irreverent, thought-provoking analysis of the industry-- with an
occasional guest columnist.
What To Do with Our Trade Shows
(February 21, 2011)
(Note: The previous Business-Wise column
questioning the future of our industry's trade shows has inspired
more comments than anything CLN has ever published. To read
the original column, click on "What's Happening To Our Trade Shows?"
in the right-hand column. Feel free to join the discussion – on or
off the record, by contacting Mike Hartnett (309-925-5593;
After receiving the bulk of the responses,
CLN sent this column to Larry Olliges, the Chair of the CHA
board and owner of Dee's Crafts, an independent, multi-category
craft store in Louisville. His response is at the bottom.)
Trade shows are less important.
Yes, I believe they are less important each
year for vendors. I don't think this is an indication of the
industry faltering, but that it is once again evolving. Stasis
is death to an industry today. We as vendors now have so many more
ways to reach our consumer that it's far less important to me
whether or not a particular buyer takes time to stop at my
booth. I'll still find my consumer online, and be happy to sell to
her/him direct or through the important online vendors such as
Amazon. Trade shows are by no means dying, but becoming a slightly
less important branch of the incredibly broad current marketing
scene. -- Jean Leinhauser, Creative Partners
Leveraging trade show investments.
As a CHA member company and as a CHA Board
member, I have two perspectives on industry trade shows: First, as a
manufacturer, we rely on the shows as our primary source of trade
advertising. If you believe in Malcolm Gladwell's concepts of
"influencers" and "mavens," I love to get my products and my
company's capabilities out in front of 5,000 to 10,000 attendees at
our shows. Are they all buyers? No. Do I get an ROI? Yes.
From a CHA standpoint, just using your informal survey, nearly 70%
of respondents think trade shows are important. To me, the
obligation all of our industry associations have is to help make our
member's business be successful. One important way to do that is to
help them leverage their trade show investment dollars, both on the
buy side and the sell side. In my mind, the best way to do this is
to join forces, and to the extent possible, have a one-stop shopping
experience for all. There doesn't need to be mergers or
acquisitions, just get together on show dates and make it happen. –
Mike McCooey, CEO of Plaid Ent.
Is this the answer?
(Note: The following is by a partner in
a company that is not exhibiting at our industry's trade shows this
I have written before and touted the virtues of
virtual trade shows (trade shows held on the web for everyone to
view and “attend” as a supplement to the physical trade shows that
our trade associations sponsor). Well, no organization has yet
adopted this modern and cost-efficient approach to helping their
members learn about new products and transact business.
I surmise that they are concerned about the
lost revenue in holding virtual shows versus physical trade shows.
But this need not be the case. I, as an exhibitor, would be happy to
pay for virtual booth space. In fact, I would be happy as an
exhibitor to pay a one-time fee to a trade association to help them
fund the development of this approach. I am sure other exhibitors
would as well.
Why do I say that they do not need to worry
about their trade show revenue evaporating away if they also held
virtual trade shows? Well, it is a direct result of the fact that
most retailers simply do not bother to go to the physical trade
shows. We are reminded of this every time a trade show is conducted.
Our trade organizations must come to the
realization that old style trade shows are in need of repair. For
any number of reasons, people simply do not attend trade shows and
these organizations owe it to their members (and the many members in
waiting) to promote alternative styles of helping bring exhibitors
and shops together. Virtual trade shows are the way to do just that.
In a virtual trade show, busy shop owners who
cannot take the time to attend a physical trade show (or cannot
afford to) can simply log in at night after work. They can peruse
the virtual booths and request samples or watch videos/demos, or
simply become educated about the wide variety of products that are
available in the market. There are so many positive features of
conducting a virtual trade show, but mostly, the fact that we could
get 70-90% participation of shops versus the paltry 15-20% that we
see year in and year out at the physical trade shows. All of these
shops which do not attend are lost revenue for the trade
associations and for exhibitors as well.
Just think, not having to spend all the money
that is required to travel to show your products, but having your
products available to 2,500 shops online in a well designed,
professional virtual trade show environment instead.
