Trade shows: How many is too many?

Liz WalzThe National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) announced this morning that it's combining its Marine Aftermarket Accessories Trade Show (MAATS) with the fall 2010 International Boatbuilder's Exhibition and Conference (IBEX).

This news doesn't come as a surprise. Trade show producers run a business just like the rest of us, and when times are tough, consolidation is a natural consideration. Plus, it wasn't THAT long ago that the industry had only one big show, IMTEC.

In reading the message between the lines, it's clear to me that NMMA has some nostalgia for those days gone by and with good reason. For many years, IMTEC was known for being quite successful, and as its producer, NMMA benefitted from that success, as did its membership. But the association isn't alone in missing those days. Even those of us who've never been to IMTEC can understand the appeal of getting the entire boating industry together in one location every year and the potential benefits.

The question we must ask ourselves in considering consolidation is whether the benefits outweigh what is being sacrificed. Are the efficiencies and industry networking opportunities generated by combining shows worth giving up some of the unique and specialized features that may go by the wayside? The answers to these questions aren't simple and must be answered on a show-by-show basis. In addition, consolidation is often a process, not a one-time decision. As history has proven, it takes time for producers to discover whether they can adapt to the needs of the majority, while continuing to serve those of each individual group.

What I do know is that these times are different than any other the industry has experienced. As much as we long for the opportunity to revisit the IMTEC of years past, much has changed since then.

Perhaps one of the most significant changes has been the realization of the importance of marine retailing success in the health of the entire industry. Never before has it been more essential for dealers to be able to share best practices and learn from leading experts in boat sales, service and operations. That's why we believe so passionately in the future of the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo, being held this November in Orlando. Boating Industry magazine has signed a five-year contract with the Marine Retailers Association of America to produce the event because we believe it's the right thing not only for the dealers, but for the entire industry. And from what we've observed, the industry agrees. Not only has the event been growing rapidly in attendance and industry support, the line-up of more than 15 seminars jam-packed with real-world solutions represents an educational and networking opportunity the likes of which this industry has never before experienced.

The industry's needs today are unique and ever-changing. As trade show producers work to meet them, the best tool marine professionals can provide is their direct and honest feedback. What are your needs and how can we serve them?

6 comments

  1. Liz,

    Those of us who have been around long enough to have attended a dozen or more IMTEC shows, and watched the progression of recreational marine industry shows in general, know that the reduction in the total number of shows is a case of strangling the golden goose.

    The earlier profitability of shows for the show producers encouraged the proliferation of the number of shows. Venue's became more expensive. Local labor, especially when unionized, became more difficult and expensive to deal with. Show managers became more truculent and less accommodating. All while promoters constantly beat the "be there or be labelled as belly up" drum. The result is that a commitment to a major show presence generally requires annually more dollars than the average marine firm can sustain. Add the recession, and just about everyone's back is broken.

    Going forward the only answer is to consolidate into a manageable number of shows that will return genuine value for marketing dollars spent. Whether the competing show producers can, as a group, make that happen is a good question.

  2. Phil: Ah yes, the "joys" of exhibiting at IMTEC in Chicago. Remember when you had to get a union electrician to screw in your lightbulbs in your booth? They always managed to get there just after the regular 8-hour shift, so we had to pay time and a half for the electrician and his assistant, who handed him the light bulb. Then,finally, the NMMA came out crowing that they had finally negotiated a new contract that would allow exhibitors to chane their own lightbulbs, but we still weren't allowed to plug them into the electric circuit ourselves. It was hailed by the NMMA show manager as a major victory! Jim

  3. Liz - interesting way to plug your event.

  4. We are a small repair shop, and most of these shows are geared for high volume mass produceing builders. We attend because we like to see what is new and coming down the line, so to speak, that we are going to have to repair soon enough. It would be nice to have larger, but consolidated shows, instead of a small shops like ourselves that are trying to keep up with whats new and coming,trying to decide which show might be most benificial and chance missing something interesting at a show that we did not have the funds to attend.
    I also like the shows to be in the winter, when it slow time for most dealers, repair shop etc, instead of the fall, our busy time ?? Who thought that was a good idea ??

  5. yeah,he question we must ask ourselves in considering consolidation is whether the benefits outweigh what is being sacrificed.

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