irreverent, thought-provoking analysis of the industry-- with an
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Trade Shows: How, Where, & Why
An interview with Tony Lee, CHA's
VP of Meetings and Expositions.
by Mike Hartnett
(April 4, 2011)
(Note: Tony Lee joined CHA in July 2005
as VP of Meetings and Expositions, overseeing the trade show team
responsible for two major trade shows held each year by CHA. The
winter show is the 60th largest trade show in the U.S.
Prior to joining CHA, Tony was VP of Sales and
Marketing for George Little Management who manage and own trade
shows in the gift, stationery, and home décor industries. Tony spent
22 years managing many of the 52 shows that GLM produces each year.
Originally from England, Tony has worked in the
trade show industry for 34 years in the UK and the U.S. He is a
member of the Int. Assn. of Exhibition Management from whom in 2005
he received a Merit award for service to the U.S. trade show
industry. He is currently a national board member of the Int. Assn.
of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) and the New York Area Chapter of
IAEE which he chaired for two years. He also serves on the Anaheim
Meeting Industry Advisory Council.
Tony has an MA in Marketing from Kingston upon
Thames University in London, England and currently resides in
Stamford Connecticut with his two daughters.)
CLN: Judging from the CHA and CLN
surveys and polls, the industry prefers that the Winter Show stays
in the winter. I assume this also means that the Show be somewhere
in the Sun Belt and not New York or Chicago in January. With those
assumptions, what Sun Belt cities have enough convention center
space and nearby hotel rooms to be considered?
TONY LEE: Based on CHA member surveys,
the West Coast is the preferred region of the country for a winter
show. The host cities with facilities large enough to handle the
size of our show and the required supporting hotel rooms include Los
Angeles, Las Vegas, San Francisco, San Diego, and Anaheim.
CLN: For what cities/dates does CHA
have signed contracts for? For what cities/dates does CHA have first
TONY LEE: CHA has signed contracts with
Anaheim for winter 2012 and 2013. CHA also has signed contracts with
Rosemont for the 2011 summer show.
CLN: What changes have taken place in
the past 10 years in the convention center business? (For example,
aren't there more convention centers for CHA to choose from than
before, and aren't the centers more flexible now, more willing to
TONY LEE: Yes, there are more convention
centers, but again there is only a handful that can adequately host
the CHA winter show. Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Francisco, San
Diego and Anaheim are not new facilities; however, San Diego and Los
Angeles expanded their convention centers which only recently made
them viable options. The challenge is that most major cities with
facilities large enough to accommodate our show are completely full
during the January and February periods, which are at the height of
the trade show exhibition season.
In terms of convention centers being more
flexible, only with some decline due to the recession have
convention centers been willing to negotiate or lower rates in order
to attract new business or keep existing business from leaving. This
will change again once the economy picks up. It’s interesting to
note, for example, that Las Vegas, probably the number one city in
size of facilities, has always charged full price even during the
CLN: How is drayage handled? Is it a
flat fee or can that be negotiated? What about things like
carpeting, tables, and garbage cans – can those prices be
TONY LEE: Drayage can be handled in
several ways, but the word "drayage" is misunderstood by many.
Drayage is the movement of freight from the vehicle at the
convention center freight dock to the booth, the removal of empty
crates/boxes to a storage area while the show goes on, then the
return of these empty freight containers back to the booth, and
finally the removal of freight from the booth to the vehicle at the
freight dock for return shipment. So drayage involves moving freight
and containers a total of four times for most exhibitors.
Drayage charges are never measured by distance
traveled as some people want to believe, but by the crew and
equipment needed to handle the freight and containers four times.
The rates will vary depending on how the freight is packed, as loose
materials will be more difficult to handle and therefore more
expensive to handle than shrink wrapped, consolidated, or
The rates are usually calculated by weight, in
our case per hundred weight, with a 200lb. minimum charge. This
price will then either vary if the freight is delivered on a regular
work day as opposed to an overtime day -- for example, a weekend
where rates are double or at least one-and-a-half time’s regular
rate. Drayage rates also vary based on the days the show is
moving-in or moving out as well as the times of the day. To help
reduce these expenses CHA has negotiated flat rates where possible
so that the dates and time of day do not matter and everyone pays
the same rate.
