Who's Next: An encouraging January edition
After the September trade show edition saw happy brands, retailers, and buyers walking down the aisles of the Porte de Versailles exhibition center, Who’s Next followed up with its January edition.
This came as a challenge, as major trade shows threw in the towel this year in the face of health restrictions imposed by the fifth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite many exhibitors cancelling last-minute due to these uncertain times, the WSN Développement team managed to offer a show with around 700 exhibitors spread over two and a half halls lined by Who’s Next, Bijhorca, Impact, Première Classe, among other events.
Although there were very few international and European visitors and strong brands from previous editions were absent, French buyers were well represented since the event’s first day, according to many exhibitors.
“The last edition went very well, and it was important for us to return to the show in January, even though we knew that some international buyers would not be able to come,” said Isabelle Dubuche, administrative manager of the label Emile et Ida, who witnessed interested Spanish and British buyers on Friday.
“We are very happy with this first day,” said the leather goods brand Kate Lee. “Given the context, we did not have great expectations, but this morning proved to be very dynamic. Moreover, since the show is smaller this year, the brands are more visible, and visitors can move around more fluidly.” Céline Thomas, founder of the shoe label Mi-Mai, felt this same way as she was left surprised by this year’s dynamism, noting however that “buyers remain cautious about their forecasts.”
According to the organization, the number of visitors was kept more stable on Friday and Saturday compared to the last edition. Furthermore, the number of visitors increased by 8% on Sunday.
“Sunday’s performance was a little more dynamic compared to the other days, and the vast majority of the buyers we received were French,” said Rive Droite. “We signed a few orders, but the buyers and visitors mostly come to see the new products to place an order at a later time.”
This stable number of attendees was confirmed by many exhibitors. “Activity was good on Friday but even better on Sunday,” said Guillaume Mesly d’Arloz and Maxime Savart, founders of the ‘Wildlife-Friendly’ sneaker brand Meeko. The brand returned this January to Impact after participating for the first time last year. “This allowed us to see buyers, both by appointment and spontaneously, that we had been wanting to meet for several months now.”
The brands showed a real need for multi-brand retailers to find their future products, as they continued to welcome customers on Monday as the day came to an end. This was notably the case for the Diadora stand, the brand distributed throughout France by the Royer group. “It was a very good show for us,” explained Stéphane George, developer of the Italian brand. “We were able to meet our customers and opened about thirty new accounts. Customers had a good end of the year, despite hard financial times, but they continue to look for novelty.”
Another brand left satisfied by the trade show was the Italian fast-fashion group, Imperial, showcased along with four other trendy brands in the 5th hall of the trade show. “We signed around a dozen new customers per day,” said the brand’s buyer and administrative and commercial director for France, Sophie DeLuca. “We’ve noticed that multi-brand retailers really appreciate our ‘made in Italy’ production. Most of the visitors were French but we also had a few customers from Israel, Dubai, and Switzerland. We have seen buyers gravitate towards more colorful products and looking for more creativity than they have in the past.”
Of course, not all stands shared the same optimistic opinions. Some jewelry and accessory brands presenting their Fall/Winter collections were not pleased that other stands were able to show their summer collections. Several ready-to-wear brands were also disappointed by what they considered to be a small number of visitors and customers than what they would have liked, especially after having experienced a drop in the number of customers these past two years.
“It was neither catastrophic nor completely crazy. We knew there would be only a few foreigners, yet we still managed to receive a buyer from New York,” said Révital Vidal, founder of the womenswear fashion brand, Lauren Vidal. “What I noticed was special was the representation of French multi-brand retailers. We saw it as a positive thing that they rallied together to let everyone know that they still exist. It was also our duty as a French brand to be there to encourage them.”
There was a strong sense of solidarity between the players, noticed by many participants and highlighted by the organization itself. “We are one of the only industries that has managed to host these tradeshows in recent seasons,” said Frederic Maus, general manager of WSN Développement. “This edition’s Sunday show performed very well, even if only 22% of the visitors were international. But we must be there for these brands, to allow these meetings, this networking. That’s why we have always done everything possible to enable these meetings, even during the most complicated times. This is a source of pride for our teams. We’re also helping these retailers that need new products and brands for their own companies.”
“The organizers did well in maintaining the show, even if the number of attendees and stands were low, those who did come were buyers,” said Yves Casile, general manager of the brand Nathalie Chaize. “We are happy to participate, to see not only customers but also colleagues who are facing the same issues as us in terms of trends and transportation costs. A lot of information is circulating, and this is what connect us to the market."
“We did not sign any orders, but we were able to foster new relationships. It was an opportunity for me to see market players with whom I could have had exchanges in the past but never had the chance to,” explained Ludovic Daouze of the Norwegian outdoor brand Norrona, which normally exhibits at Sport-Achat but decided to present at Who’s Next for the first time.
Despite the trade show’s positive outcome amidst the Covid-19 pandemic’s challenges, not all aspects of the show were well-received. Many ready-to-wear brands showcased in the far end of the venue (hall 6) were displeased by the lack of exposure of their stands. Some also noted a lack of coherence in hall 5, where footwear, jewelry, and accessories were displayed. There was also not a clear separation between Impact and the space dedicated to the new ‘360° Ride’ event, which was initially created to display a mix of urban brands with sportwear brands usually exhibited in Sports-Achat.
In the end, only three brands from Sports-Achat (Essentials’ designer ponchos, Norrona’s technical outfits, and ski-chic brand Duvillard) presented their collections in the 360° area alongside a few other urban brands. “Launching a new space always takes time,” said Frédéric Daus. “We believe in exhibiting a mix of urban and outdoor brands together. We have already invested in the booth design to go with it. Some brands didn’t participate but they still came to see the exhibit.” On a positive note, the three participants were rather happy with their experience, claiming to have met several retailers that they previously did not know.
Will international visitors return in September?
Building a more elevated exhibition for the trade show's next edition in September will be a challenge for the WSN Développement team, as will redefining the Traffic trade show’s mission (dedicated to solutions and innovations). Traffic has managed to attract visitors but is struggling to assert itself in terms of service presentation. On the other hand, the Première Classe show, which will be held under tents in the Jardin des Tuileries from March 4 until March 7, should be able to welcome back international and American visitors. The September Who’s Next edition will also most likely mark a return to a more international audience.
“We have been in contact with European participants who are very, very eager to come back,” says Frédéric Maus. “The Italian, Spanish, and Moroccan exhibitors are all ready to present their collections this coming September. Most brands have unfortunately lost contact with international retailers and want to reintroduce themselves to these international buyers. In September, we plan to create beautiful booth designs for the space in order to allow the brands to exhibit their products in their best light.”
This ambitious, more elevated return will undoubtedly attract exhibitors that have been frightened by the current health situation and lack of international visitors of this January edition.
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