Are Machinery Trade Shows Becoming Obsolete?

By Lloyd Graff

WESTEC as we know it is changing. There will be no show in 2011 in Los Angeles. SME (Society of Manufacturing Engineers), which organized the 2010 event, is planning an Aerospace Defense oriented manufacturing show for next April in Anaheim, Cal. In September, 2011 they will host a Las Vegas event which will be a cross between a trade show and a collection of open houses.

SME has found it increasingly difficult to put on a major L.A. show during an IMTS year. It isn’t that the West Coast people are necessarily going to IMTS, but the exhibitors do not have the budget for two big shows in one year.

WESTEC was becoming the Haas Show (Gene Haas came on the first day) but even they were reducing their presence in 2010. There were a lot of small exhibitors but no major ones besides Haas. Attendance was not terrible, but by the time business had begun to rebound the die had been cast for the large displayers.

Question: Are trade shows becoming obsolete?

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13 thoughts on “Are Machinery Trade Shows Becoming Obsolete?

  1. AvatarGreg Knox

    I don’t believe trade shows need to become obsolete unless the show producers don’t morph with the ever changing trends of capital buyers.

    While the crowds are certainly less in number, all who exhibit (dynamically) know that the quality of the average attendee over the past decade or so has become exponentially higher – most of the “wheel kicking” of years past is now done via the World Wide Web, and the folks who are actually in the aisles are there these days for a much higher end purpose.

    I personally would rather spend 15 quality minutes with serious prospects than hundreds of 3-5 minute demos with folks who don’t have a real objective or budget.

     
  2. AvatarBrian Meyer

    Trade shows are expensive to participate in. It is even more expensive if the exhibitor has to pay the expenses of the staff to work the exhibit, travel, food and lodging. Some sales are made at the show but never enough to cover the cost of participation. It is difficult to measure the sales from a show vs. the expense to participate. The sales person can always ask when closing a sale. If the customer had made up his mind at the show, then he buys at the show. If he was not sure at show time, his sale cannot be applied to the expense. From past experience, it’s an unmeasureable thing. An exhibitor is more noted for their attendance and booth vs. their absence from a show.

     
  3. AvatarSteve Kreis

    Like all costs in these lean times, the cost vs value received in attending physical trade shows is being scrutinized by an manufacturing industry that has been hit hard with cost reduction propositions. Add to that the technology factor: Technology has given us many tools to gather information quickly, cheaply and more completely. Even without physical shows, we are better informed than ever. Perhaps the future of the big machine tool shows will be similar to the fate of COMDEX (the IT industry’s trade show) where shows are reduced and replaced by Virtual Trade Shows ( InXpo is running one of Comdex’s two shows this year). There will still be a place for physical shows, but the economics must make sense for all participants.

     
  4. AvatarSteve W

    The last few times I have been to the show it was more or less a social thing. I have never really made a decission at the show. We knew going to the show what we were buying. For the upcoming IMTS I don’t intend to go or send anybody. It is just not worth the cost. I would rather go to the builders and view the machine tools/equipment in operation. I also get more time to see the processes/equipment and actually don’t have a schedule that I have to keep and i can only spend 10 or 15 minutes talking to somebody at the show. i did use it one year as a great way to meet potential engineers for interviews since their Employers thought they were at the show seeing something. We interviewed for 7 days, didn’t get to see the show much.

     
  5. AvatarShawn Dunne

    I am a vendor who just spent a ton of money doing Westec, There is no doubt trade shows are not what they once were, but Westec is a bad example to use to make a fair assesment. Westec 2010 suffered not only from a bad economy and from the rise of the internet, but also from years of bad management. This years show was a joke. They reworked the layout 3-4 times and never notified the exhibitors. Despite the declining economy\interest, it never occurred to them to lower their rate? The real test this year will be IMTS. As of right now, the show looks like it is fairly well booked. We are actually increasing our presence at the show quite a bit. I do agree that the tire kickers have gone (they left when the free stuff stopped flowing from the booths) and that the people who come to these shows tend to be of a higher “caliber” then in the past. As a vendor, I do feel strongly that not being at these shows, or having a very weak presence gives a strong message to prospective customers. Very few of my competitors do any trade shows anymore and the ones that do end up in very small booths, with fairly cheap setups. I have had many customers comment on the very good impression that gotten of our company, based on our trade show presentation.

     
  6. AvatarRichard Stradler

    Anyone who has done a trade show in a major city knows that dealing with “small business unfriendly” labor unions and the expense of their over priced labor required for the privelidge to exhibit is a necessary evil. As alternatives develop, expect trade shows to become obsolete for this reason alone.

     
  7. AvatarKen Benjamin

    Any trade show that’s well promoted and is for a niche market is worthwhile as either a visitor or exhibitor.
    The show/conference must be well attended and leave the visitor/exhibitor with the impression is was not a waste of time and money to attend or showcase.
    As a past exhibitor (3-5 per year) the total cost and indirect sales benifit must be honestly evaluated after each show before signing up again.
    If quality attendence is below average twice, we pass on future renewals.
    For us a 10’x10′ booth works as well as a larger one and keeps cost in check.

     
  8. LloydLloyd

    I wrote a column last year on the tremendous success of the “Sock Summit” which was oversubscribed in less than three hours of internet registration. Sock knitters came in from all over the world to Portland Oregon to bond with other people similarly inclined and buy goods from the vendors at the show. That event was built from the bottom up not to cater to the needs of the exhibitors but to meet the desires of the knitting community. When the community showed up the sellers were thrilled.

