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The Shows Go on at Miller Free

Firm’s Irvine Office Produces ASR Expo and Other Large Trade Confabs

Darrell Denny sits in his Laguna Beach office, his right arm still in a sling six weeks after he dislocated it in a fall from a mountain bike.

For Denny, senior vice president of publisher and trade-show producer Miller Freeman’s Southern California division, it was an occupational injury: he had been attempting to steer the bike down a grassy hill at the Mountain Creek Resort in Vernon, N.J., during the company’s Interbike Open Air Trade Fair.

“They had all these great bikes to test and I wanted to do one good downhill run,” said Denny, 41, a former journalist who says extreme sports activities are new for him.

Denny is just beginning to take an interest in activities such as mountain biking and skiing as he oversees one of the largest sports trade show operations in the United States.

The Interbike show drew an estimated 20,000 people, including 900 suppliers from around the world and 3,700 bicycle retailers. It’s one of eight trade shows produced from Miller Freeman’s OC offices, where Denny oversees about 350 employees who report to him from offices in New York, New Mexico, San Francisco, Santa Monica and Long Beach, as well as about 70 employees in Laguna Beach, which includes the headquarters of the firm’s sports group.

Miller Freeman is a wholly owned San Francisco-based subsidiary of U.K.-based United News & Media that produces 370 exhibitions and conferences, 400 publications including 270 magazines, as well as digital media services. The portion of the company that Denny runs has annual revenue of about $32 million, with about $24 million of that generated by the OC office itself, Denny said.

“Every trade show that we organize–whether it’s bicycles, outdoor, action sportswear, fly fishing or fitness– they are the largest trade shows (in their industries) in the world”, he said.

The local office, which was established in 1990, produces the Action Sports Retailer Trade Shows in Long Beach, San Diego and Atlantic City, N.J.; the Fly-Fishing Retailer World Trade Expo in Salt Lake City; the Interbike shows in Las Vegas and Vernon; Outdoor Retailer Summer Market and Winter Market in Salt Lake City; and the Health & Fitness Expo and Conference in Denver.

Denny has been in OC since the beginning, identifying acquisition opportunities and continually adjusting trade shows to meet demands in the marketplace.

One of the toughest deals Denny oversaw was about four years ago, when Miller Freeman acquired both the Interbike Open Air Trade Fair and Bicycle Retailer trade shows in separate deals at a time when the shows were battling one another in court.

Miller Freeman paid $10 million in cash plus a deferred consideration of up to $3 million for Interbike; and $1.5 million for the rival Bicycle Retailer.

“We were trying to bring both trains into the station at the same time and neither one knew we were talking to the other one,” Denny said. “It was fun and hectic to make them happen simultaneously.”

Now, the show draws international exhibitors as well as a contingent from OC that includes Oakley Inc., Foothill Ranch, Sole Technology in Lake Forest, National Bicycle Dealers Association in Newport Beach, Bebop Inc., in Huntington Beach, the S & M; Bikes Inc., Santa Ana, and Deviate Industries in Huntington Beach.

“It is the trade show and it’s worldwide,” said Marc Sani, group editorial director, Bike Magazine, one of five publications produced in Dana Point by Emap Petersen.

In addition to the Interbike shows, Miller Freeman publishes Bicycle Retailer & Industry News 18 times a year, with a paid circulation of 12,000 copies.

Sometimes the need for a new trade show evolves.

About 18 months ago, David Loechner, vice president of the sports group, noticed a growing number of suppliers to the fly fishing retail industry were taking space at the Outdoor Retailer shows. Soon after, Fly-Fishing Retailer magazine and trade show were born.

The magazine is produced five times a year with a circulation of about 4,900, and about 2,500 attended the initial trade show in Salt Lake City.

“We now have the world’s largest fly-fishing trade show and publication,” said Loechner who oversees the sports group in Laguna Beach. “It was a market niche that had not been served and now we have grown and developed it for that industry.”

Local apparel manufacturing businesses such as Quiksilver Inc., Billabong USA, Rusty Apparel, Sole Technology and Oakley Inc., as well as retailers such as Pacific Sunwear and Tilly’s, are more familiar with Miller Freeman’s Action Sports Retailer Trade Show.

Miller Freeman’s purchase of ASR in 1990 from Pacifica Publishing founders Steve Lewis and Jeff Wetmore was its entr & #233;e into Orange County.

“Pacifica Publishing was a hot acquisition item and a lot of people wanted it because the Action Sports Retailer Trade Show was going through the roof,” Denny said.

Later, Miller Freeman formed its sports group with a the acquisition of Outdoor Retailer. The sports group also has about 12 publications.

Surfwear companies say the Action Sports Retailer Trade Show is an absolute must.

“If you are doing anything in the sports industry you definitely need to be at that show,” said Toes on the Nose President Richard Allred. “Everybody’s there and it’s a good way to showcase your products whether you are a start-up company or someone in the middle or further up the line.”

Allred said he typically rents booths at both ASR and the Outdoor Retailer show. The latter is a market where buyers are looking for apparel to stock boutiques at tourist destinations such as ski resorts and shops catering to hikers, climbers and other outdoor sports.

But Miller Freeman is not only a trade-show operator. The company publishes seven trade-show guides and newspapers with a combined paid circulation of about 250,000 copies: ASR Trade Expo Show Guide, Bicycle Retailer & Industry News, Fly-Fishing Retailer, Outdoor Retailer Outdoor Retailer Buyer’s Handbooks and daily exposure, Interbike Directory and Interbike Buyer.

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