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What Is the Future for Trade Shows?
Surely they will change – but how?
by Staff Report (February 15, 2010)
(Note: The Feb. 1 issue of CLN included a
commentary questioning the long-term viability of trade shows as
they exist today. Below are some of the readers' responses.)
A Virtual Trade Show
The Needlework Show (http://needleshow.com)
debuted in 2001. We received a LOT of negativity and complaints that
first year. So many people in the industry were
"threatened" by the Internet and hoped, I think, that if
they ignored it, it'd go away.
Essentially, we've tried to structure the show as much like a
"physical" show as possible. Each vendor has a
"booth" with up to 30 products displayed. Each layout is
the same, but there's a lot of flexibility within the programming
parameters. Some vendors choose to use their page for advertising
only; others put a lot of detail descriptions with each product; and
others simply show pictures and that's it. But because of the
consistency between pages, it's very easy for viewers to navigate
the show and place orders.
We also try to incorporate some "fun" features into the
show: door prizes, puzzles, games, complimentary patterns. We also
have the advantage, unlike physical shows, of being able to include
the consumer in the show with "general viewing" pages.
These pages don't show any of the wholesale information provided
during the regular show, but they link back to the exhibitor's
website and provide a great advertising resource throughout the
To see vendor pages from last year, visit http://needleshow.com/cgi-bin/2009.pl.
Of course, the show can't compete with the
"face-to-face" interaction that is provided in a physical
show, and we lose out on some of the advantages of seeing a model in
person, but considering the ease of the show and the economics of
it, I'm really surprised that someone hasn't tried to
"copy" it yet.
When we first started in 2001, the show had about $10,000 in
sales. Last year, each show had over $100K in sales. We've grown
from having a "regular" server, to now needing a dedicated
one to handle the traffic from the show. I hope/expect that this
trend will continue. – Cindy Ward
A Vendor's Request
I was happy to see your article on the future of trade shows. I
have been trying to tell TNNA that they need to add one virtual
trade show per year to their trade show offering. Why have I been
preaching this? Because as an exhibitor, I know that only
approximately 20-25% of all knitting shop owners attend the physical
shows that are conducted each year. That means that 75 - 80% do not
attend. In fact, when I look at a list of my largest customers, very
few if any attend these shows.
The reasons they do not attend are many: too busy, too expensive,
too much time required, away from the shop for too long,
We could, as an industry, get to many more wholesale customers by
offering them a virtual show. Instead of only having only 20-25% of
the industry's retailers participate in the trade show, we could
double or triple that participation rate. This would expose more of
the shop owners to "new ideas" and "new
products" in a more timely manner. It would also increase the
exhibitors' potential for generating revenue making trade shows more
I could envision various types of virtual trade show
environments. For example, a virtual trade show could run
concurrently with the actual show so that all of the prep work down
by exhibitors could also be presented to the virtual attendees
(those that decided not to physically attend). It is also possible
to run a virtual trade show at a period of time between the physical
Finally, the virtual trade show could also run perpetually where
a shop owner could log into a site that had all of the exhibitors'
virtual booths online all the time. This is different than the
exhibitor's website because it would be positioned inside the
virtual trade show where the attendee could view many booths at the
same virtual venue.
I see the industry's reluctance to embrace the concept of virtual
trade shows in a manner similar to what we all saw in the 1990's
when the Internet was coming up. Businesses said the Internet would
never be something that they would use. Ironically, now they could
not function without it.
We need to pressure TNNA and others to consider the use and role
of virtual trade shows in supplementing the standard trade show
venues. As exhibitors, retailers, and even the sponsoring
organizations themselves, see just how successful and efficient that
virtual trade shows can be, they will come to accept them which will
be ultimately good for everyone in our industry. Including all of
our retail customers. – Bob Shroyer, Nancy's Knit Knacks
We limit ourselves to [TNNA's] Nashville and St. Charles hotel
shows. This venue remains the best cost/retailer exposure for us. We
see no marketing or financial benefit to participating in
convention-style shows. Just aren't enough existing or new retailers
to justify the expense incurred at such shows.
We've monitored the on-line needlework shows. While they show
some measure of success, we believe that they will remain for the
foreseeable future a side venue – at best. From a time and
efficiency (and probably $) standpoints, we remain convinced that
the best approach remains face-to-face exposure in a downsized show
environment. Of course, companies will start producing videos and
uploading them for their customers to view. Our thought is that the
notion of a retailer sitting at his/her computer to view perhaps
hundreds of videos to replace a trade show is not realistic.
Something terribly plastic about that scenario!
Our 2¢! Hate to see us disconnect more from our customer
base." – John Caldera, Just Nan
This is still a "high touch" business. Michaels may be
able to see/buy online, but their poor buying habits and
less-than-inspirational presentations to consumers ("Oh that's
50% off, but what is it, Ma, and what the heck do I do with
it?") is the reason we can stay in business and thrive with
them at our front and back doors.
Much of our inspirations come from our ability to touch, feel,
and talk about it at our trade shows. Did you see the Vintaj booth
[at the CHA winter show]? 20-24 people at the demo counter all day,
every day, just pounding antique-looking brass with hammers. Ask
them if they would have sold that product if they hadn't gotten
those hammers in people's hands." – Bob Ferguson,
(Note: Want to add to the conversation? Email your
thoughts to CLN at firstname.lastname@example.org.)