Is there a future for trade shows & exhibitions?

With our next exhibition, the PPMA Show, looming next month, I thought I’d put my own views out there. We at ALS don’t exhibit at too many shows but we try to do two, maybe three a year. For a machinery supplier such as ourselves, they are expensive and time-consuming activities that need careful planning but we do them because our customers still like to see labelling machines “in the flesh” and talk to us about their requirements in an informal manner. Attendance numbers are falling year on year, more so for UK events and every year we ask ourselves the same thing; Should we stop exhibiting? In times of recession, when marketing budgets are being scrutinised and the costs to exhibit are escalating, it is a question I’m sure is being asked more sternly than ever.

There are some strong arguments for using the power of the internet to greater effect, such as publishing machine videos on YouTube – all of which ALS has done and continues to do but is it the same? As a labelling machinery manufacturer, we have to consider if the virtual world can really replace the ability to see, touch and feel machines from multiple suppliers, all in the one place, under one roof? Even just talking to those companies can give the visitor a good insight into whether those companies really know their industry and what they need or whether they are just blagging it. So it can help separate the wheat from the chaff.

I believe if you’re good at what you do then it’s a way to shine and let your visitors decide for themselves. If there are fewer numbers attending AND we are in an economic downturn/recession then isn’t it MORE important to attract the people who obviously have taken the time to switch off the internet, get out of their comfy chairs and drive through the traffic to walk around an exhibition hall for a few hours?What about those companies that decide not to exhibit? Now, maybe they’re the smart ones; they saved their money and can spend it on a big Christmas party (and you would have a very very good party, let me tell you) but for us, there is still a point to exhibitions. Despite the lower attendance numbers, we still get good enquiries. Come on, where else can you receive a customer enquiry, qualify it instantly, have a detailed initial meeting and demo a machine to them all in the same day, multiple times a day? Nowhere. Yes, ok, we moan about the cost of hotels, the cost of transport, the cost of air, lighting, plug sockets and general expenses, not mention aching feet but there are few opportunities like this to present your company, demonstrate working machines, talk to customers and come back with new projects to get your teeth into.But, a word of warning – it can’t continue like this. If something isn’t done soon, there will come a time and it may not be that far off for the UK shows, when the ROI will not be acceptable enough to warrant exhibiting.

We need a “back to basics” approach, along the lines of how the original PPMA shows started, where more emphasis was on the actual machines, than how many plasma screens have you got! Custom stands are not only expensive but most are all but destroyed at the end of the show. Yes, they present a great image but you can go overboard.

The costs of compressed air, lighting and electrics are getting silly and then we have Health & Safety to contend with. Let’s be sensible here. Keep the costs down and more people will exhibit again. More exhibitors will attract more visitors. The EasyFairs people were on the right lines, with simple, fixed-size stands, no custom builds, minimal graphics and everyone on a level playing field but as exhibitors drop out at the last minute, other exhibitors are offered bigger stands to fill up the gaps, which take bigger graphics and its creeping away from the original intention.

What’s your view on trade shows, exhibitions and “summits”? Would be good to hear the views from visitors, other exhibitors and organisers. Please leave a comment below.