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EDITOR'S notebook

October 2005
A New Era for Industry Shows?

With all of the industry hype leading up to the PRINT 05 & CONVERTING 05 trade show in Chicago last month, it's not surprising that the international event couldn't fulfill everyone's expectations from the overall attendance and sales standpoints. Many of the more than 950 exhibitors, filling nearly 750,000 square feet of exhibit space, went to great lengths—and expense—to capture attention with impressive booth designs, large-screen video displays and regularly scheduled live equipment demonstrations.

But, despite a reported 62,000 attendees, the show seemed to start slowly during its extended weekend opening before gaining strength the following Monday and Tuesday. Some could argue that was because the PRINT show hosted crowds spread over seven days, rather than the typical four day-run for a regular GRAPH EXPO. Or maybe it was because the event covered three separate show floors rather than one. Adding to the sense of light traffic was the fact that the aisles were spacious and many booths spanned more square footage, given the show's significance as the world's largest commercial printing and converting event scheduled in 2005.

Several exhibitors were also quick to offer the old adage of quality over quantity. Although not as many existing customers and key prospects showed up as originally expected, those who did attend came armed with specific shopping lists and, in turn, were poised to pull the trigger on major deals. As such, those on the attendee list constituted the key decision-makers within their respective organizations. Likewise, if a shop wasn't seriously in the market for any new gear, management didn't invest the time away from the office or the dollars to come to McCormick Place.

I suggest, however, there's a growing shift in the role that trade shows play in our industry—even the international ones. For one, given the high cost of business travel coupled with leaner employee bases left to run the plant, fewer printing companies have the luxury to send a multitude of people. While senior executives still make the journey, gone are the days when mid-level managers and equipment operators walk the show floor in great numbers. Even PRINT 01, which was hampered mid-stream due to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, drew some 66,300 attendees.

Evolving, too, is the sales process when it comes to making capital equipment acquisitions. Manufacturers are increasingly relying on expanded showrooms/demo centers to help close deals. Customers are brought in, often bringing along some of their most difficult work, to run actual jobs in a controlled environment that's much less hectic than a trade show booth.

Don't get me wrong. There's no better place than a major trade show to compare offerings side-by-side. But, with enhanced demo centers and the ability to research and even buy some products on the Internet, shows are increasingly just one part of the buying equation.

Mark T. Michelson


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