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SPREE 2013: A Big Draw

As the specialty retail landscape continues to evolve, SPREE has kept pace. This year’s show in Las Vegas once again successfully delivered cutting-edge new concepts and networking opportunities.

The long lines waiting to enter the tradeshow floor on opening day were testament to the enduring appeal of the Specialty Retail Entrepreneurs Expo. Jerry Jones, one of many regular attendees, said SPREE was one of his favorites because it was presented in a congenial setting that allowed professionals of all stripes to network and shop for new concepts.

Jones, Specialty Leasing Manager for the Carolina region with CBL Properties was one of more than 2,000 attendees at the ninth annual tradeshow, which many attest, has become the must-attend event for the specialty retail industry. The three-day show was held at the Sands Expo Center at the Venetian in Las Vegas from April 16-18 and brought exciting new concepts to specialty retailers and
other industry professionals.

Tradeshow director Debbie Lahti was buoyed by the excitement and said she was looking forward to another rewarding year. The fact that the show brought so many regulars back along with new concepts, is proof that the show generated enthusiasm and dealmaking as it has every year, she added.

Among the regulars was Shoe MGK, which has been a veteran of the specialty retail industry. This year, said co-owner Rebecca Wiltshire, the company decided to dial up its presence and revitalize its offerings. A show sponsor, Shoe MGK was looking to break into new markets, Wiltshire added.

Tried and tested

Self-serveAlso breaking into new markets is Street Talk, SPREE’s premier sponsor. The iTalk component of the company along with a dazzling array of products and a standout kiosk gathered much attention at SPREE. President and co-owner David Ferber was looking forward to a productive show, meeting current retailers and making new deals. “We are really looking forward to making some new contacts with both retailers and mall management. It’s a great chance for us to work on new deals and meet face to face with many of our operators that attend the show. It’s also exciting to see new companies and products and what they’re bringing to the industry.”

Street Talk’s impressive show presence with its futuristic-looking booths and constant flow of traffic shows that mobile phone accessories are on a rapid growth curve in specialty retail.

Aaron Morton, Reseller Relations Manager with Ghost Armor, a SPREE associate sponsor, says the field is so hot that expansion is taking place at an extremely rapid clip not just within North America but around the world. The company provides scratch-resistant protection on a variety of mobile devices from smartphones to tablets. A variety of protective screens from basic to advanced can be applied to just the screen or to entire devices. Morton says that since almost everyone these days has some kind of mobile device, the number of potential customers for this service is huge. Business is doing so well, Morton reports, that Ghost Armor is now in almost 220 locations worldwide with 3-8 new locations opening every month.

At SPREE, a leasing representative from Rouse Properties, Matt Thornton, was looking to tap into just that kind of action for his properties in New Hampshire. Thornton was exploring what kind of liaisons he could set up to channel the product appeal of vendors like Street Talk with the service-oriented nature of businesses like Ghost Armor.

Cellphone accessories vendors brought a variety of products to the show. Peter Wang from Reiko Wireless showcased a myriad of designs for a variety of products and models including a fancy new case for readers like Kindle and
iPad. Related electronic devices popular at the show included Cord Cruncher headphones, which was also a big hit at the 2013 Consumer Electronics show.

Networking needs


SimonSPREE has increasingly afforded mall developers a venue to shop for new concepts and for them to meet existing national retailers while making deals with new ones. Melissa Green-Gomes, the Specialty Leasing Manager at Weberstown Mall in Stockton, CA, was one of many leasing professionals who were evaluating concepts for testing back home. Green-Gomes was also one of the participants in this year’s Specialty Leasing Summit, which was held just prior to SPREE.

One could tell that networking opportunities from previous years’ SPREE shows were making their mark. F. C. Dadson, for example, showed off an RMU concept with a NOVA POS system built in. This unit, said Marie VanDrisse, Executive National Account Manager for the company, would allow tenants to control sales, employees and myriad POS tasks through a built-in system.

A large number of developer heavyweights had a strong presence at this year’s SPREE. These included executive sponsors such as Taubman, CBL, GGP, Westfield and DDR and associate sponsors such as Mall of America/West Edmonton Mall and Cafaro.

BellaGroup“We were looking forward to discovering new ideas for retailers and excited to continue to grow our current relationship with retailers and grow our income at the center level,” said Heidi Cardall, Senior Director, Specialty Retail CBL & Associates Management, Inc.

Brian Reiss at DDR had similar objectives: “We are looking forward to finding new lines of business to grow our revenue,” said Reiss, Director of Business Development for DDR. “We are losing space because occupancy is increasing—a good thing—but we are tasked to still drive revenue projections.”

