They can be as modest as a few dozen tables set up in a hotel ballroom, or as elaborate as two-week extravaganzas at giant German facilities, drawing hundreds of thousands of people and eating up million-dollar budgets.

They're trade shows, and they inspire a full spectrum of praise and condemnation, kudos and kvetches aplenty, sometimes from the same people. In fact, some industry marketing managers will tell you in one sentence that they're sick of doing so many shows, and in the next that they're always looking out for more good ones.

“There are too many shows, not just in our industry, but in all industries,” says Martin Michaud, vice president of Montreal-based MDG. “The trend started about 10 years ago, but it's been growing incredibly in the last five years or so.”

Vendors prize shows as opportunities to demonstrate new products, showcase equipment that's too big for the sales rep to lug around, meet new prospects, and enjoy face time with current customers. And there's nothing like an expo for showing prospects things “they have to see to believe,” Michaud says.

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“There are too many trade shows, not just in our industry, but in all industries.”
Martin Michaud

Yet exhibitors commonly pay $25, $30, or more per square foot for booth space, and that buys bare concrete floor. Add in the cost of designing and building the booth, shipping products, installing the display in the exhibit hall, and putting staff onsite for two weeks or more…all riding in taxis, eating in restaurants, and sleeping in hotels. It adds up to a major expense vendors don't want to incur any more often than necessary.

Michaud cites the proliferation of “eastern” and “western” editions of shows with the same sponsor as contributing to the glut of exhibitions. “This year we're doing 23 shows worldwide, with our dealers as well as on our own,” he notes. “For four or five years now, we've been doing 20 or more shows a year. We're going to look at it very closely this year.” The company's smallest show booth is 10' × 20' and its largest, which it mounts at LDI, is 30' × 30'.

[Editor's note: Entertainment Design and Lighting Dimensions International are both owned by Intertec Publishing.]

More Markets, More Shows

Another factor feeding this situation is MDG's involvement in a number of quite different marketplaces. In addition to its work in the entertainment industry, the company sells fog-generating systems used to train firefighters — a specialty that brings its own roster of trade events.

An expanding business scope is often a prime reason companies find their calendars filling up with trade shows. “I don't think there's been an explosion of trade shows, but there has certainly been an expansion of what companies in the entertainment lighting business are doing,” explains Nils Thorjussen, vice president/marketing at High End Systems.

High End is among a number of lighting companies looking at the architectural lighting field, a marketing focus that adds a substantial list of architecture and construction industry shows to those the company must consider.

Christie Digital Systems (formerly Electrohome, Ltd.) is a major manufacturer of large-venue projectors using Texas Instruments' Digital Light Processing (DLP®) technology. Serving this market takes Christie to shows like InfoComm and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) every year, but this show list has also been growing, says marketing VP Rocco Fondacaro.

“Everything used to be so separate,” he comments. “Computers, control systems, projectors, were all separate businesses. But the convergence of these technologies means going to more shows, and shows you probably wouldn't have considered before.”

Christie's “vertical” market orientation means it reaches out to such specialized audiences as digital cinema, theme parks, conference rooms, events staging, houses of worship, and others with targeted promotion programs. Often these efforts include very specialized shows.

Fondacaro says Christie is also doing 23 shows this year, including events managed by the International Communications Industries Association (ICIA) in Shanghai, China and Cologne, Germany; the giant CeBIT show in Hannover, Germany, and many others. And while “there have been some shows we've backed away from,” Fondacaro also says Christie is on the lookout for new events to join, for example in “immersive simulations.”

One company actively adding shows to its schedule is Rose Brand, where marketing manager Lisa Gwirtzman notes, “We've been getting involved in some new markets. We've added shows, and we've devoted more energy to expanding these target audiences. Shows are important when you want to establish yourself as a player in a specific market.”

Bad Timing

James Godbehear, marketing coordinator in the UK for Klark Teknik, laments that not only are there too many shows, but “they're all too close together. The most basic American and European events seem to clash.”

For example, this year's Frankfurt Musikmesse overlapped the National Systems Contractors Association event in Orlando. “Both are our core shows and markets, so we have to split our people,” Godbehear says.

February 2000 also saw a direct conflict between the National Association of Music Makers (NAMM) event in Los Angeles and major events in both London and Paris, and last September's IBC show in Amsterdam overlapped the PLASA show in London. In April 2000, Musikmesse went head to head with NAB in Las Vegas.

This year, Klark Teknik is skipping NAMM. “There was just too much going on. We got to a point where our people would say, ‘No, no, I don't want to go to any more shows!’” Godbehear says.

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“Our industry is not as large as people may lead you to think. It's all going to start weeding out.”
Bob Kliegl

“Only recently have there been too many shows,” says Bob Kliegl, president of the Altman Agency of Yonkers, NY. “But our industry is not as large as people may lead you to believe. It's all going to start weeding out. In the last couple of years, the industry has grown so tremendously that a lot of new trade shows have popped up. Now that things have tightened up, I think you'll see people scaling back. We know what shows have produced work for us and which ones haven't.”

For Altman, a trimmed-down 2001 show schedule includes only three events: LightFair for the architectural market, London's PLASA show, and, of course, LDI. “There are probably about 30 shows I could go into if I wanted to,” Kliegl says.

Cutting down the show calendar is often easier said than done. “When you have established a presence at a show, you're afraid to cut it out,” says Gwirtzman. While Rose Brand handles all the “extras” that contribute to show success, such as preshow mailings and vigorous followup, “I still don't think you can really gauge the response adequately,” she adds.

Godbehear fears that “if you don't turn up for a show, people ask, ‘What's going on? Are you going bust?’”

Despite the complaints, tight schedules, and high costs, the current lineup of trade shows seems to be here to stay. “More than one trade show is too many from a manufacturer's point of view,” says Thorjussen, adding, “But they exist, so you've just got to go with the flow.”