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Tough Trade Show Questions

Why not cooperation instead of competition?

By a Concerned Independent Manufacturer (October 17, 2005)

(Note: CLN received this email which includes questions about trade shows and the number of subjects/problems in scrapbooking. Answers to the email are below.)

Have you ever heard the phrase, "You can’t squeeze blood from a turnip"? Dwell on that idea for a moment…. Think now about the scrapbook industry: are we trying to squeeze revenue from a source that simply doesn’t have it to give? Gloom and doom have been swirling over the heads of industry insiders for a few years now. What have we done about it? No one knows how long the industry can continue to grow and expand, but here we are adding more trade shows, more associations, more product, more small manufacturers, and more demand on retailers to the mix, because after all, the industry is purportedly worth several billion dollars. Squeezing blood from a turnip….

As a small, independent manufacturer, I decided that it was time to have a discussion about the industry, namely talking about trade shows, and the current state we’re in, and so I put together some questions for those in charge of our industry's trade shows. I would like to not only shake things up a bit and get the attention of those in charge of these events, but also to open the eyes of the scrapbook retailers out there – change needs to happen, and it needs to happen now!

Why does the scrapbook industry need four trade shows a year? Thinking back about 10 years when scrapbooking was still in its infancy, trade shows were the place to be, the place to find out about new product, and the place to find out what exciting new trend was going to turn this hobby into an art form.

Fast forward to today and we now have CHA Winter (formally known as HIA), CHA Summer (formally known as ACCI), MemoryTrends (a relative new comer, and scrapbook-and-stamp-only show), and the new, untested Scrapbook Biz (put on by Convexx).

Buyer attendance has been declining at all shows, even though the number of exhibitors has been remaining steady, and even growing in some shows. In light of those statistics we’ve added yet another show (speaking of Scrapbook Biz to be held spring of 2006, just months after CHA Winter)? Why are we, as an industry, continuing to add more strain to those who are selling our product? Why are we putting more strain on our budgets to exhibit at these shows when many of us would admit that they are only marginally profitable at best?

I’ve compiled a list of more tough questions from other independent manufacturers that I think are worth visiting as well:

1. What is CHA really doing in terms of marketing to the end user? Are they really helping draw more people into creative hobbies, or are the marketing dollars largely benefitting mass-market chain stores?

2. What benefit am I really getting from my CHA membership when I have to a) pay membership dues; b) pay to exhibit, which by the way pretty much covers nothing but the slab and ugly back drapes; c) pay to teach a class, pay for the class materials, pay to rent any additional needed equipment, and then have the association charge my students a class fee (who also have to pay member dues to qualify to take my class)?

3. Why are MemoryTrends and CHA Winter in the SAME convention center only 12 weeks apart? What are they both doing to make sure that a good number of qualified buyers are making the trek to Vegas twice in a short amount of time?

4. What are manufacturers doing to help themselves in terms of bringing good, qualified buyers to the shows? Many, many retailers have decided that it is just too expensive to attend shows. I can’t say that I blame them since most scrap manufacturers give show specials and sneak previews well in advance of the show – why bother spending the money and time to travel when you can sit at home in front of your computer screen to see new product and get a discount at the same time?

Partnership and laying down our swords for the betterment of the whole is what this industry needs if it is going to survive. Too many companies have decided that scrapbooking is a cash cow and there just isn’t enough for everyone to get an adequate piece of the pie. If we are to get real blood out of this industry we must figure out how to quit farming turnips and go for the real meat. Retailers need manufacturers, manufacturers need associations and trade shows, but for any of that food chain to thrive, we need to figure out how to regain some control and focus on one mega show, not four. Blood can not be squeezed from a turnip.

Bill Gardner Answers.

(Bill is Editorial Director of Craftrends which sponsors the MemoryTrends show.)

When we decided to start the MemoryTrends Trade Show in 2000, there was no show specifically for that market. Most of the consumer shows at that time devoted only a couple of hours on the first day of the show to trade only, but that wasn't enough. We heard over and over from vendors and retailers that they couldn't conduct business that way and they wanted an alternative.

