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Summer 2008 Spree Vegas 2008: Show Highlights

Show Floor

The theme of this year’s SPREE tradeshow in April was new products, and exhibitors at the show’s more than 200 booths didn’t disappoint. Showing off the latest high-markup, high-impulse products right for cart and kiosk sales-from unique plush, fashion accessories and licensed sports merchandise to tech gizmos, bath-and-body products, natural cosmetics and personalized products of all kinds-SPREE exhibitors offered something for everyone.

Critter central

imageAt the Zeus International Corp. booth, Co-owner Andrea Zarembia showed attendees Zeus’s unique insect line, featuring beautiful insects encased in acrylic to create a variety of necklaces, bracelets, cell phone charms, key chains and home d√©cor accents. The Milipitas, CA-based company is a wholesaler and retailer looking to expand beyond its California base.

“We have a huge variety of products that appeal to all ages,” Zarembia said. “We have the insects that so many people find fascinating, and also the items with only flowers inside, for people who don’t like bugs as much as others do.”

The critters theme was also apparent at Hitch Critters, an Auburndale, FL company that has a popular line of Truck Antler (along with deer, hogs, dogs, horses and more) that attach to a vehicle, then vibrate and light up every time the driver hits the brakes. “Our first sale was in Thanksgiving 2005 and we’ve sold nearly 300,000 units,” said company co-owner Dan Chesnicka. “This is our first effort to sell in malls and kiosks. We’ve been in sporting goods stores with great success, but this seems like a good product to enjoy success in the middle of a shopping mall.”

imageSharing space with Hitch Critters was North Carolina-based Bowl Buddy, offering toilet-cleaning brushes with cartoon likenesses of George Bush, Hillary Clinton and Osama Bin Laden on the handle. “It won’t be long before we have a couple of new items,” that relate to the current presidential race, said company vice president Tyler J. Dembicks. Oceanside, CA-based CJ Products, maker of Pillow Pets, offers cute and amusing stuffed-animal pets that unfold into snuggly pillows. Customers can choose from a cow, turtle, bunny, duck and many other fun critters. The company has a Pillow Pets start-up package for specialty retailers. “There are no franchise fees, and we include signage and a video,” said Vice President of Operations Jennifer Telfer, noting that Pillow Pets don’t just appeal to small children. “People who travel love them. You just pop them into your backpack.”

imageAlso popular with new parents are personalized wall signs for children available through Avondale, AZ-based Zoobeedoos. The company’s personalized name signs come in a variety of designs and sell well at malls, street fairs, home shows and other venues.

“People love to flip through the choices and find their names,” said company spokesman John Priestley, one of several family members involved in the venture. “Some of them are amazed that we actually carry their names. Those who don’t can make a special order that will be filled quickly.”

imageParents looking for a way to keep their children entertained at the mall have a new option in their arsenal: Let them ride a wild animal. At a Zippy Rides mall location, children (and their parents) can ride battery-operated animals around a small corral in a safe and secure environment. The Miami-based company is now starting to sell franchises nationwide.

The animals are easy for kids to ride “and parents love it,” said company chairman Alan Chamo. “We provide everything the operator needs, including instruction and manuals. It’s a quick install. We’re already starting to hear that children actually want to go to the mall with their parents so they can ride one of the Zippy animals.”

The next level

Las Vegas-based Sea Spa Skin Care has been busy developing not only a new 100-percent-pure-and-natural skincare line, Naturally Right, but also a revolutionary new system for selling skincare products from carts that shifts the focus from aggressive selling to educating the customer and building long-term relationships.

imageSea Spa Skin Care, a leader in the Dead Sea skincare category for years with roughly 400 carts worldwide during the holidays (about half in the US), took more than a year to develop the new proprietary system. Using a Derma-Scope skin analysis camera, coupled with software developed just for Sea Spa and Naturally Right, cart operators can test a customers skin on-site in just a few minutes, suggest the right products to counter the customer’s skincare problems (the software provides the suggestions) and complete the sale using a highly advanced POS system created by San Diego-based CSS Access.

