Fewer, Bigger trade Shows Still a Good Idea

WHEN TALKING about trade shows, consolidation is an issue that manufacturers and wholesalers have been advocating for more than a decade. Trade shows are expensive, too many of them exist and they add costs in the supply chain as products move from factory through warehouse to jobsite. As mentioned in this space almost a year ago, many contractors are not particularly well served by fewer and bigger

WHEN TALKING about trade shows, consolidation is an issue that manufacturers and wholesalers have been advocating for more than a decade. Trade shows are expensive, too many of them exist and they add costs in the supply chain as products move from factory through warehouse to jobsite.

As mentioned in this space almost a year ago, many contractors are not particularly well served by fewer and bigger trade shows unless these conventions carry with them a strong educational component. If they cannot bring something substantive back to help them run their businesses better, these contractors find it tough to justify the expense and time of traveling to a trade show outside their region.

Still, with all the talk about consolidating trade shows, how do you explain the National Hardware Show? Here was a once-great trade show that used to draw thousands of people and millions of dollars to Chicago every August.

With the consolidation of hardware stores and home centers in recent years, fewer major manufacturers from our industry saw the need of exhibiting at the Hardware Show. Just about the last of the large power tool companies closed down its huge booth in 2002, opting instead this year for a press event off the show floor.

I attended the second day of this year’s Hardware Show with other members of CONTRACTOR’s staff. I don’t recall ever attending any large, national trade show with so few people in the aisles. (And that includes our industry’s last North American Expo, which occupied the same convention hall in 2000.) I spoke with a couple exhibitors who told me that the first day of the Hardware Show had been pretty much the same as the second.

For years, we’ve been telling manufacturers that the way to end the proliferation of trade shows is to stop attending so many of them. The manufacturers know this, of course, but they also want to support the different segments of the industry that buy their products. And they realize that it’s difficult to skip shows when their competitors are there, pointing out their absence.

So, faced with declining numbers of big-name exhibitors and people in the aisles, what does the Hardware Show decide to do? It creates a second hardware show. Next spring, two national hardware shows will take place less than a month apart, one in Chicago and the other in Las Vegas.

These are entirely separate shows because the national association of hardware retailers and the exhibition company that had organized the one show split apart. Both groups claim that manufacturers will support their shows as exhibitors next year. And both plan to beef up their seminar program to attract more people to their show who are not exhibitors, media or from the immediate area.

The exhibitors I spoke with at this year’s hardware show, however, speculated that both 2004 shows will turn out to be largely regional in terms of who actually will attend. Each will draw primarily from within driving distance of Chicago or Las Vegas.

Some observers even believe that this may be where trade shows are heading. Despite all the talk about consolidation, they say, trade shows will continue to proliferate with the big conventions moving to different locations each year, attracting most attendees from the surrounding area — just as many of them do now.

We’ll watch with interest what happens with the competing hardware shows in 2004. We’re much more concerned, however, with trade shows that have a more direct impact on our industry, especially ISH North America. This year’s ISH-NA takes place Oct. 1-3 in Las Vegas.

As we’ve commented previously, the organizers of ISH-NA will have to continue to try to make the show a bigger event by having other groups join them. The Radiant Panel Association, for example, will fold its Radiant Expo into next year’s ISH-NA in Boston.

ISH-NA also will have to offer a strong educational program to make the trip worthwhile for contractors, wholesalers and engineers who live outside the area surrounding the show.

Only then will ISH-NA approach the scale of its German cousin and avoid the risk of being primarily a regional event. While local shows might be more convenient for individual contractors and some other show visitors, a strong national event is what’s better for the entire industry.