Volume 36, Issue 9, September 2001

Trade Show Reflections
       Who Really Benefits From Them Anyway?
- by Dez Farnady


I was sitting at the Dallas airport with plenty of time to speculate, as I had the late flight. I had just spent the last five days in Dallas at the 2001 Construction Specification Institute (CSI) show. While reflecting back on the Dallas show I also thought about last yearís CSI show and all of the trade shows I have attended over the last couple of decades. 

tradeshow Every year attendees head to shows such as CSI to network and mingle.

Although the shows all seem to run together eventually, there seems to be one continuous question connecting them all: who really benefits from the huge expenses incurred by the vendors who have been made to believe by some mysterious power this is a good thing to do? Who makes money on these shows?

In the past, we eagerly went to shows to see new products, rub elbows with our peers and drink and party at the expense of our competitors. Big companies financed us and we always believed that someone in the corporate office figured the cost was somehow worth the benefits. Times have changed, at least for me, to the point where I want to know what my company is getting for the money. I distinctly remember the last few glass shows, just like CSI, were all well-attended by vendors with tons of new information and lots of new products. But, somehow I recall leaving the shows with the feeling that all of the suppliers were there, but someone forgot to invite the customers. 

For vendors the trade show is a sales and promotional tradition. For customers it seems it is either a vacation and they take all the kids, or an unnecessary expense. If they have a lot of work there is no time to go and if they have no work, they canít afford to go. And then there are the convention cities. Never go to Vegas, Atlantic City, Orlando or AnaheimóI can promise you the guys standing around the aisles by the second half of the first day will be only sales people looking for customers. Sorry, all of the customers are at the blackjack table, or more likely, by the pool, on the golf course or on a roller coaster than in a convention hall. 

Numbers Never Lie
In Dallas I decided to do some counting and take my own surveys. The CSI show was a large, national show. The entire construction industry was well-represented, including glass. I surveyed the floor each day, informally asking people at various locations around the floor about their traffic. The response was the same regardless of where they were: slow, quiet and not many customers. We counted every head that stopped by our booth to pick up either product documentation or even give-away goodies. We scanned every customerís bar code card and picked up our bar code readouts daily. 

Here are some of the numbers. A minimal 10- by 10-foot booth with a table, carpet and a couple of chairs costs about $4,000. You must remember that one two-plug electrical connection at this thing costs more than $200. It is not too tough to run up your bill. Air transportation for two people to work the booth, plus meals and housing, plus wages for working, plus shipping materials, promotional documentation and time lost at work easily runs the total tab up to about $10,000 for a minimal presentation. 

The End Result
If the show costs $10,000, letís see what we got for our money. According to the results of the scanning process we ended up with 110 visitors to the booth. Our actual physical count of customers, including guys who just wanted a scan to get a chance at the door prizes, matches up pretty well with that. While checking in for our final total, we saw three other scanners check in with 69, 75 and 95 respectively. That makes our 110 almost look good. Of the 110, approximately ten were really selling something, making the net number of prospects 100. That makes each sales call worth $100. 

Of the 100 legit sales calls there were about 20 to 25 actual, valid, current sales prospects interested in doing business in the near future. That makes the true cost of sales between $400 to $500 per sales call. At $500 a pop, I should be able to get a hell of a lot better return on my sales dollar. 

Dez Farnady serves as general manager of Royalite Manufacturing Inc., a skylight manufacturer in San Carlos, California. His column appears monthly.


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