Where Are Trade Shows Going?
In our first article on What’s Happening with Trade Shows, we covered the SAAC Show, a strong regional association event, in Long Beach, Calif. There were a couple of anonymous comments bemoaning that the article featured links to product videos from some interesting items we found at the show.
Strange as it may seem to these posters, one of the primary goals of a trade show is to see new products. I personally heard from a few people who loved this piece. They appreciated seeing some of these items that they weren’t aware of. Last I checked we are in the promotional products business.
Continuing on with this topic, I talked with a few show planners, suppliers and distributors about trade shows to get their perspective. Here are some thoughts they shared on the challenges these events face.
There is a need to think outside the box with these events to make them culturally relevant and sales generating for both suppliers and distributors.
Statistics show that trade show attendance is dropping and the expectations for exhibitors is changing. Is small the new normal? Are shows losing people because their current structure isn’t fulfilling the current needs anymore?
Attendee behavior is changing. People are less motivated to stay to the end of a show day for a closing celebration. Standing in a line for fried finger foods and a drink is less is attractive than it once was. Travel costs are rising. Hotels average $200 a night. If a company can save a day by not staying late or coming in early, that makes good business sense.
The trade show format hasn’t changed in years. It’s typically based on preshow education and straight aisles. Many exhibitors still ask if they can scan your badge as their primary connection strategy. How effective is that? Does the show format need to change? If so, how should the needs of attendees and exhibitors be reflected in a modified trade show format?
Generational differences are a factor. Some age groups connect differently than others. Features and benefits may be more important than seeing the newest stuff to some. This challenge of course extends beyond trade shows. Communication styles are changing, but our industry may not quickly be adapting to these changes.
Who wants to be the organization that takes a risk to change how a trade show is done? What if there weren’t all straight rows? What if the trade show took a midday break for education, team-building or whatever? Of course that would be unthinkable! Suppliers are paying for booth time or are they paying to build business relationships? What about shorter shows? Can a two-day show be done in one day?
Chances are things will stay the same. Any changes, good or bad, will be hard for organizations to make, even if the market will benefit from something different.
People complain about the number of shows and the quality of prospects. I understand that and it’s a valid point.
Suppliers and distributors only get out of a show what they put into it. Maximizing results for a supplier requires more than just setting up a booth. For a distributor, it’s about coming to the show with specific goals. Savvy distributors will use a trade show as a marketing tool ]asking their clients about upcoming projects. This is a win for exhibiting suppliers and distributors. The show then becomes a sales generating event. What a novel concept! I think that’s what it’s supposed to be.
Some exhibitors working booths are better trained than others. It’s been my personal experience that many suppliers are more prepared to simply show their products than provide marketing solutions that distributors can share with their clients.
It’s difficult to calculate ROI on a trade show. Some suppliers follow up with prospects and others don’t. What makes a successful trade show for a supplier? Badge scans or business connections?
A smaller, boutique event, with large distributors is a business model that is working. These are not really trade shows in the traditional sense, but meet the same need. Here, large distributor buyers connect with suppliers in an intimate setting at very nice locations. Conversations may focus very little on product and more on enhancing the business relationship. It’s a win-win situation. Traditional trade shows seem to focus more on products and less on the relationship. The environment at a “traditional” trade show, however, is not conducive to achieving that goal and the level of buyer is different. That’s just the way it is.
FreePromoTips.com supports a few key trade shows with our reporting. It’s beneficial to see what’s going on at these events. A full report with video on the 2014 Specialty Advertising Association of California (SAAC) Show can be seen in this FreePromoTips e-Newsletter. If you are not receiving these twice-a-month content-driven newsletters, I invite you to opt-in at FreePromoTips.com. We will continue to cover industry events along with our usual business-focused information.
I believe this points to an opportunity for regional associations to create quality events that engage both suppliers and distributors. The SAAC Show is a strong regional event. My experience is that those who are active in their regional association tend to be more success-driven and understand the value of building relationships. Regional events typically have good suppliers and distributors involved.
Not everyone can participate in regional associations for a variety of reasons, but those who can will benefit from not only the more intimate trade shows, but also from education and networking events as well.
No one can definitively know where trade shows are going, but I do believe they will continue to be an effective way to nurture business. The marketplace will determine how they will evolve.
Jeff Solomon, MAS, is affiliated with a Top 10 distributor company and also publishes FreePromoTips.com, a popular industry resource. The FreePromoTips.com website and twice-a-month e-newsletters are packed with beneficial information. On the website, you can opt-in to receive these informative twice-a-month e-newsletters! Check out what’s new in the GP2: Good Products—Good Prices section of the site. Take advantage of free end-user safe product videos you can share from the YourPromotionSolution.com website. Like the FreePromoTips.com page on Facebook, follow it on Twitter and Pinterest, and connect with Jeff on LinkedIn.