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Behind Clothed Doors

APPAREL | HEARD ON THE BEAT

Crowds, Exhibitors Flock to Fest to See Latest in Apparel Industry

September 04, 1997|GEORGE WHITE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

You can measure the success of Woodland Hills-based Magic International both by the number of people attending its annual apparel trade shows in Las Vegas--and by the number of exhibitors shut out.

Some 90,000 people showed up in Vegas last week for the five-day garb fest, making it third in attendance for annual gatherings in that convention-heavy city, after the technology trade events Comdex and the Consumer Electronics Show. Meanwhile, the waiting list of clothing manufacturers clamoring for space at the Magic convention reached a record 800.

In all, 7,650 exhibitors displayed their wares over 1.7 million square feet of space in and around the Las Vegas Convention Center.

"The waiting list grows each year," company spokeswoman Kieran Donahue said. "We wish we had more space to provide."

Magic executives explain that the success of their apparel convention, held in August and February, comes from focusing on providing hospitality and service to customers. Attendance at the company's events, which allow buyers from retail chains to talk deals with apparel manufacturers, has been rising dramatically since the company began to identify ways to better serve manufacturers and retail executives.

The new focus began in 1993, when Magic transformed itself from a nonprofit organization to a privately held corporation.

"Nonprofits don't concentrate on building up business as much," said Joe Loggia, Magic's president and chief executive. "We wanted to build the business by providing more customer service."

For example, Magic established a customer service department that offers technical assistance, such as advice on how to set up exhibit space.

Loggia, a former certified public accountant at the Los Angeles offices of Coopers & Lybrand, was Magic's chief financial officer when the company went private. He subsequently served as chief operating officer and president before becoming chief executive this year.

Loggia said the company also tries to please customers by offering a $1 breakfast, a $1 lunch, free concerts and free shuttle rides to the convention site.

"We're more attentive to customers' needs, and that has helped us generate growth of 20% per year in revenues and profits the past four years," Magic Chairman Don Baron said. Baron, who is full-time chairman of the Los Angeles-based Castle Neckwear, became head of Magic's board in June.

Magic was founded in 1934 by a small group of Los Angeles menswear manufacturers as a local trade organization. The group had just 19 exhibitors at its first trade show in Palm Springs in 1942. Later shows were held in Los Angeles and San Diego, until the group moved its venue to Las Vegas in 1989.

With attendance in Vegas having tripled since August 1992--the last time that the convention operated under the nonprofit organizational structure--"Magic is ranked No. 1 in size and No. 1 in reputation among apparel shows," said Darlene Gudea, publisher of the Los Angeles-based Tradeshow Week, a publication that covers conventions.

Magic's appeal and the number of its exhibitors are also rising because the show has expanded its market. Once a showcase only for men's apparel, the operation expanded in 1995 by adding women's wear.

The show also became multi-generational this year, when Magic International acquired the Children's Trade Expo and established its Magic Kids exhibition as part of the main expo.

Some of Magic's expansion is a result of the apparel industry's growth. But the company has not relied simply on the growth of the underlying market to keep well ahead of its competitors in the apparel exhibition field.

Recognizing that clothing manufacturers are eager to exhibit their goods in venues where retailers are likely to pay attention, Magic mounted a marketing campaign designed to attract more merchants to the Vegas show. The result: a 22% increase in the number of retail executives visiting Magic's fashion exhibits last week.

Currently, exhibitors pay $21 per square foot for space at Magic. That fee is the source of Magic's revenue.

Magic uses part of that income to pay its convention staff of 300. Magic also has 35 full-time employees at its Woodland Hills headquarters--a number sure to grow as the company pursues plans to establish a retail relations staff for the conventions, Donahue said.

The company expects further strong expansion, not least because the Las Vegas Convention Center is being expanded by 280,000 square feet.

"That expansion will be great because we'll be able to accommodate more of the companies on the waiting list," Donahue said.

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