Life under the circus tent has always been a combination that's larger than life. It's three rings of activity that stimulate, motivate and inspire. That's exactly how I feel when I attend any trade show. It's a chance for the new and entrepreneurial to dream and the seasoned to negotiate.
members and exhibitors excited, it won't be the same old show in 2002.
Why? This year, the goal in a recessionary economy and an uncertain and consolidating period means trade shows need to provide unprecedented value behind all of the thousands of dollars sponsors are asked to cough up for convention events as they host big retail customers and help to defray the high cost of nationally recognized speakers. So, whether you're an attendee or sponsor-exhibitor, everyone is asking: "Where's the beef?"
As one observer said, "A smile and a shoeshine will not be as important as knowledge and the ability to deliver."
Even majors like the Food Marketing Institute, National Grocers Association and Food Distributors International, Pages 13 and 19, revealed trouble brewing even before Sept. 11.
The FMI and NGA are attempting to answer the disgruntled with revamped conventions that are more meaningful and valuable for attendees. FMI is adding value by customizing the show for chains and independents. NGA is planning to do away with trade show exhibits altogether by 2004. Food Distributors International, according to some observers, may be holding its last Business Conference as an independent association. So with the buzz of a possible FDI-FMI merger in the air, it won't be business as usual for 2002.
In fact, to stop drops in attendance, several associations -- the General Merchandise Distributors Council, the School, Home and Office Products Association and the NorthEast Fresh Foods Alliance -- announced they will pay retailers' expenses.
However, complimentary travel, food and lodging are not the only ways to reach out in today's economy. Alliances and mergers are another way to gain strength. The FDI this year formed an alliance with the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, and the NASFT earlier had formed an alliance with Specialty Food Distributors & Manufacturers Association in which the SFDMA shuttered its conference and trade show. And when association affinities are in line, mergers will continue.
There is a lot to be said for the trade show tradition where an "old boys" network and high greens' fees cut deals. However, as another industry observer said, "This is a generational change. The newer blood and people heading big retail and wholesaler companies are much less impressed with traditional trade show formats and much more impressed with the bottom line."
So this year, it seems more important than ever that any successful trade show is a high wire act, which needs to stimulate all three rings of our retail senses. It must offer unprecedented value, draw the important decision makers and rejuvenate our dreams.