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The trade show business model is dead! Long live the trade show business model!


It used to be that manufacturers could make or break their entire year on a few great trade shows; key accounts would buy in bulk for steep discounts on an entire year's worth of product needs, sales people and buyers would look at YTD sales numbers and optimistically predict a reasonable amount of growth, ad commitments would be made to support buys and plans to follow up mid year would be penciled in. So why are most trade shows seeing decreased foot traffic and decreases in sales? And what does that mean for the future of distribution?


As someone who attends more than 25 shows a year in a variety of industries, I've seen the real transformation of these events, and I confident that the days of selling shows will soon be behind us. It is simply an antiquated model in dire need of new metrics, including ROI, to validate their existence. The issue is not as bad for large, national or international showcases where the goal is exposure. However, for the purpose of bringing vendors and customers together in an area devoted to sales, trade shows are proving their own shortcomings fast. When a company can instantly announce a new product to all of their customers on a typical work day through their email, there is no longer a need to plan national launches at industry events.


If industry specific shows are going to have any chance at success they need to evolve from passive, 3D brochures, that are used as a profit center for the host company. And those companies that are hosting them need to do a better job at adding value to them for both guests and paying vendors alike. How many shows are now directly effected by pre-show programs that encourage digital transactions and reduce the need for attendance? How many more will join that chorus? Shouldn't they all? It's obvious the numbers will grow, but what does that mean for the event that, for so many, is the only chance to directly interact with the people who make the products you love and the people who are devoted to them?


In order for vendors to commit to the show cost and customers to plan to return year after year, something needs to change. The focus for the everyone has to be on mutual success, education, and embracing change. Hosts need to offer a real value to their vendor partners while appreciating their partnership. Customers need to be able to truly see something unique that an email cannot deliver. Technology needs to bridge the gap between the "status quo" and the "status whoa!"


In my travels I've been amazed at both the shows who understand the need to evolve and the shows that refuse to adapt. In 2018, if a trade show is still using paper ordering, what does that say about their forward looking efforts? If a trade show is willing to give customers the same deal before and/or after the show, what does that say about the value they put on the event?


From virtual reality to store support (both in merchandising and cosmetics), trade shows, and the companies who host them, have the ability to reinvent themselves...or die. All anyone has to do is look around and see the shows that are no longer going on to see the writing on the wall.

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