Billabong Boardshorts from Booth at ASR in January 2009.

The Action Sports Retailer Trade Show, which now goes mostly by the acronym ASR/Class based on it’s partnership with Jason Bates’ contemporary fashion trade show Class, has undergone significant changes in the last few months as it ramps up for their show September 10-12, 2009, at the San Diego Convention Center.

First, there’s the addition of new brands and potential retailers drawn to the collaboration with Class (called Class@ASR), including a line-up of exhibitors such as Alife, WeSC, Modern Amusement, Alphanumeric, Betsy Johnson Swim, Insight, Jedidiah, Goorin Brothers, Lucky Brand, Drifter, Converse by John Varvatos, Original Penguin, and Quiksilver Women, True Love & False Idols, Swiss Army, Sitka, and RVCA, among others.

ASR/Class has also partnered with Surf Industry Manufacturers Association (SIMA) to target 200 of the top retailers across a broad spectrum of stores ranging from action sports to streetwear and upper street/contemporary; recreated various areas to meet the demand for more creative aesthetics including a networking lounge (with inspiration drawn from Bread & Butter Berlin and Project Fashion Trade Shows); added a press conference to set the pace at the launch of the show featuring industry leaders; and beefed up their seminar program -including inviting Label Networks to come present on Global Youth Culture Street Fashion and Action Sports.

Given all of this momentum, ASR/Class is turning out to be a must-attend event for those interested in not only action sports, currently defined as skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing, wakeboarding, swimming, beach culture, motocross, and associated lifestyles, but also the more creative side of street/contemporary brands that are tangent to this sports-style scene. For one, Agenda which used to take place at the same time as ASR and captured a fair share of streetwear/action sports crossover brands, among others, will no longer be there since they had moved their show forward. Secondly, in these difficult economic times, many brands and retailers in the industry feel that by staying together and coming up with creative solutions, it will benefit everyone, which is what drove SIMA to partner with ASR/Class towards insuring this show becomes a meeting point for the industry.

However there is speculation that the show is too late in calendar, and then the lingering cloud still hangs that skate brands may host their own satellite show again just before, and the ongoing difficulty of creating space that pleases so many different subcultures.

We talked to Andy Tompkins, recently promoted to the VP of Nielson Sports Group, including HBF, InterBike, and ASR/Class, to tell us more about the upcoming changes to the show and how it all came about.

LN: Going after a key group of retailers to ensure their attendance must give more confidence to the exhibitors attending. This was part of what came out of your discussions with SIMA. What types of retailers are on this list? Mostly surf or was SIMA thinking about others as well?
Andy Tompkins: We have a strong connection with some 2,000 retailers, but we wanted to have a broader universe. We aggregated the comments and feedback from the SIMA membership and this was one key issue -get the top dealers into this show. It’s not just surf, or skate, but many of these retailers crossover into several categories for example we are talking about Fred Segals to an A-Frame to Jacks, Pharmacy, Atrium.

Many action sports brands seem to like being associated with more lifestyle brands so is this how the association with Class came about?
Action sports brands are pushing to diversify and this does segue into Class. Class brings in a different kind of retailer, a higher end, boutiques, plus on the other hand, retailers that are experimenting with price points and reaching into action sports. You also see a lot of action sports brands moving into this area, such as Billabong with Tigerlily, Quiksilver Women’s, and so on. Jason Bates [founder of Class] is impressive and we appreciated his retailers and buying base and the relationships developed with key brands.

Class brings with it a specific list of brands -its streetwear and others and so now we’ve partnered with a bigger buyer base, a different brand mix, which is exciting for everyone.

We’ve covered Class several times before and liked the fact that it was an LA-based show. What do you think of moving ASR to LA? There’s a need for such a show here. San Diego (and the OC for that matter) are completely different scenes than LA, as you know.
Class is still hosting their show at the Santa Monica Civic Center like before on the 27th, 28th of August, so that will still be there, but they are bringing a different version here for Class@ASR. A hybrid of Class and ASR.

As for moving ASR/Class, we’re always open to researching new ideas and options. The primary factor is the vibe of the city and the buying base in the area. LA sounds interesting but for the time being, we’re committed to San Diego, and it’s a good space.

Some say ASR/Class is now just too late. Is September 10-12 too late given that most other trade shows are done by then, such as Agenda which purposely moved earlier, Bread & Butter, MAGIC, S.L.A.T.E., and Project?
It has been getting late and calendars have changed. We are meeting that next year with the show taking place August 14-16, 2010. But we see that a lot of dealers are buying at once and closer to season so this year we wanted to maintain this timeframe and go through things closer to the season and also cover in-between.

In terms of international retailers and exhibitors, it looks like you’ve been trying to attract more globally as well.
20% of the retailers come from outside the country. In many European countries, you’re dealing with distributors, but we have retailers from all over Europe, Mexico, brands and retailers from Australia. It really is an international show.

How did you come up with changing the aesthetics and adding the lounge? For example, some of the things we love about Bread & Butter (and Project) are their creative aesthetics and design and the various cafes and lounges. Bread & Butter feels like it’s more than a trade show -it’s like an event, a must-attend happening which is very inspiring and yet work gets done also.
We do take inspiration from Bread & Butter and also Project. I’ve attended Bread & Butter and think they have interesting concepts. Project is also inspiring. We’ve done things like more uniform booths so people can show up and start selling. We’ve changed the aesthetics, and then another show feature is the lounge for greater networking. This is also a good opportunity to increase our community and education, so we’ve worked on these things. We’ll also have regular updates from the show floor, video, which will keep people informed on what’s taking place.

What do you, as VP of Nielson Sports, consider to be %u201Caction sports%u201D because this is evolving too. In our data on youth culture, which we’ll be presenting at ASR/Class, we’ve seen the changes in youth markets. They don’t always define such categories as action sports. It%uFFFDs action sports industry people who say “action sports,” but not necessarily others any longer.
That’s a very good question. Boundaries are blurring. Interesting point. What is action sports? This is one reason why we’re branding with [the acronym] ASR now instead of Action Sports Retailer. Of course traditionally this meant surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding, but over time things have expanded especially through fashion influences. The Virtue launch for example [ASR’s attempt to launch an MMA inspired show last year was not that successful] we realized the cultural challenges. ASR is changing as action sports and lifestyle have more of a household appeal but maybe not so allied specifically with action sports.

At ASR in the past, it’s interesting to go from one end to the other -how different the surf section is compared with the motocross-inspired Metal Mulisha booth or Famous Stars & Straps area, then accessories, Volcom’s themed approaches, getting stuck in the crowds around Vans, how some booths are transparent and then others are still old-school fortresses.
This is the challenge and one thing we are working on with bringing in Class -which will have its own look and bring a different variety to ASR. That’s the challenge–how you fit the different cultures within the same floor, and create a multi-faceted show. We’ve had a lot of great input and we’re working on making this happen.

Label Networks will be live onsite covering ASR/Class September 10-12 and via Twitter: labelnetworks. We will also be presenting from 1:30 to 2:30 September 10, 2009, in Meeting Room 5A: %u201CYouth Culture Fashion Lifestyle Trends: Revealing Crossovers between Action Sports and Influential Subcultures from Music, Sports, Streets, Technology, Cultural Hotspots.%u201D