The End of Trade Shows?
I'm gonna' make a detour from the technology end of finishing and talk about the potential end of trade shows for the graphic arts. At least five years ago, I had a discussion with a well-known printing industry consultant (and friend) Bill Lamparter. He made a very persuasive argument that the trade show (as we knew it) was doomed. "Look," he said, "it's probably cheaper and more effective for large vendors to set-up an open house and fly their prospects and clients in for the event.
"And when they get them there, it's a captive audience. They don't have to worry about them wandering off to a competitors' booth." Turns out, he was right.
The ever-growing defections from the trade show scene (HP, Heidelberg, Kodak among others) highlight this trend. This year's Ipex in the United Kingdom featured a laundry list of no shows that resulted in an overall reduced exhibit area. What are the reasons for this? Here's my list:
Run Your Own (Branded) Show: Trade shows are expensive, and vendors have been successful at organizing focused user-group events. Witness the success of Dscoop. HP, Ricoh, MBO, Hunkeler (Innovation Days) all run multi-day highly organized focused events targeted towards specific users and groups. They get to set the agenda, set the attendee's, and control their expenses.
Knowing Where the Bodies are Buried: Let's face it, shrinkage of the many parts of the industry has actually made it easier to single out your prospects. There are so many databases and so much information out there, it's not difficult to single out likely prospects for your technology. Trade shows were built on the premise that there were many unknown prospects out there who would travel to major exhibitions and show up at your stand, ready to be sold. That's not the case today.
Information Everywhere: For centuries, the trade fair and exhibition served as the central gathering point for information on new technology, and as possible meeting points with your industry peers. That's no longer the case. You can conduct some pretty deep research right from your desk these days. And that's what most people do, so that when (and IF) they do show up at the show, they're quite prepared.
"Kicking The Tires:" One of the major justifications for the prospect in traveling to a trade show was to literally "kick the tires" of the piece of equipment they were interested in. Unfortunately, due to the high cost of bringing large systems to a show and setting them up, many vendors have resorted to beautiful booths with nothing in them but video. Gone are the GRAPH EXPO days of yore when large offset presses would be set up and run for the attendees. So you have to ask yourself, why travel to a trade show to watch a video? As a veteran of too many shows to count, I can tell you that something mysterious happens when a machine is running in a booth. The sheer noise seems to act like a people magnet, drawing folks in from the aisles.
Extortion!: And lastly, the trade show companies can largely blame themselves for this trend. Only recently (during the start of the 2008 recession) have they realized the burden that expensive floor space, equipment drayage, and high-priced labor placed on their exhibitors. The large companies like Heidelberg, Xerox, Océ and others grew very tired of forking over a million dollars or so for the privilege of exhibiting. Instead, they have all invested in state-of-the-art demonstration centers where they can show off the best of their (and their partner's ) technologies.
So, where do we go from here? I don't think the large shows like drupa, Ipex, and GRAPH EXPO will be shutting down any time soon. China Print has become a major venue in recent years, and within the Asian and near-Asian markets, there is still a strong desire to travel to see the goods and meet new vendors. drupa is a major drawing point in that you will see manufacturers you never knew existed.
But we will increasingly see major targeted events run by manufacturers that will compete with (and draw attendees away from) the traditional shows.