The Value of Trade Shows
We all know that the industry has changed dramatically since the recession. We've been watching our pennies and scrutinizing every decision while exploring new and different ways to do business in the current economy. As business owners and decision makers we often wonder about the value of exhibiting as well as attending trade shows. I recently had a conversation with Joe Kahyyat, Executive Director of the Mid Am trade show in Chicago, and asked him to give us his perspective on industry trade shows and what to expect at MidAM in 2013.
(Ann) How is the planning going for this year’s Mid Am trade show?
Joe: Actually, at this time, we've pretty much fully transitioned from the planning stages for this year's show to the implementation phase. We're fully engaged in marketing activities to draw attendees, dotting the i's and crossing the t's on a few last exhibitor contracts, working with the colleges with hort programs on getting students to attend, and executing the plans the Board of Directors and management team have developed over the last year.
(Ann) What's new at Mid Am in 2013?
Joe: We're excited for this year's show, as we've changed the floor plan to make it easier for attendees to shop for the plant material, products and services in which they're interested. We've started to cultivate a vibrant new outdoor lifestyles segment for the show. We've added some free education on the trade show floor, expanded our smart bar and repositioned it in conjunction with a middle hub or nerve center that includes the three owner organizations (IGIA, ILCA and WGIF). We’re also expanding and moving both the career center and an innovative products showcase to the show floor. I'm confident there will be lots of new "buzz" and energy on the floor this year.
(Ann) How has the educational component influenced the show?
Joe: Education is a huge component of Mid Am. We're very cognizant of exhibitors concerns that the educational program draws people away from the floor. Yet we also know that education is what gets many of our attendees there in the first place. That's why we're very excited this year to be adding free education on the trade show floor in addition to the nine tracks of education offered via our paid Mid Winter Conference, the pre-show management workshops & mentoring roundtables. The new education theater on the floor is a win-win-win-win because it's yet more learning opportunities for attendees; they’re accessible to everyone, not just those who registered for the educational program; it's a chance for exhibitors to get involved in actually providing the education; it will keep people on the floor; and it will help create that buzz or energy I was mentioning earlier.
(Ann) What tips do you have for attendees to have a successful show?
Joe: The first tip I have for attendees is to plan ahead & register NOW to attend the show. It honestly doesn't help anyone (the organizers, the exhibitors or the attendees themselves) to wait until the last minute to register. Once they do that, the whole world of Mid Am will avail itself to the attendees. They need to review the new floor plan so they understand the convenient way it is now organized. They need to research the roster of exhibitors and develop their list of everyone they need to visit. To make the most efficient use of their time, they should even reach out to those exhibitors prior to the show and attempt to schedule an actual appointment. With just a little effort in advance of the show, they can make much more effective use of their time and ultimately make their Mid Am experience far more productive.
(Ann) What should exhibitors do to prepare for a great show?
Joe: We have some tools available to exhibitors that they really should utilize to make Mid Am a more successful endeavor. By taking advantage of those resources we make available to them, they can enhance their all-important ROI. We produced statement stuffers and offered them to exhibitors in convenient bundles for their business mailings. We developed electronic email templates for exhibitors to personalize & use to invite their clients to Mid Am. We provide each exhibitor with a special code that they, in turn, can share with their customer base that affords them discounted registration. One of my goals as Executive Director of Mid Am has been to co-op marketing efforts with our exhibitors, using our combined strengths, resources & reach to benefit everyone. Some companies have done a tremendous job in using those tools; others are catching on a little more with each year; some still need to take us up on everything we're offering, especially since there's no expense to them for doing so.
(Ann) What value added features or components will the show be offering in 2013?
Joe: Much of what we have done this year is aimed at adding value to the incredible investment the exhibitor makes by participating in Mid Am. We know they are investing significant dollars, but also time, energy, many other resources to be part of Mid Am. We want to do everything we can to make that investment worthwhile, not just in the positive
way it boosts their bottom line, but also in the quality of the actual experience they have while at the show. Everything we’ve talked about here has been done with adding value to their investment and adding value to their experience. From the promotional tools made available to the exhibitors to the new education on the trade show floor, from the new show floor layout to developing an entirely new segment of the show, it’s all been done to add value. We’ve adjusted show hours, added social hours each afternoon, done lots of little things to enhance the experience for everyone involved.