Instead of exhibiting at a physical trade show, "exhibitors" could
take some of the savings and make sample kits (or qualified
mailings) to send out to those virtual attendees that show an
interest in your products. The amount of money that the attendees
would save could be used to purchase our products!
Exhibitors could use their travel savings as
exhibitors to help fund the creation of the virtual show and to
develop slick, web-based programs for ourselves. Total revenue would
actually increase for all, including for trade associations, simply
because we would all see a greater participation rate.
It just doesn’t make sense to keep banging away
at the old trade show system when it is not addressing the majority
of potential customers. This is 2011. Everyone uses the Internet. It
is not 1995 when people didn’t. The face-to-face shows need to be
supplemented with the modern virtual trade show approach in order to
pull in new members and to have the existing but non-participating
The main issue is increased participation by
everyone (exhibitors and shops) and increased content dissemination.
Allow the visitor to drill down to those categories of products that
they want to see, as opposed to having them walk miles on the show
floor. Let them do this while saving money and time and it will be
Anyway, I am hoping that these organizations
whose primary "product" has traditionally been "trade shows" realize
that "trade shows" have already changed for many industries, and it
is about time they do so for this industry as well. They need to
remember that their job is to bring people together which can, and
should, now occur online, in addition to face-to-face. Any further
delay in accepting this fact is costing us money and not providing
us with the "bang for the buck" that we all need and want as members
of an association. In my opinion, the success of these associations
should be measured based on the percentage of participation that
they secure from their overall membership and potential membership
that is sitting in the wings.
By the way, when will these organizations
finally survey their membership on this point, as well as the 50-70%
of shops that do not even belong? We need to hear from the
membership on the virtual trade show issue and it needs to be
presented to them on a level playing field basis. – Name Withheld
A solution from the past?
Years ago the ACCI board of directors decided
the industry needed a show between the HIA show in January and the
ACCI show in July. So, on very short notice they ordered Walt
Offinger (Offinger Management) who managed the association, to
launch a new show.
Walt scrambled and found a hall at the
still-uncompleted Orlando Convention Center. The hall was not large
by traditional HIA and ACCI show standards, and of course the
association wanted as many exhibitors as possible so the buyers
would have a wide variety of companies to see.
So they imposed a rule, exhibitors could have
no more than two 10' booths.
End result? The buyers were happy because the
show was so easy to navigate, and the exhibitors basically showed
only their new items. The exhibitors were happy because the show
costs were lower and there was no temptation to "out-do" their
competitors with bigger, fancier booths.
The show disappeared after two years, because
HIA launched a competing show and infuriated vendors threatened to
start their own association if the trade groups kept adding shows.
But the concept in this time of rising costs is
intriguing. – Mike Hartnett
Wrong time, too long.
I sell to the majors. Some thoughts:
1. The industry doesn't need two [CHA]
2. The timing is wrong. The majors want
to see new products in the fall and have made their decisions by
3. That last half-day of the show is a
waste. I had 15 people at the show and they had to stay one more
night – for what? – Major manufacturer
Not meeting the needs.
I did not attend or exhibit at CHA. I had
planned to attend to meet with two distributors of ours that attend
the show. One ended up not attending and the other cut our time to
meet back to half an hour. I decided to just fly out and meet with
him, and his whole team at their offices.
I have attended some classes at CHA and only
found a few informative.
Second there are not enough of our jewelry
venders at the CHA show as well as independent retailers, so we
decided to give the Tucson shows a try. So far we have done a lot of
new business with retailers who attended those shows. Will know more
in a few days when the team gets back.
I hope trade organizations grow and become a
help to retailers and distributors as well as manufacturers. In
fact, they need to separate themselves into two divisions to support
the needs of both. Retailers need help with marketing, PR, inventory
control -- you name it. It’s not that they aren’t smart, just short
on time and resources. Let’s figure out how to help the retailers
first, then create buying co-ops so they can get the best price and
manufacturers can focus on supporting fewer distributors.