An alternative way to fund drayage is to charge
based on square footage of the booth. In this model the contractor
charges show management a per-square-foot rate based on the total
size of the show, and the show organizer will then add that fee into
the booth price. This model eliminates a drayage line-item on the
exhibitors’ bill but will almost always result in a higher
per-square- foot exhibition rate. This model removes overtime and
any additional fees calculated on date or time of day.
A third way is for the show organizer to
negotiate a rate for some of the drayage and pay that to the
contractor on behalf of the exhibitors. This rate would be a bulk
rate and would be less to show organizers than if the exhibitor was
paying directly to the contractor. Also, for many small exhibitors
it means that their drayage would not be a cost to them and for the
larger companies they have a substantial saving. This rate has to be
the same for all exhibitors.
In the previous examples, exhibitors will not
save money if they hand carry their products into the hall as some
smaller companies prefer to do, as the fees will have already been
Labor and other rates are negotiated with the
unions and will vary from city to city. With regards to furniture
prices, those, too, can vary depending on the facility and
quantities ordered. In Rosemont, CHA negotiates a bulk purchase at a
much lower rate as show organizer than individual exhibitors could
secure alone, but CHA is charged for the furniture package for each
booth whether the exhibitor uses it or not. So you can see CHA is
always looking for the best options for our exhibitors. Other
factors, of course, are the size of the show, length of contract
with the general contractor, whether you go out to bid, which city
you are exhibiting in, and how experienced your show staff is.
The bottom line is that many different things
impact pricing, and just as basic services of cable, power, and gas
increase each year so do exhibit costs. The trade show industry sees
an average increase somewhere between 5-8% per year and CHA is
routinely negotiating to provide members with the best priced
CLN: What goes into your decision
about dates? Are there certain events or other shows you want to
avoid at all costs?
TONY LEE: CHA’s overarching goal is to
bring as many buyers and manufacturers to CHA shows as possible. So
we look to avoid as many conflicts as possible. Since January and
February are key trade show months across all industries, dates in
this period usually bump up to and sometimes overlap with another
event. We try to avoid conflicts with other industry events like
PaperWorld in Frankfurt, the Tucson Bead Show, TNNA, NAMTA, Toy Fair
in New York, Toy Fair in Nuremberg, and Stitches in the UK. We also
factor in New Years Day, Super Bowl weekend, Valentine’s Day, Summer
holidays, European vacation schedules, as well as regional events
like the Road to California that are important to CHA members. We
also face scheduling challenges presented by larger shows that
exhibit in our host cities, as they have more negotiating power
because of the revenue they bring, with a host city and can mandate
specific dates that impact our show.
We also explore options for date patterns and
which days of the week we need to set-up and move-out in order to
have a successful show
CLN: What are the chances of CHA returning
to Los Angeles? Las Vegas?
TONY LEE: We have met regularly with the
Las Vegas team on this option, and CHA cannot possibly get dates in
Las Vegas until 2016 at the earliest, at which time we would not be
able to negotiate anything other than full rate for rent because the
demand is so high. Regarding Los Angeles, we are still evaluating
the member feedback from the 2011 Winter Show to see if our members
would support a return to Los Angeles.
CLN: Regarding the summer show, does CHA
have signed contracts or first options beyond 2011? Is there a
possibility that the show will move again from Rosemont? Does
Orlando or some other city remain a possibility?
TONY LEE: CHA has a signed contract for
the 2011 Summer Show in Rosemont and an option for 2012 at this
point. Summer show success will play a major factor in determining
whether the summer show remains in Rosemont or moves to another
CLN: Where do you foresee exhibit prices
going in the future?
TONY LEE: As discussed, many of the hard
costs associated with the show are beyond the control of CHA, but we
make every effort to negotiate the best pricing for our members. As
previously stated, we anticipate annual increases to fall within
industry norms, somewhere between 5-8% annually.
