most-important show on the calendar — both domestically and internationally. We back that show. We back Surf Expo’s two major East Coast shows as well.

We will do everything in our power to promote all those shows because that’s in the best interest of the industry. We cannot allow ourselves to get in the middle of a situation which precludes or affects the two companies’ ability to compete.

TransWorld SURF Business: So would a SIMA endorsement of the proposed ASR show make it very difficult for Surf Expo to compete?

Joel Cooper: It would — but it would not necessarily preclude them from being successful. I can’t speak for the board, but if — in the spirit of our relationship — ASR was doing a major trade show, I’m sure our position regarding endorsement would be different.

TransWorld SURF Business: It’s my understanding that at the Cabo conference during the impromptu trade-show meeting, it was decided that SIMA was going to poll its entire membership to help you decide which show to support. Why did you ultimately decide that was unnecessary?

Joel Cooper: That’s exactly what we were in the process of planning. But when we got the facts from both shows — because as I’ve said none of them had given us anything in writing up to that point — we realized that what we were dealing with was ostensibly a rep or table-top show and not a major trade show. We didn’t feel it was necessary to poll our members. Nor did we think that a poll could rea
lly be helpful.

A poll can only be meaningful if everyone has been properly informed, and I don’t believe our membership had been properly informed by either of the two organizations so that they would be in a position to make the poll meaningful. What we thought it would become was basically a popularity poll. We didn’t want to get involved with that.

TransWorld SURF Business: ASR is obviously an important partner to SIMA and to SIMA’s ability to get things done. How badly will this decision damage the relationship between both organizations?

Joel Cooper: We had a meeting with Court Overin this morning, and I can’t say he was happy, but he understood. I think that maybe this will cause more unity rather than less. Court’s a businessman. He understands our position. So I think our decision could actually ultimately have the reverse effect because it shows the need for everyone to work together.

TransWorld SURF Business: So are you hoping this announcement will effectively remove SIMA from the trade-show battle?

Joel Cooper: Absolutely. It’s not fair to put us in a position where we are in the middle of a battle that we can never win. We have two partners and it’s our job to be impartial. It’s our job to be neutral. And to try to get into the middle of this is a no-win situation and it could actually end up working against the interests of the industry. So we are totally hoping that this will remove us from the fray — but that was not the basis of our decision.

SIMA will always do what’s in the best interest of the industry — not just what’s in the best interest of an individual company or trade show. Both ASR and Surf Expo are crucial to our industry and to SIMA. We always want to be fair to both parties.

TransWorld SURF Business: In your personal opinion is there room for both an ASR and a Surf Expo back-to-school show in California?

Joel Cooper: No.

TransWorld SURF Business: And has either party decided not to do their show?

Joel Cooper: Both parties are adamant that they are going forward with their shows.

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TransWorld SURF Business will continue to monitor this story as it develops.