As usual, the Agenda trade show, Long Beach version, was held July 13 and 14. What was unusual was that it was followed, on Saturday the 15th, in the same space with the same brands attending, by its first consumer show. Having no intention of spending three whole days in the Long Beach Convention Center, I arrived late Thursday afternoon. I walked the show Friday and spent four or five hours in the consumer show Saturday.
We are all aware of the long, ongoing conversation about the changing role of trade shows, their relevance, and role. The consensus, as far as I can determine, is 1) we need some, 2) face time is important, 3) we’re not completely sure how to improve them and 4) there are too many of them. I applauded the combination of the SIA show with Outdoor Retailer. Step in the right direction.
Agenda has always been willing to try new things and see what works. There’s been tinkering around the edges at every Agenda show I’ve attended. Food trucks. Easier to spot booth numbers. Those are just two I remember that I really like.
I applaud all the things they’ve tried, but nothing they’ve done fundamentally changed the role and utility of the show. Like most to all shows, that utility- the value to the brands and retailers- has declined over time in comparison to the cost of attending for the reasons we’re familiar with.
I’m told it was crowded on Thursday, and Friday certainly seemed busy. But the days are long gone when I evaluate a trade show by traffic and how crowded a booth is or is not. There are just fewer retailers who attend (there are fewer survivors who can attend) and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a real product innovation at a show. I hope that’s just because I’m not cool and wouldn’t know a fashion trend if it bit me on the leg. I’m afraid that’s not the reason.
Anyway Agenda, recognizing all the things I’ve talked about above, decided to take the bull by the horns and open the show to consumers on Saturday. I was initially a bit worried by the short line when it opened at 11AM, but the line got longer and there remained a line until I left about 3PM. It was open until 8PM.
The place was way more crowded than during the trade show. Transworld Business reported that 15,000 attended over the course of the day. Agenda had to set up a sound stage and some other features to appeal to the consumers, but basically the layout and the booths were precisely as they’d been the prior two days. Booth didn’t move, food trucks were there.
The conversation around trade shows has included discussion about a consumer component. I thought it would happen and it feels like there’s a general consensus that it’s a good and probably inevitable thing. Strategically, it’s obviously consistent with a brand’s need to find touch points where it can engage its consumer.
Okay, so in this iteration it makes sense and seems to have worked pretty well. How might it evolve and improve?
First, there were a few brands that had just closed up and left their naked booth sitting there. Maybe there was more to it than a decision not to participate in the consumer part of the show. But lord knows it’s a bad thing when your customers come expecting to see you and find, in contrast to the brands you compete against, a forlorn hole in the wall. At least take the name off the booth!
Next, brands were selling product. What kind? Did they view this as a chance to close out old merchandise or as an opportunity to build a bond with their customers by showing stuff they hadn’t seen. Wonder if there were any special makeups (tee shirts perhaps) done for the consumer day.
Some brands had signings by pros and some forms of games in their booths. Having ongoing activities is probably a good idea. It will be interesting to see if booths evolve to do a better job on consumer day, assuming it continues. You might call that the tail starting to wag the dog, though more than ever the consumer- not the trade show- is the dog. I guess, actually, they always have been.
One brand told me they did not have to pay Agenda to be there the third day. I assume that was true of all the brands. The incremental cost of participating, then, was just for the people manning the booth. That’s also suggestive of how Agenda plans is making this a paying proposition. The advertised ticket price was $55.00. I don’t know exactly how many were sold, but I hear the number was pretty healthy. Agenda also gave away tickets to shop employees and allowed each employee to bring a friend for free.
It’s an interesting opportunity for brands to interact with those employees and their close friends. It has elements of Zumiez’s 100K event to it.
PacSun was there selling some product. They were the only exhibitor at the show listed as a retailer on the Agenda web site. We don’t see public financials on PacSun since they went private coming out of their bankruptcy. I was surprised they didn’t close more stores as part of the bankruptcy process.
I don’t know, but assume, that Agenda required attendance at the trade show to participate in consumer day. It will be interesting to watch how they (and other trade shows) manage that if, (as?) consumer days become part of trade shows.
And I think they will, if the attendance and vibe at this consumer day was typical of what can be expected going forward. Still, it will be up to each brand to make the most of it. I imagine they started with a “We’re here anyway- what have we got to lose?” attitude.
I’m pretty positive on the consumer day. For Agenda, I’m guessing it can be a money maker (don’t know what the numbers look like for this year) and, if it becomes established, encourage brands to attend the trade show and perhaps even have bigger booths. Tail wagging the dog indeed.
The history of Agenda has to been to try stuff, go with it if it works, and chuck it if it doesn’t. There’s so many things to try here, I’m almost giddy with ideas. Some of them I’ve already suggested- more in booth activities, more product sales, booths organized around the consumer day, product offered just that day. How about seminars for shop employees sponsored by brands? Can’t see why brand owners would mind if shop employees gained some insight into just what it takes to run a brand. Perhaps some of the kids who are just customers would be interested in that? Perhaps focused on what it takes to work in the industry. Some kinds of awards for the best business/product/marketing idea? Maybe the award could be a session with your favorite pro. Ought to be some good marketing to be gotten from that.
That’s the longest paragraph in the article and I’ve hardly scratched the surface. I imagine Agenda’s list of possible improvements is already way longer than mine.
I think I’ve talked myself into prognosticating that consumer day is here to stay. Job number one for a brand today is building solid connections with its customers. Agenda’s consumer day, as it will evolve, seems a good way to do that.
Wonder if Agenda talked to a bunch of consumers about why they attended, what they got out of it, and how it could be improved. Okay, now I’m done.