“Our average sale has tripled in some locations because of the new system,” says Vice President Sebastien Gavillet. “We have carts selling $1,200 to $1,400 of product to a customer in one sitting, then the relationship-management part of the system allows us to keep in contact with our customers well into the future, generating additional revenues.” The cart operators “don’t have to hawk their products because they know the sales will come. With our system we can prove that our products work by analyzing their skin, having them apply our products and then repeating the analysis. They see right there on the monitor the results of our system.”

All day long current and future specialty retailers were drawn to the CSS Access booth, where President Liad Biton demonstrated the San Diego-based company’s real-time POS system designed specifically for cart and kiosk operators. “Our system is unmatched in the market,” Biton explained. “Not only does our system provide specialty retailers with real-time sales and inventory tracking that allows them to instantly adjust their selling strategies, but we also release a new feature targeted only to specialty retailers every week, whereas other POS companies might introduce a new feature every six months-on a system that wasn’t designed with the needs of specialty retailers in mind.” With the CSS Access system, “owners and managers can take control of their business and respond instantly to any lagging sales or inventory shortfalls,” Biton explained. The key to the company’s success is constant customer feedback. “We’re always speaking with specialty retailers to build the features they need to improve their sales and increase their bottom line profits. When retailers use our system they are amazed at what they can accomplish with real-time sales and inventory tracking that gives them a way to effectively manage their businesses and identify new ways to boost profits.”

imageFor a personalized product unlike anything currently on the market, attendees checked out the Photo-In-Motion line from Dinamix, the newest entry in the personalized photo category. The Madrid, Spain-based company has thrived on kiosks in amusement parks, tourist locales and malls in Europe, and is now shopping for success in the US.

Using a PC, printer and digital camera, the kiosk operator can take photos of customers that are digitally combined to create a single photo that changes when viewed from different angles, like a hologram. “The average cost for the [retailer] is 80 cents, for a product you can sell at retail for $8 to $10,” said company owner Jose Neira. “You can make them wallet-sized so the customer can carry them around, or larger.”

imageDominique Barteet is a pharmacist who created Onesole Shoes with Soft-Step insoles and decorative interchangeable tops. Customers choose a sole, then choose from hundreds of attractive tops that snap into place easily, including college insignias, monograms, personalized photos and more. The company is based in West Palm Beach, FL.

“These are great shoes for travelers,” Barteet said. “They have done very well in airports, hotels and gift shops, and also at our kiosk in Las Vegas. Kiosks are a market where we will expand. We’re always coming up with new ideas and keeping things fresh.”

imageAcross the isle at La-Tee-Da!, a Marshall, TX-based maker of fragrance products for the home, the company’s elegant fragrance lamps, candles and reed diffusers received a lot of interest from show attendees. “These are powerful fragrance vehicles,” said national sales director Mike Connelly. “They eliminate cooking odors, pet odors [and] odors from smoking. We’ve had tremendous success in gift shops and boutiques. We’re now moving to kiosks because this product lends itself to demonstration.”

Happy Feet, based in Louisville, KY, highlighted at its booth the company’s new licensed slippers from 30+ NFL teams this year. image“The new NFL line is very exciting for us,” said President Pat Yates. “We’re in our 11th year in specialty retail and our product is still a consistent strong seller year after year.” This year “our animal slippers line is so strong and continuing to grow from 10 styles to more than 70. The animal line is gaining the most steam for us this year-the quality, the look of them is so great that they’ve just gone through the roof.”

Also new for this year, Happy Feet has cut its start-up costs by nearly a third. “With our start-up package this year an operator can start with just $1,000,” Yates explained. “We make it very simple. Of course we still get the three-times or 3.5-times markup. Margins have increased on the animal line as well, with retailers now selling them for $24.00 instead of $19.99 and that’s working very well. The products are a proven seller in many locations, an extremely successful concept that gives our 150+ operators significant margins.”

imageDown the isle at the Bella Pierre Cosmetics booth, Rick Hanson, CFO and sales manager for the Los Angeles-based cosmetics powerhouse that has more than 1,000 specialty retail locations worldwide, was busy non-stop showing off the company’s revolutionary pressed, pure mineral cosmetics line that includes foundation, blush and bronzers.