In the craft industry, each segment of the market has its niche shows – needlearts, quilting, sewing, etc. As with those markets, scrapbooking has become a market served by both vendors and retailers specific to the category, and they deserve a trade show dedicated to their specific needs.

While CHA does a remarkable job serving the overall craft industry with an all-inclusive show, MemoryTrends does a remarkable job serving one niche market, with an extensive educational program designed for scrapbook retailers featuring not only business seminars, but more than 30 exhibitor-sponsored technique workshops where retailers gain first-hand knowledge about new products. (By the way, we don't charge exhibitors to teach a class. And since we're not an association, there are no membership fees.) And this year we'll be revealing results of the first-ever Scrapbook Retailing in America study, which was just completed in the last couple of weeks. (Editor's note: See the 10/17 edition of CLN for a MemoryTrends report that includes highlights of the study.)

MemoryTrends has been rooted in Las Vegas since its inception five years ago, and is contracted there through 2009. Attendance at the show has increased each year, and this year's numbers are looking very strong more than three weeks prior to the show. (Editor's note: Attendance was higher this year.)

We promote the show in a variety of ways, including blast emails to buyers, year-round promotion in Craftrends, advertising in publications serving related markets, and we provide exhibitors with promotional postcards that also serve as contest entry forms for a contest that awards cash prizes for buyers and discounted booth prices for vendors.

In addition, we provide a number of perks on-site – free lunch vouchers for both buyers and exhibitors, complimentary canvas tote bags, and a Treasure Chest promotion with prizes from exhibitors. We also carefully screen attendees to ensure only qualified buyers gain entrance to the show. In fact, this year, absolutely every buyer must provide credentials in order to register.

We strive to make MemoryTrends the best it can be, from afford-ability to education, convenience, and more. For those who must make a choice, we know they'll contemplate carefully and make a decision that's best for their businesses.

Mike Hartnett Answers.

The Hobby Industry Association has conducted a single show for about 60 years, and the Association of Crafts & Creative Industries sponsored a show for about 30 years. Now that they have combined into the Craft & Hobby Association, they continue to sponsor a winter and summer show. And as Bill says, there are other shows for specific categories – art materials, needlearts, sewing, etc.

That's why we have the three big shows – CHA Winter and Summer and MemoryTrends. As for the other scrapbook shows, they exist for the same reason there are so many manufacturers of paper, stickers, embellishments, albums, etc. It's called capitalism; everyone has the right to start a business, whether it's making a product or a trade show.

And capitalism will solve the problem of too many shows. Buyers will ultimately choose which shows (and how many) suit their purposes. The others will go out of business, just like some manufacturers will.

As for MemoryTrends and CHA/Winter being in Las Vegas three months apart: Because the CHA show is so huge, there are very few convention centers big enough to hold it. Consequently, in order to get the approximate dates it wants, CHA has to reserve a convention center years in advance. I suspect CHA had a preliminary reservation for Vegas in 2006 before there was any thought of a MemoryTrends show.

And after 2006, CHA is moving to Anaheim for many years, so there won't be two shows three months apart in the same city.

As for CHA promoting to the consumer, don't ever expect CHA to spend a fortune promoting just scrapbooking. That would be unfair to the art materials, needlearts, hard craft, floral, and kits' craft members. Because CHA is an umbrella organization, it doesn't have the money to conduct a meaningful national advertising or public relations campaign for each product category.

Instead, scrapbook companies should do exactly what the yarn companies did: they tossed in money and formed the Craft Yarn Council of America. The CYCA launched the most successful public relations campaign in industry history which, along with new products and new designs, has made knitting and crochet as hot – or hotter – than scrapbooking.

In fact, CHA is working on a campaign directed at consumers, but full implementation, to be effective, would be very, very expensive. So CHA is testing the program now. If it does increase awareness and interest in test markets, then we'll see....

As for benefits from CHA membership: there are a host of them, from Size of Industry studies (look for a new one soon) that you can take to the bank when you need a loan, to reduced rates on shipping. Visit www.craftandhobby.org to see a complete list.

(Note: Have any thoughts on these subjects? Email them to CLN at mike@clnonline.com. To read previous Business-Wise columns, click on the titles in the right-hand column.)



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