Grasping for Some Unbridled Kentucky Fried Spirit

While most companies are figuring out their logistics for the upcoming show, we’ve been busy, too. Only we’re racking our brains to figure out why the heck it’s been moved to the middle of nowhere and are now questioning what we thought was the correct pronunciation of its new home: Louisville, KY. The city council also felt something is amiss, so they are offering 6 different ways to spell ‘boredom’.

Frankly, there are so many things that are wrong with this picture (I am speaking proverbially, but the above image is also disconcerting). For those of you who are familiar with the juvenile product industry, it consists of a fair number of very big players and then a few little guys that are trying to grab a piece of market share with the specialty stores. We clearly fall into the latter, but like the majority, we live on the coast. In fact, there is such an overwhelming majority of exhibitors and retailers who come from either the East or West that the idea to move the show somewhere in the middle is a classroom-style compromise. If you have ever tried to land in one of these fly-over states,  you know it’s not easy. If you can fly direct you live too close and it’s just not a popular destination location. It’s even too far gone to be fixed with a sexy slogan, like ”what eva happens in Looavull, stays in Looavull.”

In any case, the purpose of a trade show is for the brands to put their products on display for an array of retailers to merchandise the collection for their stores. It is no doubt the show can also be a lot more profitable by lowering its overhead.  Only this time, it is at the industry’s expense and should prove to be detrimental on so many levels. Logically speaking and from the retailers perspective, if your are a Mom & Pop kids store, bearing the expense of travel to a show of this nature is a big investment just to see what is new and exciting. For a brand, especially a small one that really needs this exposure to reach a more diverse market, it is also a sizeable investment to see if their products have a broader appeal. In this case, the cost of attendance, travel and transport is exorbitant and often inflated due to extraneous costs, like GES services. At least Vegas can double as a vacation destination outside of exhibit hours. Louisville may appeal to some, but in my opinion the only thing more intolerable than horse racing is Bluegrass, and not even copious amounts of bourbon will make me feel at home. We packed our gear and drove from SF to Las Vegas when we attended, and it was the only way to make exhibiting feasible. If we had to hand our stuff over to a transport company and booked air travel to Louisville, there is no way the Roddler would even exist right now. If that is an unfortunate reality for us, I have to imagine we are not alone.

In my experience from the clothing industry, the reason why there are so many new brands that surface is two-fold: because the platform exists for them to translate design into product and because they have shows that are properly orchestrated, giving them a fighting chance to book a few orders. The first time we attended the ABC show, it was by the grace of god and someone’s last second cancellation that we made it in. I was one step from sending a hooker over to the show administrators house with our credit card to secure our place in a crappy 10’x10’ booth that was isolated from the rest of the show in the ‘new exhibitor’ section. Again, forget the financial component or any product development; had we not been admitted, the Roddler would not exist. We are talking a measly 10’x10’ space and by the time that show was over, we were on a waiting list to secure space for the following year’s show. It was in the Las Vegas convention center, so I can assure you space was not the issue. How many great ideas and inventions need to die because they don’t have the opportunity to show their creations?

So, if we have established that it is really hard to even get into the show, let alone get to the show, let’s assume you bit the bullet and make it in. I have a list of every store in America and I know a lot of buyers first hand. Only a few cater to our target market. If they don’t come because the venue is inaccessible or unappealing, they generally don’t buy new products sight unseen and we can’t get the few orders we need to recuperate the cost of attending (coupled by the fact we had to displace everything and ourselves to the middle of America for a few days). If we didn’t get the handful of orders we did, again, there is no Roddler and certainly no redevelopment from that point into a sell-able model with a tricycle conversion.

All this to say, we are sad to be missing this year’s show yet again. We’d love to have the cash to burn because it is a really exciting experience to be able to put your passion out for everyone to see, and we have made such good friends in the industry we miss seeing annually. While the fortunate retailers are busy visiting the booths of the companies that can afford to make the trip, it is a much better bet that we’ll be taking our hard earned dollars to Vegas. I’ll be running to the first book that will take the under on the shows attendance parlayed with the most popular local pronunciation for the place made famous by a baseball bat company.

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