How Many Trade Shows are Enough? 3, 5, 10, 20?
During or after each national parking industry show, there is a traditional event. A few of the exhibitors get together and grouse and complain about the fact that there are too many shows. When there were only two, NPA and IPI, the complaint was that there should be only one, and the two organizations should combine and have one giant show.
Most often, the organizers of the “one show” cabal are salespeople for vendors who don’t want to work the booths and put up with the stress of a major trade event. This was true at PIE 2015 in Chicago. After I brought out the fire hoses and rubber bullets and put down the insurrection, I got to thinking … just how many trade shows is the “right” number?
It really depends on what the exhibitor is trying to accomplish. If they are simply going to the event to show their competitors that they can mount a nice booth and be sure everyone knows they are still in business, then one show is enough. However, if they are trying to reach the greatest number of potential customers, I’m not so sure.
When you compare the events in Europe with those in the U.S., the numbers are staggering. More than 12,000 people attended the mid-April Traffex/Parkex 2015 event in the UK. More than 22,000 attend Intertraffic in Amsterdam every other year. Why?
The main reason is geographic. The UK is about the size of California and has excellent rail coverage. Western Europe could fit east of the Mississippi River and also has super and cheap rail and air connections. People can easily hop in for a day or two and not spend a fortune. In the U.S., it’s not quite the same.
It takes five or six hours and $500 to fly from the West Coast to, say, Florida. And you have to commit at least three or four days. Hotels aren’t cheap. Budgets are stressed. For example, to get from London to the Traffex show in Birmingham, UK, takes about $40 and an hour on the train. You can go home the same day. Attending a trade show in Miami if you are in California, for example, is a big deal. Dropping in to Intertraffic is an afterthought.
If we posit that a different group of people attend each event and you see about, what, 500 or so potential customers at the NPA show and double that at the IPI’s, and this year nearly 700 at PIE (all numbers are taking away exhibitor personnel), that means that with the three shows, vendors are exposed to about 2,200 potential customers.
We know there are more than 30,000 potential parking customers in the U.S. (public and private sectors, university and city, operators, developers, airports and shopping centers, etc.). So why do the different events attract so few attendees? And since they are so few, why do vendors go to the shows at all?
First, the shows are really cheap. If you consider that of the 750 who show up at PIE, maybe 200 are your potential customers, you are making 200 sales calls at $50 each (assuming the total costs to the average vendor is $10,000). There is nowhere else on the planet where you can get exposure to possible customers that cheap.
But hold on, JVH, I didn’t get 200 people in my booth. Hey, sez I, I can get them into the hall, the rest is up to you.
Second, coming to the show forces you to look at your marketing program and get your act together. Often, companies use the events to showcase new products, or to start new campaigns or programs. Without them, many – particularly a smaller company’s marketing – would simply stagnate.
Finally, people who come to these shows are senior level staff. If not the ones who sign the purchase orders, they certainly are the ones who recommend. Companies and organizations don’t send staff assistants to trade shows. These people are geared up to learn, and to buy.
When one exhibitor was approached by the “only one show” crowd, he responded that actually he wanted more shows. He said they gave him an opportunity to show off his product, and easily meet face-to-face with customers who could help him with product evolution.
“So how many?” I asked. At least five, he said.
If the IPI is in Las Vegas, the NPA is in Florida, and PIE is in Chicago, then two more are needed – one in the Northeast and one in the Southwest, he said. It would give parking pros in those regions an opportunity to attend a major parking event without busting their transportation budgets, and their schedules wouldn’t be cluttered with weeks away from their organizations. They could attend for two days, see what there is to see, and be back on the job.
The U.S. is large enough to support these five events, the exhibitor went on. Each region is roughly the size of the UK. Thousands of people who are interested in parking will have the opportunity to attend events they otherwise would not. Having a good training and informational program, high-end speakers, networking, and a good exhibit floor would attract folks who cannot afford the time or money to go to one of the existing shows, he said.
At this point, the “only one show” group was hyperventilating: “My god, five shows. Are you nuts?”
“No,” said my friend. “I want to sell my product in the best way possible. The industry isn’t large enough to put on a major event like the Consumer Electronic Show or the World of Concrete in Las Vegas.
“Those draw 50,000 or 100,000 people,” he said. “The IPI and NPA focus on their membership and thus limit the size of their events. PIE is attractive to those who aren’t members, but once again, it draws much of its attendance from, what, a five-hour drive from Chicago. Two more events like PIE, strategically located, would attract …”
He was shouted down by the “only one show” group. They were thinking about costs, time involved, the amount of work they would have to put in. They wanted to make their lives easier.
He wanted to sell his product in as many markets as he could, and his experience was that the trade events such as PIE and the NPA and IPI shows enable him to do that.