The value of trade shows to the retail industry
As long as I can remember, there has been a debate about the value of trade shows, conventions and conferences to the retailing industry. Twenty or so years ago, one prominent food association show attracted as many as 35,000 attendees and most major food manufacturers exhibited. Consolidation, other ways of reaching customers, and a failure of trade show execs to listen to constituents very nearly led to the show’s demise.
Today, the show has rebounded a little, though it is a fraction of its former self. Even retail technology shows have gone under, failing to adapt to changing attendee needs and a fast moving tech world. Yet, in the e-commerce space, there are currently at least four major events annually (IRCE, Shop.org’s Summit, eTail West, and eTail East) so it is possible to be successful with large trade shows, even though potential attendees have many easier ways to get information, mostly online.
My own view is that trade shows still have a lot of value, if done right. Having attended hundreds of events over the years, here are a few suggestions for attendees, exhibitors, and conference producers:
For attendees and potential attendees:
- It’s OK to be selective about what you attend, but you need to get out there several times a year, to see what you are missing while chained to your desk.
- Soak it in. You and/or your company paid good money for you to attend, yet many convention goers pay more attention to their smartphones than they do sessions or exhibits.
- Keep your eyes and ears open. With the right attitude, you could learn something that will make you more successful.
- Take notes and follow up on them.
- Put someone in charge of your booth who will keep those staffing it alert, engaged, and friendly. Many companies waste their money with booths staffed by bored individuals, or groups of individuals who spend their time looking at their phones or talking to each other.
- Educate all your booth staffers so they can converse intelligently about your products and services and their role in the industry, instead of serving as highly paid badge scanners.
- Put a little creativity into your booth design and make it a fun and enlightening place for prospects and customers to visit.
For event producers:
- Actively seek feedback from attendees and exhibitors and respond to it.
- Can the celebrity speakers. One, or even two inspirational talks may be OK, but industry gurus can teach your attendees a lot more.
- Encourage speakers to take questions. Too many prominent speakers take only canned questions or none at all.
- Reconsider your reliance on “pay to play” (charging vendors to present) as a major part of your revenue stream. Are paid presentations the best way to make sure your content is top-notch?
Do you feel retail trade shows and conferences continue to be valuable? What advice do you have for those attending, exhibiting, and producing shows?