Also, sorry to say CHA, but your research
leaves me dry. Maybe the trade organizations can work together. The
TNNA research is rather well done.
It has been very evident that only one CHA show
is needed, but yet you continue with a Summer show. Maybe you need
only one and focus on the best time and place to hold it, not where
you get the best deal. Create a show worth the travel and they will
come. We all like to get away, but we need to justify the time and
cost. -- Marketing/Sales Manager for a major publisher.
I think the most damaging effect on our trade
show is the pre-show disclosure of new product and the discounts
allowed with pre-show orders. The traditional special discount for
retail store purchases at the show has disappeared; everyone get a
discount before, during, and after the show. I am not talking about
the teaser ads of a new line but SKU by SKU order forms.
If you can see and buy everything on line with
discounts prior to the show, why go? – Carol Niemski, VP/COO,
Bazzill Basics Paper
Pro's for the show.
I do most of my business off the show floor,
and I suspect I am not the only one -- even exhibitors do that. They
connect, they do joint ventures and discuss important issues facing
their companies and categories.
The social aspect is important for business as
well. Meeting new suppliers, customers, etc., even at lunch tables
-- many new connections are made and developed.
This is a very touchy-feely industry. How am I
going to really know the exact color of the lace, or the thickness
of the paper, or the softness of the "pipe cleaner," or the new
technology I find and need to discuss with the vendor face to face?
Who will be the face of my association if I
cannot discuss and deal with the Board and members face to face? An
email or hard copy of the focus and decisions our leaders are
making, is not as impactful as an in-person meeting, such as the
annual business meeting where we can all listen and share our
thoughts, ideas, and frustrations.
I do understand the expense of trade shows, but
what would the expense be in the issues mentioned above if there
were only virtual trade shows? – Gail Czech, The Creative
Waste of money.
I personally feel that the time it takes to
prepare for a trade show, travel to it, freight the booth there, be
away from the office for 6 to 8 days (losing valuable productive
time), and standing in one spot for 3-4 days to hand out catalogs
(that could be mailed) and not write any orders -- is a HUGE waste
of time and money.
My business partner's attitude is that if our
company is not exhibiting, buyers will assume we are out of business
and stop buying our products from our distributors. So we drag
ourselves every year to what has become a "torture."
I think that if you offered $500 to attendees
and ask them if "so and so" was at the trade show (without looking
in the directory), most would not be able to do so.
The attendees gravitate to the booths like
Provo that are giving away prizes hourly. They will stop at other
booths in between while waiting for the next free prize. Maybe my
booth will be lucky, maybe not.
In the past, we would do 500-600
make-it/take-its, with people waiting 6 or more deep to get a
seat. We did approx 144 this year and had to trip people in the
aisle to sit down.
I found this show to be a ghost town. In the
"good old days" the attendees could hardly walk down the aisles as
the traffic was so dense.
I heard someone say that the way of the future
is "Virtual Trade Shows." Sign me up now. 24/7, all year-round trade
show online. It's way past due. It has to be more cost effective and
will reach all interested buyers/people, not just the ones who are
lucky enough to reside in CA. – Syndey St. James, Armour
We need CHA to lead.
I agree the topic of the continuing viability
of trade shows is quite interesting as well as controversial,
depending on what side of the aisle you are standing on. I attended
my first CHA in 1994 as a store owner; since that time I have been
as a designer, teacher, manufacturer, and show coordinator. In my
current position I work with approximately 35 independent reps
across the U.S. and Canada, and for the first time ever I had
several who did not attend the show. A couple of years ago this
would have been unheard of, but based on the feedback I received
from these reps as well as my own personal accounts in regards to
this year’s show, it was not surprising.
Stores did not attend for two reasons, cost
and/or the fact that the show was being held in Los Angeles.
Independent shop owners were afraid; LA does not have a good
reputation, and though I touted how this area was different and had
been totally refurbished with upscale restaurants, plenty of
security, etc., it did not make any difference. They could not
separate in their minds the difference between south central and
downtown no matter what I or anyone else said.