    I think we need to move more toward that model if we expect a trade show to work. I think small user events which are dedicated to education and communal sharing not to overt selling may be a coming approach to watch. What if a Citizen or Star held a user forum in Chicago or Memphis and invited swiss users to a neutral venue to trade technical problems.
    The builder would be a resource but not be put in a sales posture. I think you could build inexpensive micro event which would be closer to the Sock Summit than a Westec approach.
    What do you think.

     
  9. AvatarROBERT

    WHEN BILL YEATES WAS INCHARGE OF THE EASTEC SHOW IT NOT ONLY RAN VERY WELL BUT IT SEEMED THE EXHIBITORS AND THE SETUP CONTRACTORS WORKED VERY WELL TOGETHER IN ORDER THAT THE SHOW WOULD BE A SUCCESS FOR EVERYONE. THE COSTS REMAINED REASONABLE AND WITH MR. YEATES ALWAYS CHECKING TO BE SURE EVERYTHING WENT SMOOTHLY. WHEN HE RETIRED THE RATES WENT UP, MANAGEMENT BECAME LESS INTERESTED IN THE WELL BEING OF THE EXHIBITOR & AT THE END OF THE 3RD YEAR OF THE NEW MANAGEMENT I WAS INFORMED BY SOMEONE THAT I WAS BEING OVERCHARGED ON MY RENTALS. WHEN I REQUESTED A REFUND I WAS TOLD THAT “THEY” DO NOT GIVE REFUNDS BUT WOULD APPLY THE REFUND DUE, TO THE NEXT YEARS RENTALS. THAT WAS THE LAST YEAR I WAS AN EXHIBITOR CONSIDERING I HAD EXHIBITED AT EASTEC SINCE 1987 WHEN MR. YEATES WAS THE SHOW MANAGER. IF THEY WERE INTELLEGENT MANAGEMENT THEY WOULD HAVE SENT ME THE OVERCHARGES IMMEDIATELY TO RETAINE MY LONG BUSINESS RELATIONSHIP BUT FOOLS WILL BE FOOLS. I ATTENDED THE WESTEC SHOW & WOULD NEVER ATTEND AGAIN BASED ON THE LOCATION OF THE SHOW AND THE QUALITY OF SHOW WHICH TO ME LEFT A LOT TO BE DESIRED. I AM OF THE OPINION THAT THESE SHOWS ARE ON THEIR LAST DAYS AS THE MANAGEMENT IS NOT ADDRESSING THE NEEDS OF THEIR EXHIBITORS. I NOW LOOK THROUGH THE WEB FOR INFORMATION NEEDED TO MAINTAIN MY STATION IN THE INDUSTRY. NO ONE SEEMS TO ADDRESS THE COSTS THAT THE EXHIBITORS ARE ENDEARED TO.

     
  10. AvatarDan Murphy

    Hi Lloyd,

    If Citizen or Star held a forum it would still be a top down event rather than a bottum up or grassroots one. Plus it wouldn’t be nearly as good as one we could put on with Tsugami 😉

    The upcoming PMPA National Tech Conference is pretty much what you are talking about anyway. The NTC is part social event, part technical exchange, and part education. I think it has value and that’s why I’ve always been willing to participate and speak.

    Trade shows have value for both the exhibitor and the attendee. As an exhibitor you have to view it as brand building and the chance to forge new ralationships as well as an opportunity to spend time with existing customers. Trade shows are a great way to spread your message and introduce new products and technologies.

    For the attendee at a show like IMTS you have over one million square feet chock full of ways for your business to save money and be more competitive. You can sign up for seminars and lectures to further your knowledge. Plus trade shows are a great place to network, find new employees, new customers, and/or new vendors.

    That being said, I don’t think the industry can support dozens and dozens of different trade shows. The small local shows held in off years of IMTS are pretty much heading for extinction or are already there. The bigger regional shows like Eastec and Westec really need to be held every other year or every third year. The focus should be on holding higher quality events rather than holding frequent events.

     
  11. AvatarMarty McGill

    Congratulations to Gene Haas! It wasn’t too long ago he was displaying his programmable 5C indexer at Westec. This year Haas was Westec.
    Where are trade shows going……. who knows with the internet and all the new forums there’s a tremendous amount of information at your fingertips. Still want to see a demonstration and machines; save money and go visit your local Haas Factory Outlet.

     
  12. AvatarTim Daro

    As a 35-year veteran of industrial ad/PR work, especially in the machine tool market, I will state without hesitation trade shows are still viable, particularly for machine builders. A machine client recently went to a show without a machine and he regretted it. Luckily, as the undisputed market leader (rubber industry), he still had quite a crowd, as we showed multi-screen videos of the machines in action, along with Super Bowl highlights!
    I attend perhaps 25 shows a year and the attendance is down at all, but the quality is still there. One client sold three lasers off the floor at FABTECH, last Fall. Folks will come to IMTS or PMTS and not stay as long, but they’ll find what want to see and they’ll want to see it in action! The mindset of a shop owner looking to buy a machine tool or molding press or other capital equipment is fundamentally different from the purchasing agent at a mega-corporation doing program buying online.
    Just my three cents…inflation, right?

     
  13. lloydlloyd

    Dan,

    I basically agree with your comment. The model I envision is a third party sponsored event like a PMPA Tech confererence but focused on a small user cohort like Tsugami users or Milltronics owners but clearly an educational event rather than an overt sales full court press. The approach is “sales without selling” which I think you do exceedingly well for Tsugami with your blog posting and newsletter contributions.

    I am hopeful that IMTS will be a home run this year. I think there is a place for the giant show but if Chicago does not rein in expenses it will migrate to Orlando or Vegas soon and ultimately be marginalized into a mediocre regional get together.

     

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