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Summer 2009
SPREE Vegas 2009: Show Highlights

SPREE shows spirit

As the fifth annual Specialty Retail Entrepreneur Expo kicked off in Las Vegas on April 21, Al Jackson heaved a sigh of relief. “Whatever fears we might have had because of the economy or the costs of doing business were alleviated as soon as the show opened,” said Jackson, the president of Ontario-based Mac Jac. “The quality of the people who attended [SPREE], and the length and breadth of the networking were superb. And that includes both on a professional level, and the people we met during social events,” Jackson added.

Mac Jac specializes in the gift of art, providing digital images customers refer to as “fashion for the wall.” The company offers a contemporary range of digital images that attracts customers in shopping centers, offering displays that can easily be set up in common areas, or even temporary or permanent inline locations.

Jackson’s positive experiences at SPREE were echoed by many of the show’s exhibitors and attendees who were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the leads and networking they left with—especially considering the state of the economy. Specialty Retail Report’s fifth annual SPREE was held at The Venetian Resort, Hotel, Casino in Las Vegas. It unfolded over three days—April 21 through 23.The spirited deal making and networking at SPREE showed that originality and creative energy can really spark success. Companies with truly unique products and eager potential retailers connected and discussed products ranging from comfortable footwear to jewelry, from skin products to sports team accessories and beyond.

“The show went very well,” said SPREE trade show director Sally Miller. “Exhibitors were happy with the qualified attendees, the seminar sessions were well attended and the new sessions that were offered this year were well received. Everyone seemed to be pleased.”

Energy in the halls

At SPREE, established industry leaders and new entrants to the cart and kiosk industry networked with industry players and crafted new deals.

David Oren, founder and CEO of Bellápierre—and premier sponsor of SPREE—said he considered the company’s presence at SPREE to be a vital component of their marketing efforts. Oren reported that their makeup, made from 100% natural pigments, continues to sell well. He added that the company does all it can to empower kiosk operators with winning sales strategies. A full expert training program is provided, as is full turnkey franchise support with no franchise fees.

Also enjoying a lot of attendee attention was i-wrapz. Company co-owner, Oscar Cano, said the gadget protectors were selling well because the product covers a wide spectrum of ages, interests and functions. It’s not just iPod covers—laptops, cell phones and other gadgets are included too. “We have hundreds of designs—they are hip, colorful and work for all age groups,” Cano said. He added that the turnkey package the company offered was really reasonable considering the huge profits operators have made with the products.

Another company that knows about full service is Shapes Brow Bar. The Chicago-based company began offering brow-shaping services at a shopping center in the city in 2004, and has since expanded to temporary tattoo applications, ear piercing, makeup application and makeup product sales. “The best aspect of these products is that they attract a customer from age 11 to age 95,” said Reema Khan, who runs the business with her husband Mohsin. “And there’s tremendous repeat business.” By offering a business that allows kiosk operators to enjoy a variety of revenue-generating products in one setting, they are hoping to expand into many locations. “This is a great time for products with an ethnic flavor,” Khan said. “This concept has worldwide appeal.”

At SPREE, companies like CBL & Associates Properties Inc. also shopped for opportunities to strike leasing deals with interested parties. Wendi Napute at CBL reported that the company was offering a special show deal—40% off one month’s base rent with a minimum term of three months. The offer is valid only on new licenses (renewals don’t qualify) implemented before July 31 this year.

Also enjoying attendee interest was Fanmats. The Georgia-based company has long been known for its popular automotive mats featuring the logos of professional sports teams. The company’s newest project is Fan Brands—a branding tool that imprints sports team logos on meat. To complement this offering, Fan Brands offers sports-branded accessories such as tongs, forks and spatulas. “The fan mats do great around the holidays, and now we have a product that will sell itself in spring and summer,” said the company’s national director of specialty retail, Albert Sorto. “We also have napkins, table covers and barbecue covers. It’s a one-stop shop for summer barbecue.” Fanmats partnered with booth neighbor Rico Industries/Tag Express, the Illinois-based company that is a leader in licensed sports novelties. The company offers small leather products, tailgate items and home décor for fans of all the major professional sports and colleges. “We’ve been in business 65 years, so we’ve learned what the customer likes,” said special market focus director Wayne Bower. “What’s nice about the sports item business, for people who want to sell our product, is that it’s year-round—there’s a major sport going on all year.”

Another industry veteran, Happy Feet, showcased their popular lines of slippers at SPREE. The company manufactures and distributes three styles of adult slippers, infant slippers and blankets in NCAA, NBA and NFL logos and colors, along with brightly colored non-sports slippers. Keith Eickhoff at the company said they have 700 SKUs of just slippers, and has plenty of product for anyone who wants to sell them. The company provides complete turnkey solutions for new retailers. Smokeless cigarettes have been enjoying attention in a number of malls as was evidenced by the high interest at the Smoke Anywhere.com booth. At SmokeAnywhere.com, retailers can find out more about the electronic cigarettes, which simulate the act of smoking while giving an alternative to traditional cigarettes.

A win for first-time exhibitors

Many first-exhibitors left SPREE optimistic about the future and glad they participated. Dawn Spisak of Name in the Frame was very satisfied with the strong leads SPREE generated for the company. “We are very satisfied with the show—we have had some very good leads,” Spisak said. The company helps retailers customize a wide variety of prints—including many from sports themes—for customers. The biggest advantage is retailers don’t need to store large amounts of inventory on hand. A huge variety of sports franchise prints from teams all over the country are available for customization.

