Are colossal trade shows a thing of the past?

by Colleen Jezersek, President and Founder, @colleenjez

As the curtain closes on the 2015 International Home & Housewares Show in Chicago and more than 22,000 exhibitors pack-up their expensive trade show booths, I can’t help but wonder if big trade shows are becoming obsolete. With major exhibitors spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for their booth, travel, meals and entertainment, what is the payoff for this sizable endeavor? Trade show organizers will tell you there’s nothing more valuable than the face time you get at a trade show – they’ll tell you that meeting in-person is still the best way to nurture and grow relationships. However, spending ½  million dollars or more to nurture relationships could be a stretch. 

But what do I know, right? I’m a jaded PR person living in a city which provides everything you need without ever having to leave your apartment (,,,, – you get the picture).  Why can’t business be done via Skype, Facetime, etc. and still yield similar results? I decided to conduct an informal survey of just about anyone that would listen to me during our three days in Chicago.  I spoke with Chief Financial Officers, Marketing Managers, PR people, business owners and the media. 

My question was simply “In 10 years will trade shows even be necessary?”  The majority of people I talked to believed that trade shows aren't going anywhere because:

-          Trade shows create jobs:  Union workers that load and unload the booths, Association employees that run the convention, Hospitality workers (hotels, restaurants, convention center vendors, etc.).  It’s estimated that roughly 3 million people will visit Chicago’s McCormick Place annually – that’s a lot of hot dogs and hotel rooms!

-          Trade shows really do allow for quality face time with buyers and the media.   As convenient as Skype can be, a fuzzy connection that garbles half of the conversation is no replacement for a face-to-face meeting.

-          Trade shows are a great reason to buy comfortable shoes that you may never actually think about buying.   As much as you may love your Louboutin heels, a trade show is no place to break them in!  Think Clarke’s, Aerosoles and Camper.

-          Despite rumors to the contrary, companies actually make sales at trade shows.  It became popular in recent years to say “we don’t actually sell at a trade show, it’s just for relationship building.”  However, as the economy stumbled and was excruciatingly slow to recover more and more companies made it a priority to sell at the show.  That trend is continuing and you see increasing numbers of salespeople with clipboards in hand actually taking orders at the show.

The chart below from sums it up rather nicely. 


My advice? Don’t throw away your trade show shoes just yet.   Even in this digital age where social media is changing the landscape of businesses worldwide – the trade show is not going away.    Just make sure you have a strong strategic plan in place and that you understand the commitment involved in order to see the ROI. 

Some questions to ask before booking those plane tickets:

·         How many people will I need to successfully man our booth? 

·         What size booth is appropriate for our brand? 

·         What products will have the most visual impact on the show floor? 

·         Do I need to spend extra money on a booth event or other activity?

·         Should I invite the media to our booth?

·         What roll will social media play in our booth marketing?

I’m actually quite pleased that trade shows aren't going away.  It’s a wonderful opportunity to connect with all of our clients, the media and some old friends that have been made over the years.  So see you next year in Chicago!