CHA might have saved a few bucks for
themselves, but at what cost to the exhibitors? When you can look
down an aisle the first day of the show and cannot see a single
person other than exhibitors, you know it's bad, really bad.
Second, the costs were prohibitive at $200+ for
a room at the host hotel and few if any of the more economically
priced alternatives within walking distance, as there are in
Anaheim. Transportation was a nightmare; I heard numerous complaints
about shuttles not showing up or just driving past hotels when there
were passengers waiting.
Nothing was close by, LA Live was ½ mile away
and when the average crafter is 50+ years old, this does not make
for a conducive situation.
CHA is my only opportunity to see and build
upon my networks of friends and colleagues within the industry. With
everyone so spread out, the host hotel a city block away instead of
just across the street, and problems with transportation, there was
never a convenient time or place to gather after the show. As
someone who has been in the industry for several years, you realize
the importance of these after-hour gatherings. Sometimes we do as
much business after the show as we do during, and this year that was
a huge missed opportunity.
As for the International Event, unfortunately
it was a waste of time. The atmosphere was totally inappropriate for
a networking event; the music was so loud you couldn’t carry on a
conversation. The poor British woman who tried to give her welcoming
speech, no one could hear her and half the attendees never quit
talking because they never realized there was anything going on --
and yet the music just kept on playing. Were the board members in
attendance oblivious? They had to have been.
True, the need for trade shows is waning with
the evolution of social media and advanced communications, and that
we cannot change. However, we can embrace these changes and evolve
with them, not as independent factions (manufacturer, retailer,
etc.), but as a united industry. I think there will always be a need
for a trade show, whether it be at a physical location or a virtual
production but we need CHA to lead us there.
Unfortunately with one poor decision after
another -- Orlando, LA, the Craft Super Shows with their negative
impact on the local stores -- I do not believe that the current
leaders within CHA are the ones that should be piloting us into the
Mike, these opinions and comments are strictly
my own personal insights and are not reflective of the company;
therefore I request you keep them confidential and anonymous. –
One large show?
The ideal would be for all the organizations to
work together to produce one large show annually. All the exhibitors
and buyers would then be able to mix and mingle at the one event --
perhaps make it a little longer to allow for the time and size, but
economies of scale must result.
Regarding the comment about vendors shipping
early: simply make a sticker to attach to the order with a
disclaimer: if shipped before x, payment will not be made until y.
then it's the vendor’s choice as to what to do. Often it makes sense
to ship early as the customer is guaranteed the goods and they may
even be able to sell them earlier and need to replenish. – Peter
Golding, Golding’s Craft Supplies
CHA needs to consider rather significant change
for their show(s) to remain relevant for all attendees, including:
1. Exhibition days (no more than 2-2 1/2
days -- greater time/expense efficiency for participating vendors).
It’s almost a week time commitment (including set-up/tear-down) that
delivers two days of real productivity for attending vendors.
2. While CHA does a good job with
member educational benefits, vendors go to the show "to be seen and
heard," and there needs to a better means to promote
vendor/retailer/distributor interaction vs. “setting appointments”
or short “drive-by’s.”
For example, the National Association of Chain
Drug Stores has a "Meet the Market" forum --something akin to speed
dating before the show starts, allowing vendors to showcase/present
new items and get feedback from key retail executives. (If CHA has
such a program, I am unaware of it).
ECRM's platform guarantees vendors to meet all
retailer/distributor attendees for 20-minute meetings. This is a
category-specific forum which makes it a complex idea for CHA, but
nonetheless creates value. (ECRM also worked with the Toy Industry
Assn. this past year to deploy a similar platform at the Dallas Toy
3. I am certain most vendors attend
trade shows in hopes for that 1-2-1 opportunity with more senior
retail levels, to share their latest innovation or strategy. At this
year's show, senior exec's from the big retailers didn't seem as
visible, mitigating the opportunity for more versatile feedback or
interaction with these key execs. I realize this is challenging
given the limited number of execs in ratio to attendees.