(Ann) What is Mid Am doing differently in 2013 to attract new exhibitors and attendees?
Joe: Aside from everything I’ve already discussed, all of which could be repeated as part of my answer to this question, I am most excited about the new Outdoor Lifestyles segment we’re introducing to the show this year. Outdoor Living is a sector of our industry that is flourishing, yet there’s been very little opportunity in the past for those who produce and promote outdoor lifestyles products to interact directly with landscape designers and architects. Mid Am is bridging that gap and bringing the two together, which can be exciting for both the outdoor lifestyle exhibitor and the landscape designer. By filling that void, exhibitors can meet and educate the designers who incorporate their products into actual designs. They can help the designers better understand and appreciate the product, ensuring they keep form and function as a guiding principle. That way the designers can help their clients understand the same. By including the outdoor lifestyles elements in the actual design, alongside plant material, trees, hardscape, water features, etc., they can more easily convince the client that’s what they need. Then if they already have cultivated these relationships with vendors, they have sources to provide what their clients “need” so they don’t run off to some big box store the day after the contractor’s trucks roll off their property to buy that umbrella or fire pit or whatever else it is they now need thanks to the designer.
(Ann) Why is it important for people to attend trade shows?
Joe: Trade shows are the one opportunity each year that everyone can get together to rekindle old friendships and make new ones. It’s the one chance you have to see and interact more intimately with the people you communicate with by phone and email throughout the year. Trade show organizers know that times have changed…the internet, the economy, buying cycles, inventory control, etc., all have played a role in this evolution. However, nothing can replace the good that comes from the face-to-face networking and sincere
camaraderie that occurs at a trade show. Those very things that have changed trade shows are stripping away our personal connections, removing the human element, and making business transactions a much colder, more sterile process. Mid Am gives everyone a chance to be friendly, and to put a face with a name, a firm handshake with a conversation, a smile with an order -- that real “connection” that can only come in person.
(Ann) Do you see the concept of reverse trade shows (or one-on-one shows) fitting in with the traditional show?
Joe: I think there’s some merit to reverse trade shows. They are certainly worth exploring. You have to be very careful though in trying to co-mingle the traditional trade show with the reverse approach. In a sense, you are encouraging your exhibitors to give up their booths, to work the floor one-on-one, and this certainly can make sense especially for smaller companies that get lost in the mix, that can’t afford premium placement or pre-show marketing, or when most of your prospective clients will be the actual exhibitors. However, if everyone went this route, there would be no trade show left for you to employ that reverse approach. So organizers have to be very careful in the way this handled and managed. Again, it’s worth exploring, but as we’re currently formatted, we’re not set up to accommodate the approach at Mid Am.
(Ann) What does the future of industry trade shows look like to you?
Joe: Despite what some want you to believe, there will always be a need for trade shows. For the very reasons I discussed above – the personal, face-to-face networking and camaraderie – trade shows will play a vital role in conducting business. However, there definitely will be less trade shows. Gone are the days of monster trade shows where companies could take all of their employees on what amounted to a paid vacation or junket. Shows are smaller now, with fewer attendees. But those attendees are quality participants…they are the people that need to be there, the buyers and decision makers that the exhibitor needs to see. Costs continue to climb, the economy continues to struggle, margins continue to shrink, so there will be fewer trade shows, done more regionally and in some cases organized with a far more specific focus and constituency than shows have now. Trade show organizers have to change their way of thinking. You can’t be everything to everyone. You can’t serve everyone, or hope that by casting the largest net you catch more customers. You have to pick those things you do best & focus on and enhance those specific things. Then, by doing the best possible job at the things you do best, you can better serve your trade show clients. If they feel you are doing that, they’ll hang in there with you and your show will remain viable.
So, there you have it. A good insight into what's happening at this year's Mid Am Trade Show. Thanks for taking time to chat, Joe. We'll see you at Mid Am in a few more weeks as we begin the winter trade show circuit.