What Does the Skate Industry Want From Trade Shows? I Think I Know.

Transworld is trying to get an on line discussion of this topic going, and that’s a good idea. So far, it hasn’t generated much discussion and that’s too bad. Maybe the problem is that they’ve asked the wrong question by focusing on the skate industry. If they’d just asked, “What does a company- any company in any industry- want from trade shows?” they might have gotten some better answers.

 At the risk of oversimplifying, what any company wants from a trade show is to know that the benefit to their business, in terms of sales generated, or market positioning, or whatever, justifies the cost. If you ask any executive of any brand, you’ll find it really is conceptually that simple, though measuring the benefits can be hard.
Obviously, right now a lot of skate brands, and other action sports industry brands as well, feel the cost exceeds the benefits. Between tough economic decisions and changes in how we do business that isn’t surprising. 
I wrote in my recent article on trade shows that the role of trade shows was to make things easy for retailers, and that we weren’t doing that by creating more shows. I said that the internet, free communications, changes in order cycles, selling to non participants through expanded distribution channels and other things were changing the role of the trade show. And not just for skate.
How do we make trade shows most effective? Well, aside from having fewer of them, I’m not sure. To find out, I’d want very specific answers to the following questions:
·         What role do shows play in generating orders compared to ten years ago?
·         How has the cost of attending or exhibiting at a trade show changed?
·         Is there any relationship between size of booth and measureable success at a trade show?
·         To what extent is brand attendance and presentation driven by competitor behavior?
·         What are the measures of a successful trade show for a brand and for a retailer?
·         How long does a retailer need to be at a show?
I’m sure this list should be longer.   I assume that ASR, SIA and Surf Expo have asked these questions and others.  Trouble is, in this environment it’s no longer possible (or at least it’s a lot harder) to reconcile the needs of brands and retailers to the show formats the trade show companies need to make a buck and I imagine the answers to some of the questions above might demonstrate that.
Vested interests will, understandably and inevitably, make it tough to reach a consensus on what an appropriate trade show format is in the current environment where there’s no longer the cash flow to permit an easy compromise.
What industry companies want from trade shows is something that the trade show providers are having a harder time providing at a cost that makes sense to the companies. This cognitive dissonance is likely to continue to exist and leave us with our current, somewhat dysfunctional, trade show situation.