ATLANTA -- The seventh edition of the SHOPA Show solidified its growing reputation as the premier event for back-to-school, a category that has grown into a major selling season for supermarkets.
It accomplished this by simply being bigger and better. The School and Home Office Products Association's annual trade show drew a record number of participants, an estimated 11,000 registrants, to the Georgia World Congress Center here, Nov. 19 to 22. Although official attendance figures will not be released for several weeks, SHOPA officials projected attendance was up 6% to 10% over last year.
The 507 exhibitors took an additional 20,000 square feet of space this year, with bigger, flashier exhibits that featured an array of innovative products in the latest colors, designs, licenses and merchandising concepts. One showstopper was the Big Rig, a 70-foot bright red tractor trailer from Burbank, Calif.-based Walt Disney Co.'s consumer products division. It housed its '98 lines and licensees' products, including those tied to an animated film, "Mulan," scheduled for release next summer. The property is based upon a Chinese legend. "From the presentation on the floor, manufacturers have invested in the categories and are being well received by buyers," Steve Jacober, president of the SHOPA, told SN during the show. "Overall we are extremely pleased with the direction and tone of this year's show. Besides the substantial growth in square footage, there are more retailers and wholesalers in attendance," he added.
Even though the show appeared to be doing solid business and SHOPA's membership continues to grow, now at 1,460 members, Jacober was restrained in predicting a strong '98 back-to-school season. His assessment was tempered by mixed returns last season, in which some manufacturers did exceptional business while others were disappointed in their sales.
"We are hopeful for back-to-school next year because of the early planning people are doing here," he said.
But he added, "While the economy is growing substantially and continues to make progress, consumers are starting to feel overburdened in terms of their debt load. With something as basic as school-supply needs, people are buying much closer to the season and in fact lengthening out the season by buying closer to need." This trend is affecting the replenishment process, he said.
While membership is at an all-time high, the association will make a greater effort in targeting supermarkets and other retail accounts, said Jacober. SN counted nine supermarket chains out of the 43 retail accounts listed as SHOPA members during the show.
"Supermarkets represent an opportunity for SHOPA members to work closely with the food class of trade to improve the efficiencies in bringing product to consumers. For supermarkets, SHOPA categories represent a tremendous opportunity given supermarkets' traffic and SHOPA product categories' ability to provide margin."