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All is not fair in the trade show calendar

I know time is moving on, but I’ve been putting off the frustrating task of working out my show schedule for the spring.

As readers of my columns over the years will know, I do love a good trade exhibition but, like many of you, I have to weigh up very carefully what I can spare in terms of time and budget.

I’m sure I’ll get some benefit from a visit to most of the dozens of events we will list in our autumn 14 Show Calendar in next week’s issue. Gleaning market information, checking out the trends and collections, meeting new contacts, renewing links with old friends and just picking up the vibe is what I do for a living, but there are many more demands on my time and Drapers’ funds. The stark truth is that trade shows aren’t what they used to be.

Our news story that Bread & Butter Berlin (BBB) is to announce a significant redirection for its July edition is an intriguing development. The show’s founder, Karl-Heinz Müller, despatched a 1,200-word letter on Monday explaining the background to his intention to change BBB’s concept so it involves the end consumers.

What exactly that concept might be will be revealed at a press conference in Berlin on December 16.

Having known the man since he hit the exhibition scene in July 2001 with a funky concept in Cologne that was the antithesis to the usual stodgy German trade event, I wouldn’t be surprised if the genial Karl-Heinz doesn’t pull an innovative rabbit from the hat. But the odds are stacked against him. From riding extremely high on a somewhat egotistical celebration of 10 years of Bread & Butter in 2011, the fall in influence of this ground-breaking show has been astounding, if not enjoyable, to witness. As we report this week, Superdry and G-Star are just the latest key exhibitors that will not be there for the January edition. The departure last month of Bestseller Group, which took a 64, 500 sq ft space in July last year, left a huge gap on the floorplan and we can expect lots of seating areas at Tempelhof Airport on January 14-16.

In his missive, Müller lists the factors that have brought about the situation and all these have resonance and relevance for everyone in fashion retail, not only those in BBB’s jeans and casualwear heartland. First, he stresses that consumers control the market as never before. “Due to the new media, the end consumer is better informed than ever … Today, the end consumer decides what, when, how and where he buys,” he wrote.

Although he owns and runs 14oz, the award-winning premium multi-brand stores in Berlin, Müller concedes the classic fashion boutique sector is under tremendous pressure from the inexorable expansion of fast-fashion multiples such as H&M, Zara and Topshop (which, as Drapers has reported, has recently expanded in Germany).

Just as significant is the growth of fashion brands’ own stores.

He notes that brands are losing interest in wholesale, but insists that “only the classic fashion retail is able to establish and strengthen a brand or label in the market. Therefore, the brands will continue to need the stationary, ambitious retailer.” The flipside of the relationship, he says, is that retailers need good reliable brands to bring in the money to allow them to take risks on new labels.

Online is another factor negatively affecting the brand/retailer relationship. In the BBB boss’s view, “the textile retailer often becomes the ‘try-on boudoir’ for the online customer. All this does not make life any easier for the stationary retailer”.

And finally, Müller reiterates his previously heard comments that his show has made Berlin a fashion destination, but now the situation is being spoiled by too many events. As well as BBB, the city hosts Premium, Seek, The Gallery, Capsule, Bright, Berlin Fashion Week and Panorama. Igedo, organiser of the once-mighty CPD in Düsseldorf, has said it too is planning a fair in Berlin. Müller is not impressed: “A ruinous competition has begun.

We all know what it means if supply overtakes demand. Especially for foreign visitors, Berlin has become confusing.”

BBB’s situation is symptomatic of issues affecting many trade events, which can only reflect the realities of the market they serve. This coming spring round of shows is going to be very interesting. I’d better get on to our travel service to make my arrangements.

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