Brian Ledig of Timberkits—a first-time SPREE exhibitor—presented a variety of intricate wooden kits that moved and danced and attracted attention. Attention from industry people that he couldn’t have gotten in any other setting.

Stephanie Benner of Expressive Fortunes was excited by the response the company garnered at the show. The Fallbrook, CA-based company sells giant fortune cookies for everyday occasions. With baseball glove-sized fortune cookies decorated and wrapped for every holiday and almost any occasion one could imagine, the company sees kiosk potential, given the novelty factor and the colorful designs you can see from a distance. “We’ve been wholesaling since 2003, and now we’re making a big push toward kiosks,” said company president Tom Benner, who runs things alongside wife Stephanie. “There’s a huge wow factor, and people like it as a business concept because it’s year round.” Fortune cookie themes include Halloween and Mother’s Day, New Baby, Over the Hill, Racecars, Religion, Sports and even Zoo, among many others.

Humor, a hit

Among the other products that enjoyed attendee interest was Mr. Fuzzy, a fuzzy worm that seemed to move on its own as if by magic. Demonstrations by booth workers kept attendees excited. Niv Goldman at the company said the simple concept had enormous potential in the specialty retail industry and that once the product was demonstrated, it sold immediately.

Cheryl Johnson of Attitude Jack—a series of humorous and whimsical T-shirts with “attitude” –was excited with the response she garnered at SPREE. Johnson reported that special gift packaging also helped showcase the products well in a cart and kiosk setting.

Around the corner, Paul Russell of Splat Back had junior attendees excitedly throwing the little balls of jelly onto tiles and watching them change shape. Russell said response to the amorphous “splat backs” was great—they were available in a variety of designs including tomato, eggs and more.

Qualified leads: red-hot interest

Exhibitors at SPREE were very impressed by the number of qualified leads they went home with. Oceanside, CA-based CJ Products, maker of Pillow Pets, offers stuffed-animal pets that unfold into snuggly pillows. The company has a Pillow Pets startup package for specialty retailers. Vice president of operations Jennifer Telfer said their latest creations were a hit with those who stopped by the booth. “We get more interest each year, and always get some great feedback,” Telfer said. “We not only do good business at SPREE, but it’s a very creative environment.”

“The feedback from exhibitors as well as attendees was very positive,” Sally Miller said. “I had one exhibitor tell me she had accomplished what she had set out to do in the first 15 minutes of the show.

Exhibitors were also happy with the quality of attendees. Developers left the show with many new leads, and all seemed to be pleased with the results.”

UJ Trading, a Texas-based company specializing in remote-control helicopters, battery operated toys, gadgets and seasonal gifts, is already well known in the retail industry. The company used SPREE not only as an opportunity to meet new people, but to also reconnect with existing clients. “This was a good chance for us to meet and talk with some of the people we work with all year long,” said company spokesman Ayhan Yuce.

Show organizers said they will take the best of this year’s show and add it to what is already shaping up as a great 2010 show. “Next year we will be in a new [Las Vegas] location—Mandalay Bay,” show director Miller said. “We are excited about this new location as it will mean easier access for exhibitors, with closer proximity to food and beverage for all, new venues for social events and a variation from where we have been the past two years. The buzz from this year will carry over. The show is really starting to take off and it’s exciting to see the momentum.”

Miller said she encourages companies to become exhibitors.

“People should consider joining SPREE because it’s a very targeted show,” she said. “Attendees are very well qualified. Our attendees are there for a specific reason—to learn about the industry, to find new products, services and locations, and to make deals.”

As for Spisak at Name in the Frame, she said SPREE had been really good for the company. “It was easily the most successful show for us this year,” she said.

Jackson at Mac Jac was equally enthusiastic—he opened some new accounts and took on some new distributors. “The interest shown to us by some of the leasing and property companies has been genuine, because you know they need to really mean what they are saying in these tough economic times. A couple of the major companies, both out west and in the east, have invited us to name the date and then show us their properties and set up displays so we can start creating interest,” he said. “My phone has been ringing off the hook ever since the show,” Jackson added.

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Events Off the Show Floor

As always, informative seminars were a big part of SPREE this year. Among the many well-attended sessions included a series of talks presented by Deborah Kravitz of Provenzano Resources. Kravitz visited the basics of leasing math, product choices, staffing solutions for mall carts and more. She also discussed strategies for negotiating lease terms in today’s economic climate.

The concept of demonstration products is huge in specialty retail and Rick Hanson of Bellápierre addressed successful sales strategies for the same, in his seminar presentation. Hanson explained that there was a fine line between being assertive and being aggressive and encouraged attendees to train all employees well on these finer points. Hanson also addressed how to sell in a recession.

Specialty leasing managers around the country shared stories and exchanged ideas at a roundtable session presented by Linda Rienzo of Fremont Street Experience. Attendees learned the finer points of building an effective website from Allisyn Deyo of Pinnacle Publishing Group and Deyo Designs.

Other seminars included “Fresh New Ideas for Visual Merchandising,” “Retail 101—Doing the Math,” “Retailing in a Challenging Economy,” “Staffing for Success” and “Unique Specialty Retail Concepts.”

Specialty Retail Report hosted a SPREE Happy Hour in the evening on April 22. The social event was well attended and took place at Dos Caminos restaurant at the Palazzo Resort Hotel & Casino. Show attendees and participants took the opportunity to wind down and network in a more casual setting.

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Dan Bennett

Dan Bennett is a Las Vegas and San Diego-based freelance business writer. He can be reached at danbennett@cox.net.

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