CLN: The 2012 show in Anaheim conflicts with
the European Paper World show. What about beyond 2012?
TONY LEE: There are no dates currently
available in Anaheim during the January and February timeframe to
move the 2012 winter show. We are working diligently with Orange
County and the City of Anaheim to try to switch dates with other
shows. At this time, it is not clear if we can do this, but we are
very hopeful that we can move our dates to avoid conflicts with
PaperWorld after 2012.
CLN: There were reports that some attendees
signed up for more classes/workshops than they attended, resulting
in some seemingly "sold out" that weren't really filled. Is there
some way to adjust the system to avoid that problem?
TONY LEE: CHA has always had to deal
with “no shows,” since we create a very rich show experience both on
and off the show floor. CHA has always had a “stand-by program” so
people can be wait-listed to fill empty slots after the first 10 or
15 minutes of the session.
While it is true that the no-show rate for
workshops was higher at the winter show than when workshops were
individually priced, the new all-access badge did still result in
overall a nearly 50% increase in workshop capacity (seats filled)
compared to 2010. We will continue to refine the all-access badge
policies to improve attendance and grow member participation.
For the summer show, we added two new policies.
First, we are implementing a $10 no-show penalty fee. Any attendee
that registers for multiple workshops will incur this fee for each
class they do not attend. Second, we are limiting the number of
attendees from one company in the same workshop to a two-per-company
limit. These two changes will hopefully decrease no-shows, and open
workshop registration to as many serious buyers as possible.
CLN: Many people believe the shows,
particularly the summer show, is evolving into a scrapbook show.
What can be done to attract more non-scrapbook vendors?
TONY LEE: CHA continually tries to
ensure that the summer show is more than just scrapbooking. For
example, for summer 2011 we will have several pavilion areas
especially designed to highlight products such as beading, jewelry,
and fashion accessories. The show theme of "Craft Fusion" was
developed to emphasize the importance of mixed media and the power
of “cross-crafting” in order to create finished projects composed of
many different crafts tools and techniques. Additionally, our
conference seminars and workshops will focus on the many different
craft sectors and discuss the potential for mixed media within the
CLN: Don't you face a
chicken-or-the-egg conundrum? If an exhibitor doesn't see enough
viable buyers, he doesn't exhibit at the next show. But if a buyer
attends and is disappointed by the number of vendors in his category
who don't exhibit, he won't attend the next show.
TONY LEE: To some degree this is true,
but the real solution is more complicated. We acknowledge that the
buyer is the key and is the leading-edge because without buyers the
show cannot be successful.
Exhibitor satisfaction relies in large part on
the quantity and quality of buyers in the hall. Additionally, in
order for exhibitors to be happy, they must see a certain number of
bodies in the hall, especially if their booth is not well attended.
We have also learned that the main reasons
buyers go to the show are 1.) To see new products; and 2.)
To find new suppliers and learn new craft techniques. Placing orders
and shopping the show now ranked fifth on their goals or reasons for
attending the show.
The main reason exhibitors go to the show is to
find new customers followed by generating sales leads and
introducing new products. Selling product or writing orders comes in
sixth on the exhibitor list of goals and reasons for exhibiting. So
it’s not always the sales numbers that dictate a show’s success.
A larger concern is that many buyers are never
contacted before the show by exhibitors and are not always aware of
the products in the booths. CHA’s ShowBiz Connections program
links buyers with exhibitors as they register their product
interests. Currently only 19% of exhibitors and 15% of buyers use
this free matchmaking tool.
If we can work with the manufacturers to invite
their key buyers, while simultaneously inviting the buyers to
meaningful conferences and programs, CHA can eliminate barriers and
win-back valued buyer attendance.
(Note: The CHA summer Conference & Trade
Show is in Rosemont, IL July 19-21, with education beginning July
18. The 2012 winter Conference & Trade Show will be in Anaheim, CA
Jan. 29–Feb. 1 with education beginning Jan. 28. Visit