4. It is my personal hope that trade
shows don’t become a dinosaur, as all industries need personal
interaction and networking amongst industry associates (competitors,
non-competitors) to stay vibrant/vital. A trade show and industry
association could/should provide that link. – Mac Ritchie,
A designer speaks.
I know that it's hard for me to get [to the
show] because I'm a one-person operation. But I feel like if I don't
show my face, teach seminars, hold classes, promo my product, and
get out there, my brand will be history.
It all comes down to personal contact, and you
can't get that over the Internet -- although the really good people
come close! I have to look at the value I receive from the show. For
me, even though it's tough, I go because if I don't, I am missing
the next trend, an introduction to someone I need to talk to,
interaction with my designer friends, etc. For me, attending CHA is
totally worth it and necessary.
I was down in my License & Design booth and
didn't get upstairs to see how things were going except for about 15
minutes a day. I am taking my product and trying to place it in the
gift and stationery markets, so I was downstairs talking with VIP's
from those industries. -- Designer
Two sides to the story.
On the one hand, smaller attendance means more
time to actually talk to and educate the buyers. For small
exhibitors, it doesn't take a lot to pay back show costs. I had the
best first day of any show I've attended in 8 years (but
surprisingly, also the worst third day).
I think education about our products and making
long-term contacts are key reasons to attend a show -- I am not
talking of the education workshops and classes, which I find too
expensive for this small manufacturer to justify. I'm talking about
showing and teaching why our products are needed by retailer's
customers. There's nothing like seeing the surprise and jaw
dropping, the nodding, and even the excitement as retailers bring
fellow retailers over to watch.
Surprisingly, I still met many retailers in the
airport, the hotel, and the social events who did not make it to my
booth and knew nothing of my products. Does this mean they came with
an agenda and didn't make it to visit their unknowns? I would think
that's a prime reason to attend a trade show: find companies and
products you never knew existed. Find those that don't advertise and
aren't available in big box stores. Show their customers back home
that they are out scouting for products and that those customers can
feel reassured that they can depend upon their favorite retailer to
bring them the must-have, but possibly little-known items.
On the other hand, when I had a chance to leave
my booth and I looked around, I saw many of the big booths quiet and
the aisles empty, and I knew it was not a good sign for the industry
or perhaps for the future of the show.
And while I found most of the CHA staff to be
very friendly and supportive, this year I encountered policies and
procedures that were actually hurtful to my business. It made me
wonder for the first time if CHA really has all its members'
interests at heart, if I'm really being represented by this
organization, and if exhibiting is essential and worthwhile. I
personally know many exhibitors who have decided against it --some
who formerly had large real estate at the winter shows. I guess time
will tell. -- Amy Roszak, ScraPerfect
Helping the little guy.
(Note: The following is from an exec
whose pr/marketing firm, in addition to needlework clients, has
clients in the hospitality, landscape, and pest management
industries. Therefore he has seen a wide variety of trade shows in
Personally, my opinion of trade shows (and I'm
going across all industries, including the professional pest
management industry -- talk about some weird swag to take home
sometimes!) is that it benefits the smallest exhibitors the most.
The big companies are going to have their standard customers and,
just like you alluded to in that story about the four competitors
and one PR person, go out of a sense of responsibility to attend,
not for any real life-changing experience.
But for a new company just starting out, or a
small company that has little budget for much else throughout the
year, I believe the right-target trade show can make a world of
At the TNNA Columbus show last summer, a small
exhibitor was trying to expand her relatively successful hair
accessory company to the yarn market (her hair pins double as
beautifully made shawl pins). She had a steady stream of interest
from shop owners, and the momentum has continued since then. She is
enthusiastic about exhibiting in June again this year. (She missed
the Long Beach show because of conflicting commitments, but is
thinking it might be a good show to attend in 2012, if only to have
an excuse to visit a son in California.)
I'm not saying that it doesn't make any sense for a large or
established company to exhibit -- when they have a new product or
program to share, or if they know they can get more done in six
meetings in a three-day period with their top customers than if they
had to schedule those meetings over a six-week period, etc.