“Our new Compact Beauty line is getting a fantastic response at the show,” Hanson said. “We’ve created a way to compress the mineral makeup into a pressed powder that women love, and we’re getting a great deal of interest in our start-up package from show attendees. The show’s been fantastic for us. We’re writing orders, making friends and moving forward in a way we didn’t even think was possible.”

“We’re also introducing an amazingly beautiful new line of natural skincare products unlike anything out there, complete paraben-free skincare lines consisting of moisturizers, cleansers, toners, serums, anti-wrinkle products,” he continued. “We’ve been R&D’ing the line for two years and we’re very excited to premiere a line that contains none-not one-of the harmful ingredients you find in so many cosmetics lines today. Today’s women are searching for these types of products and Bella Pierre is ready to deliver the products that exceed their expectations.”

Looking forward

Potential business partnerships and new friendships were key to participants at SPREE 2008, and many exhibitors were excited about the future. “We saw so many excellent products, very creative products and people we look forward to working with, and with whom we can develop long-term relationships,” said Mele Sarmiento, vice president of business development for Chicago-based General Growth Properties, Inc.. “This was a great opportunity to meet people.”

With more than 210 US shopping malls in its portfolio, GGP is a major player in the industry, and specialty retail is a large part of its portfolio. “It’s very important, and we want to offer our customers the very best,” Sarmiento said.

Heidi L. Cardall, senior director of specialty retail for Chattanooga, TN-based CBL & Associates Properties, Inc., said her company met with more than 100 retailers while at SPREE. “We have a lot of saturation on the East Coast, so it was exciting and productive to meet people out here,” in Vegas, Cardall said. “We were amazed at some of the great concepts we saw this week. This show is an excellent opportunity to network. Specialty retailing involves a different mindset and we learned so much from the people we met.”

imageShanghai-based My Design makes Paintable Boots that allow children to create the design of choice on their footwear, making for colorful and creative fashion. Because the paint is erasable (but won’t come off in the rain), kids can create an entirely new design any time they’d like.

“It’s fun to paint your boots,” said company president Ron Schilo. “We offer everything for a kiosk to operate, including six basic colors, a DVD explaining the process and the boots.” My Design is already active in 17 countries, as well as inside FAO Schwarz and the Museum of Modern Art in New York and hopes to become a latest fresh face in malls and other retail venues across the country. “It’s easy and creative,” Schilo said. “It’s a product that sells itself visually.”

imageThe visual angle is also important for Frubi Shades, a Tavernier, FL company that makes soft, protective eyewear for children. “The most valuable aspect of the show for us was making contacts,” said company owner Gary Hall. “This is our third year in business, and we’ve had great reaction from people in gift shops and elsewhere, and now we are looking to expand. The leasing agents we spoke to at SPREE were excited about what we have, and a few of the vendors were very interested.”

Frubi Shades plans to broaden its line to include sunglasses for tweens and adults, plus related products for all ages, including sunscreen and swimwear. As the winter holidays draw closer, specialty retailers can count on more new lines from SPREE exhibitors, whose virtual exhibit booths can now be found online at, which re-launches every year after the Vegas show to give our exhibitors, attendees and those who couldn’t make it to the show a chance to connect, exchange info and make the deals necessary to land blockbuster sales.

We would like to extend a sincere “Thank you!” to our SPREE Vegas ’08 sponsors:

  • Bella Pierre Cosmetics

  • Happy Feet
  • Sea Spa Skin Care

Each of our generous sponsors-industry leaders in their own rights-has worked diligently to improve our industry in large and countless small ways. We appreciate their support of SPREE as we look forward to our Fifth Annual SPREE Show in April 2009 at The Venetian and thank them for their continued input and advice as we grow in the years ahead. Here’s wishing everyone in our dynamic industry a healthy, prosperous and profitable holiday season.

