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Challenges, problems, and triumphs -- from a manufacturer's perspective.

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Do Trade Shows Reflect the State of the Industry?

And if so, are we in trouble?

Name Withheld/Mike Hartnett (March 21, 2005)

Just a few more thoughts on CHA:

Perhaps exhibitors who have had several dwindling shows prior to CHA never exhibited at CHA this year. (I know of two competitors who were NOT there.) By their absence they "voted" for how poor the show would be for them. Some answers for this industry may be in who was NOT at the show (buyers and sellers), rather than who was.

We did ACCI for years, starting in 1989. For about the first five years we did it, it was actually a better order writing show than HIA. Then for several years they were about equal. Then scrapbooking and professional crafters arrived at ACCI; we began to see the orders drop and HIA was our big show. We stopped doing ACCI three years ago because it had become pointless. Many of our customers (the small independent craft shops, small chains, and international buyers) were no longer going. These were the customers whom we could count on like clockwork to order all our new things at the show. It had been a money losing proposition for us for three years prior to that.

I started seeing the same trend with HIA about 3 years ago. At this last show we saw exactly two of our "regular" small customers. I did some telephoning and itís not that they didnít stop by our booth, they werenít there at all. Reasons varied from "too expensive"and "too far away" to "we donít bother with shows anymore; we can see what we need from reps." HmmmÖ

Many years ago there were also all the regional shows, which we did. Those began to disappear. Weíve dropped ACCI because our buyers arenít there. Now, it looks like our buyers are not coming to CHA either. Do we do any shows any more? I can see the major buyers at their offices any time, for far less money than doing shows.

I think there are changes going on in this industry that arenít really being seen or questioned. Shows used to be a fair reflection of the industry; Iím not at all sure that is true anymore. Everyone talks about scrapbooking because it is so visible, but if those small, independent craft stores arenít going to shows, is it because the shows are no longer truly general craft shows and the stores arenít scrapbooking stores? Are general crafts really alive? Why or why not? Will there be a "crafts" industry in five years or just a few specialized areas that have big manufacturers behind them that were able to survive?

Mike Hartnett answers.

I think trade shows -- and trade magazines, for that matter -- are still a reflection of the state of the industry. If you accept that theory, then the recent CHA show was a poor one for you for the following reasons:

1. There aren't as many small craft stores as there used to be. That's why the regional trade shows Ė and the regional distributors Ė are no longer around. Some retailers who told you the show was too expensive or that they could see new products when reps visit may be having cash flow problems.

2. There aren't as many new products in the "general crafts" category as there used to be, but that's due to so many vendors chasing after memory/paper. So for some, it might not be worth the money.

3. Some retailers who did attend the CHA show have dropped your category to make more room for memory, beads, and yarn. That's one reason why the attendance in Atlanta was larger than you "felt"; some craft retailers who used to stop at your booth no longer carry your category. Squeezing the size of slower-selling categories is one thing, but eliminating them entirely seems short-sighted to me. But that seems to be the reality for some.

Whether we like all of it or not, the trade shows are still reflecting the industry as it is today.

(Note: Any thoughts on the subject? The vendor asked, "Will there be a 'crafts' industry in five years, or just a few specialized areas that have big manufacturers behind them that were able to survive?" What do you think? Email your thoughts to mike@clnonline.com. To read previous "Vinny" columns, click on the titles in the right-hand column.)



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