Within our industry, you could spend the first six weeks of the year, every year, crossing the globe from China, through Europe to the States attending trade fairs. I am not suggesting this is a good or desirable plan, however there are the hardy few that try.
Over the last ten years trade exhibitions of every variety (not sure about armaments exhibitions) have suffered falling attendances. There are exceptions but they are few and far between.
I have worked out that I have spent 18 months of my life working away at exhibitions. I have not climbed Everest , I have not trekked across the Antarctic , neither have I warded off a herd of rampaging elephants with my bare hands. But I have spent a load of time standing , on what, increasingly became a few expensive square metres waiting for people to come and talk to me , or rather have me talk to them. Then go to a mediocre restaurant and finally sleep at loads of mediocre hotels. So no comparison! But what is quite odd is I have totalled loads of different everyday activities, from having my hair cut to spending time in car parks. The total number of days amounts to more than my biological age. So I don’t recommend anyone trying the same calculation.
Falling attendances are attributed to economic cycles,less buying points, ever higher travel costs and buyer apathy to name but a few. I believe when things are tough and there is a load of uncertainty, exhibitions should be ram jam full.
Trade exhibitions of any hue, are opportunities for buyers to look at new suppliers, feel and touch new product, look at trends , network with their industry colleagues and finally , the simple act of standing outside of their own business and taking a broader view of the market place without the daily stresses and strains of being surrounded by your own commercial constraints.
There are few clients I visit, whose second question isn’t (first being ‘hi, how are you, are you well? Lousy weather, so are you ok?‘ . For non native English speakers, that means ‘how are you?’ ,the complete sentence is then repeated after receiving an answer .) ‘ what is happening out there’ . And it is not just a polite question, it is a genuine request on information on what is happening in the market place.
The answer to this question is limited to the views of the person you are asking and what part of the distribution chain they represent . Within an exhibition environment you can access views of every level in the chain, apart from the end user, but you are in contact with them in your business. Some exhibitions are very focused i.e. They only represent their own market place , whereas the Spring Fair in Birmingham, for example, represents a whole host of retail market places, from Party, toys, and greeting through housewares, jewellery and luggage. There are, I believe, unparalleled opportunities to take a very broad view of the retail market place in all its glory or otherwise. I must emphasise I am no apologist for this Show as it has many faults , but its outstanding USP is the breadth of product and a vision of the UK retail High street.
Yet visitor numbers continue to decline, or worse, you get the comment , ‘I come every ten years’. What I do find strange is that there are still visitors who come for 3 maybe 4 days every year, and there are others with a similar business model , who only visit every 3 or 4 years. There is a direct corollary between the relative success of the former against the later.
We all need to step outside from the confines of our own businesses and take a wider look at what is going. A good trade exhibition offers this facility. It is the one opportunity to take a peak at the near ‘future’. Something we cannot, nor should not ignore.
Think on this, Exhibitions are becoming increasingly expensive to show at and to visit. However, The Nuremberg Spielwarenmesse, the world’s largest trade toy fair, although suffering declining attendances, is still successful. Buyers from all four corners of the world travel to a town in Germany at the height of winter,where they will have to pay a small fortune for a basic hotel room in central Nuremberg. Then,when they get to entrance of this trade show,have to pay another small fortune to get in. And they do in their thousands. They can’t all be wrong.