Social Events that Rock

After busy days on the show floor, exhibitors and attendees took advantage of the social events to unwind and-let’s face it-solidify those deals that started on the show floor earlier in the day. Here’s a recap:

Fashion and Fun Mix on Opening Night

After a blockbuster Day 1 on the show floor, more than 400 attendees and exhibitors gathered at Fashion Show Las Vegas for a fabulous opening night happy hour generously sponsored by General Growth Properties. Sipping signature SPREE-tinis and nibbling hors d’oeuvres, guests watched as Fashion Show’s famed runway emerged from the floor and a half-dozen models showed off the latest fashions for the coming season.

imageA Marilyn Monroe look-alike wowed the crowed with a dead-on version of Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend. The party was a big dose of fun and camaraderie after a hectic show day. As part of the festivities, two guests took home door prizes: Bryon Troy of Ice Prints and Vicki Gruman of Simon Property Group, each of whom won a $100 gift certificate from General Growth Properties.

Cheese Burger in Paradise

imageAt the close of SPREE Vegas Day 2, exhibitors and attendees gathered at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville on The Strip for a few hours of relaxation, thanks to sponsors CBL Properties, Developers Diversified Realty, Jones Lang LaSalle and Macerich. Guests sipped Buffett’s famous margaritas served at the 12-Volt Bar and snacked on (what else?) cheese burgers and other signature Jimmy Buffet hors d’oeuvres. The crowd was buzzing with news of new deals made on the show floor and welcomed the chance to kick back and relax.

Info-packed Educational Seminars

SPREE’s educational seminars also had record attendance this year, with several sessions filling to standing room only. We would like to thank all of our speakers, who spent untold hours preparing info-packed presentations and also frequently stayed after their sessions to give attendees additional advice and tips.

Seminar topics included:

  • Demonstration Concepts: The benefits and pitfalls, presented by Robert Mierovich, retail operations manager for Seacret Spa

  • Entrepreneurship as a Career, presented by inventor Julia Rhodes, founder and president of KleenSlate Concepts
  • imageHiring and Managing Your Sales Team for Peak Performance, presented by Linda Johansen-James, president and COO, American Kiosk Management
  • How Much Should I Buy?, presented by Mort Haaz, creator of The OTB Book software system
  • Non-traditional Retail Locations, presented by Ellery Plowman, director of specialty retail business development for Rosetta Stone Ltd.
  • Retail 101: Strategies for becoming a successful retailer (Parts I and II), presented by Deoborah Kravitz, partner at Provenzano Resources, Inc. and Carolyn Snider, account executive at EG Retail
  • Specialty Leasing Manager Roundtable, facilitated by Linda Rienzo, specialty retail leasing and parking facilities manager at the Fremont Street Experience
  • Sponsorship Strategies and Roundtable, facilitated by Anita Blackford, vice president of specialty and strategic leasing, Feldman Mall Properties; Marc Feldman, director of strategic partnerships for Developers Diversified Realty; David Goldberg, vice president of marketing and sponsorships for Taubman Centers, Inc.; and Carrie Mullner, vice president of strategic partnerships for General Growth Properties
  • Technology and Your Bottom Line, presented by Liad Biton, president of CSS Access
  • Visual Merchandising: The formula for designing a spectacular display, presented by Sharon Loefff, owner of Shopworks Consulting and vice president of sales for Bella Group
  • SRR’s 11th Annual Visual Victories Winners, 2008, sponsored by Glimcher Realty Trust and Ivanhoe Cambridge; presented by Anita Saleh, vice president of specialty leasing at Taubman Centers and Patricia Norins, publisher of Specialty Retail Report and the Specialty Retail Expert

If you have suggestions for SPREE 2009 educational seminars, email your ideas to Show Director Sally Miller at or call 800.936.6297 x 28.

Dan Bennett

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

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