Agenda’s Aaron Levant & Trade Show Trajectory

by The Editors on January 7, 2011

Aaron LevantFor the past eight years, Agenda Show founders Aaron Levant and Seth Haber have pushed ahead with a cool, small trade show that promoted authentic street brands.

In the face of competition from much larger organizations like Magic, ASR, and Surf Expo they’d been able to carve out a small, successful corner of the fashion trade show business. The show was growing even though each year it was becoming more and more of a head-to-head race with ASR.

Then, at the beginning of November 2010, Nielsen Expositions announced it was shutting down the ASR Show entirely. Suddenly, Agenda’s most direct competition was gone. At that time we tried to speak with Levant about how the announcement would change the trade show game, but he wasn’t interested in discussing it then.

Yesterday (January 6, 2011), we caught Levant in the lobby of the packed Agenda Show in Anaheim’s Marriott Convention Center. This year’s show is made up of several sections: Agenda, The Berrics Agenda skateboard show, and the all-new Agenda Snow. All told, the show fills 80,000 square feet of floorspace and features 300 brands. Levant and Haber’s little show has become quite large.

Follow the jump for the rest of the story.
Between fielding cellphone calls and walkie-talkie comments, we asked Levant about the newer, larger Agenda Show and what effect ASR’s demise has had on his business.

What effect did ASR going away have on Agenda?

I wouldn’t say it had very much affect at all on Agenda other than the buyers and shops that attend the show don’t have to pick one or the other, or try to stretch themselves thin to attend both. So they could be more focused. As far as the size of our show and the number of brands who are exhibiting I would say it had little or no effect.

We already planned to be in this venue before that was announced. All these exhibitors already booked before that was announced. Nothing really changed on that end. I don’t want people to think that ASR cancelled and everyone just ran over here. Everyone had been running over here for years. And going other places—the whole market had been fragmenting away from ASR, unfortunately on their behalf.

Is there anything you’ve learned from ASR’s trajectory that you don’t want to do moving forward.

Yes. Of course. It’s a struggle to not jump the shark, and I think that’s what everyone is looking for Agenda to do right now. I think we won’t make it too much bigger than this. I’d also like to have some type of jurying process of who gets in the show. I personally look at everyone’s catalog. I grill them. I look at who they sell to. What their designs look like. Are they copying someone else? I actually put a process into who is coming to the show and make sure that everyone is authentic and has a purpose and a reason in the market. And they’re not just some chinese knock-off company trying to make knock-off board shorts or whatever the thing is.

No offense to these other shows: Surf Expo, ASR or Magic or any of these guys. If you go to their website and fill out a contact they will find a space for you. They may put you in the back corner. It may not be prominent, but you will get in the show. Here, I turned down a lot of people based on the content of their brand. And, I can’t say the other shows do that. So that is probably the one thing that changed our trajectory.

I look around and I don’t know who some of these people are. There are a lot of familiar faces, a lot of new faces. My constant thing is I always look around and ask myself, “Is everyone here really servicing a purpose?”

In the future, another thing that is going to change our trajectory versus others who have come and gone, would be by me being concerned about who’s here [in addition to the exhibitors]. I don’t want have people here who are just friends of friends. Hey, if you’re a legitimate team rider that’s great. But I’m not having the B and C team. I’m not having friends of friends. I’m not having the shop kids. I want to have people here who are here to serve a function which is to buy, to market, and network. Not people who are just to trying to further their own careers.

A lot of people come here and are like “Oh, I want to start a line,” or “I want to start a store.” I’m like, “You can’t come in until you actually take that step and do it.” A lot of people want to do a lot of things, but you have to have done it and then that’s your credential for being here. Even with ASR or these other shows, they’ll charge a fee for anyone who wants to come in: couple hundred bucks and you can get it. Someone wants to come in and knock everyone off. I want to keep those people out, too.

If we keep it productive, it will last.

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