But for the reasons you so eloquently pointed
out, trade shows likely aren't as important to them as they are to
the little guy. The problem is, without the big guys' presence (and
subsequent sponsorship of a given coffee break, keynote speaker,
etc.), the show goes down the drain.
I'm interested to see the demographics of the
folks who have given you feedback. Does it line up that the under-40
crowd (like me) see social media and online trade shows
overshadowing in-person shows? Do smaller businesses hold onto the
trade show concept more than big guns, who could get face time with
their customers more easily by just hosting an open house (and thus
controlling the message better than if they were alongside their
competitors at a convention center)? – Marketing Professional
(Comment: No, it doesn't seem to be an
under/over-40 issue as much as it is new, small companies vs. large,
established ones. At the CHA show, the exhibitors downstairs (where
the new exhibitors were located) seemed much happier about the show
than the vendors upstairs.
One particular problem for new companies: how
to get the word out? It's not so bad for scrapbook, art materials,
and needlework companies because they have trade magazines in which
they can advertise. But craft companies only have CHA's Portfolio.
Consequently, trade shows may be more important than ever.).)
Too much at once for independents.
Some of the forces at work may be hard to
overcome. I can only hope for a strong trade show that allows us to
meet face to face with our best customers, designers, vendors, and
My preference is for only one CHA per year, as
it is a major expense and I would prefer for my key people to spend
less time preparing, attending, and recovering from the shows. I
also think two shows per year makes each show smaller, as some
Midwesterners may only choose the summer show and vice-versa. Also,
I think it splits the international attendance a bit.
If we have two shows per year, they should cut
the winter show down by one day.
I think it is a no-brainer that companies will
launch product mid-shows. The independents cannot manage their
cash-flow. They are pressured to purchase all the new stuff (on
discount) at show time and they don't have time to merchandise and
educate properly when they receive new product from 10 manufacturers
all at once.
You mentioned the part technology has been
playing with videos and online presentations. Will be fun to watch
how things evolve. – Major Scrapbook Vendor
Larry Olliges' response.
Thanks for sharing the responses of your
readers concerning the future of trade shows. The responses you
received from your readers are similar to input the Board received
at the 2011 CHA Winter Show. While the economy, changes in the
retail landscape, and consolidation in the vendor community have all
affected our show (and many other trade shows), your poll shows 70%
of the respondents still think the CHA trade show is important. Our
most recent survey of the members showed that the trade shows were
the most important benefit the association provides for them.
As you know from your tenure on the CHA Board,
the winter and summer trade shows are permanent fixtures on the
agenda at CHA board meetings. The suggestions the members have
shared with you have all been considered and discussed at some point
in the last several years. We will be discussing the trade shows
again at our May board meeting and I will add the comments you have
received to the information we share with the board members. We
appreciate the concerns of both you and your readers regarding the
trade shows. The shows will remain an extremely important forum for
the industry and the CHA board and staff are reviewing current
trends to determine how the shows will evolve for the future. Rest
assured we are sensitive to the challenges and concerns about the
shows and we are committed to the membership that we will continue
to develop programs and ideas to make these shows the “can’t miss”
events of their year.
From a personal perspective, the CHA trade show
(and all the other shows and markets the staff of Dee’s attends each
year) is a time of rejuvenation. Each show offers the opportunity to
interact with vendors and fellow retailers to find new trends, new
merchandise, and new marketing ideas. The shows also offer a time
away from the day-to-day operations of a business, allowing our
management team and buyers the time to relax and just work on making
our business better for the customers. Every time we consider not
attending a show or market I remember the advice from my father in
law, Bob Vogelsberg, "The day you decide not to attend a trade show
is the day before you decide to close your doors and go out of
business.” (Editor's note: Bob was the founder of Dee's and a
genuine pioneer of the industry, serving on the ACCI board of
directors in the early days of the association.)
Trade shows and markets are always the single
best source of inspiration for our business, better than any
website, magazine, or catalog. As long as Dee’s is in business we
will attend as many trade shows as is necessary to give our
customers the best retail experience they can find in our city. –