In what is possibly a sign of the times, this year’s SPREE had a strong presence by pop-up company Storefront. The company, which was a platinum sponsor for the Summit (see sidebar), essentially acts as a clearinghouse for pop-up leasing projects. Storefront acts as a marketplace for short-term retail space, co-founder and CEO Tristan Pollock said many people have no idea where to go for very short-term leasing, so having this resource has helped greatly. The company provides advice on how to design and market stores for these pop-up spaces.

Discovering new opportunity

StorefrontAlso increasing their presence at SPREE this year, were a number of stand-alone unmanned concepts such as Better World Books, a SPREE sponsor; and recycling service units such as those provided by American Textile Recycling Services (ATRS). Diane Maier, Marketing Manager with Better World Books said the company was looking to expand its presence in shopping centers and grocery-anchored properties with “really great foot traffic.” The bins collect books, which are then sorted and put up for sale through an online or wholesale model. Unsold books are donated to literacy partners around the world. A similar model works for ATRS units as well, which recycle clothing, shoes and toys through their bins. These units need not be in the shopping center but can be out in the parking lots, which means more effective use of space.

Self-serve vending concepts were a big draw at SPREE last year and they continued to make an impact this year as well. Among the big hits included Sweet Amanda’s, a bright and colorful retro-looking candy dispensing machine. Jerry Jones from CBL was excited to bring the concept to CBL Properties and Sweet Amanda’s co-founder and CEO, Steven Bruck, found SPREE to be a great place for operator interest.

The Tat’z Mobile nail system could almost be considered a self-serve unit in that an operator doesn’t really need to work on designs that the unit generates on customers’ nails—but it still does need to be a manned unit. The system premiered at SPREE and was a popular concept. Among the many people who checked it out was Lisa Taylor, Mall of America’s Specialty Leasing Manager who was excited about being a sponsor of SPREE and to be at the show again.

Accessories, hot

Street-TalkAlways a popular category in specialty retail, fashion accessories and gifts for children continued their successful run at SPREE. Among the new products this year included Nail Candy, a fun new twist on nail polish where each canister has a brush and an individual marking pen. Funky names such as Buttery Popcorn (no, the nail polish doesn’t smell like popcorn) and Plum Pudding lend the collections added fun. Angela Parro with the company said Nail Candy was looking to sell package deals for carts and RMUs and was looking to SPREE to break into the specialty leasing market.

Fashion headbands for girls from Logo Loops were another hot option. The company’s Martha Sneider said the target demographic for the product was girls 8-12 although some younger girls and even babies could find options. The company has been in gift stores and was looking to offer turnkey packages for malls.

Who doesn’t love sock monkeys and especially when offered as a hat accessory, they’re quite adorable as proved Pook, a fashion accessory from Canada. Made to look like a sock monkey with flannel lining, a live demonstration of the many ways to wear the hat
(the Donald Trump comb-over; the New Zealand sheep-herder, etc.) was a fun draw to the booth.

A strong success

WestfieldRounding off the wide variety of concepts were some intriguing new ones like Infinity Lights whose concepts of interlocking vinyl light pieces brought many visitors to the booth; and a number of fun toys from Wild Creations.

Services for specialty retailers also exhibited at SPREE. These included customer loyalty systems such as LockUse and RMU manufacturers such as Bella Group, a SPREE sponsor. Account Executive Blake DeCarlo showed off a new interactive system the company had brought to the show which allowed customers to envision what designed RMUs would look like under different conditions.

As the ninth annual SPREE drew to a close, attendees and exhibitors remarked that one of the many reasons they loved the show was to find so many industry professionals in one spot. Last year, MiniMe’s Sharon Yu had such a remarkable show with her personalizable product that the concept grew after SPREE to a point where the latest location is in India. This year, the SPREE sponsor left hoping for a similar launch for Magic Cook, a system that heated food in a matter of minutes just by adding water.

As they looked forward to what would be the tenth annual edition of SPREE next year, industry professionals were excited with the new opportunities this year’s show had delivered.

“This year’s SPREE show was great,” said Daniel Mancuso, Vice President Specialty Leasing at Cafaro, a SPREE sponsor. “We had several meetings of quality and substance,” Mancuso said. “The energy level of the show was powerful and the foot traffic was strong all three days. The Cafaro Booth had more walk-ups than ever before, this has been our best SPREE to date.”

Poornima Apte

Poornima Apte is a Boston-area freelance writer and editor specializing in retail and the book publishing industry. Learn more at

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