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A view of the industry through the eyes of a chain buyer.

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A Brief History of Industry Consumer Shows

Retailers benefit if they participate.

by Mike Hartnett (October 6, 2008)

CHA announced that manufacturers will not be allowed to sell products at next summer's consumer show in Orlando; only retailers can sell. Should area retailers exhibit and sell at the Orlando show? History says yes.

There have been countless consumer shows in virtually every industry category. Here's a summary of their effect on retailers and how some have become involved.

Crafts. Years ago HIIA, the predecessor of CHA, sponsored a consumer show on the Saturday before the trade show opened on Sunday in Dallas. The leading chain at the time in the Dallas area was MJ Designs, led by Mike Dupey. His Vice President at the time, Howard Hoffman, remembers how MJ Designs took advantage of the show:

"Mike took out full page ads in the Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star Telegram. Each ad also had a coupon to save $5 on admission. (I think the regular cost was $10, but I'm not sure.)

"We also gave out discount coupons to all of our customers at the store cash registers starting, I think, three weeks before the show. The consumer show was set up the day before the trade show and vendor participation was great (that could be because we asked vendors to participate). There was no selling, but every attendee got a 20% discount coupon good for one store visit, and it expired 30 days after the event. This was done to drive consumers into the store and make sure they could recoup their admission fee.

"It definitely helped sales and we got back a good number of coupons. Everyone loved the show and the make-it/take-its."

Scrapbooking. Industry veterans Mel and Margo Fraisl owned two scrapbook stores in suburban Chicago and would take a large booth at the local Memories Expo shows. I attend one of the shows and saw firsthand they sold a LOT of merchandise.

Beads. Kalmbach Publishing sponsors the annual Bead&Button show in Milwaukee. The week-long event includes hundreds of classes and culminates with a weekend consumer show that has drawn as many as 16,000 consumers. 

Marlene Vail, Events Marketing Manager for Kalmbach Publishing, told CLN, "I truly believe that shows, like Bead&Button, get everyone excited about the hobby." A person's buying habits usually doesn't change; if they were shopping at a local bead store before our event, they go back to the store during the year for extra supplies. If they are solely online buyers, they usually continue in that pattern.

"Most of our local bead shops exhibit with us, with the exception of one smaller store whose owner is closer to retirement. But the remainder of the shops do exhibit, do well, and are very pleased to be there."

Miniatures. Jerry Hacker, former owner of Dee's Delights said, "Even in the miniatures industry, the dealers complained about shows put on by independent promoters, but they discovered that it actually brought new business to their local shops when they participated in the shows and generated interest in the hobby."

Knitting/Crochet. No one can sell at the various Knit-Outs sponsored by the Craft Yarn Council of America, but Exec Director Mary Colucci told CLN that the events boosted sales in area yarn shops and membership in local knitting and crochet guilds.

Stamping. Warren Gruening of Posh Impressions said consumer stamp shows helped area retailers if they participated.

Hobbies. Pat Koziol, Exec Director of the Hobby Manufacturers Association says, "The model hobby industry more or less survived because of consumer events, particularly in the model train category. At most of these shows, the retailers sell to hard-core hobbyists and the manufacturers do workshops and seminars to show new consumers how to work the products.

"At the iHobby Expo, manufacturers are there Thursday and Friday for the retailers. Then the exhibitors can change their booths on Friday night to sell to consumers on Saturday and Sunday, along with some retailers who set up on Friday night.

"We want the retailers because consumers want to buy; they see something at an exhibitors' booth, and if he is not selling direct, he points them to a retailer who is carrying his product. In many instances, the dealers communicate with exhibitors to make sure they have their hot products on hand for the consumer days.

"This year, we have a big booth manned by Hobbytown USA, a franchise operation (much like the old Ben Franklin) of over 300 stores. They will have personnel from several of their Chicago area stores to sell in the booth on Saturday and Sunday. Then they will split the profits from the sales to all the participating stores.

"Also, we (HMA) buy $3,000 worth of Chicago-area hobby stores' gift cards and consumers receive a raffle ticket as they enter the show. We call out numbers during the two days for the winners to "come on down" to the prize area and get their gift card. (They can chose a store card that is near them).

"This way we don't offend dealers and manufacturers get the benefit of showing consumers about their products. We also have live events (Radio Control heli and airplane competitions that consumers can enter, pinewood derby races for Scouts sponsored by an exhibitor who makes the cars, model train rides and layouts, robot battles, traditional make-and-take hobby kits, and this year a "Lego Land" interactive kids area.

"We will also have Michael Gross (the father in the Family Ties tv series show who will appear. (He is an avid model railroad enthusiast.) Last year we had an Indy race car driver with his race car."

(Note: To read previous "Benny" columns, click on the titles in the right-hand column.)



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