NEW YORK — With the economy still on the mend and budgets tight, trade show operators are working hard to add more value to their events and offer participants a greater return on their investment.
For many, that means tweaking their formats and rolling out new show features and amenities to help showgoers maximize their productivity and make the most of their experience. Other priorities are supporting first-time exhibitors and offering buyers and vendors more ways to connect before, during and after the show, particularly as trade events continue to evolve from being not only forums for buying and selling but also effective research and business tools.
To find out how shows are giving attendees the biggest bang for their buck, Footwear News talked to the leaders of some of the biggest footwear industry events, including Laura Conwell-O’Brien, show manager of The Atlanta Shoe Market; Chris DeMoulin, president of Magic International; Kenji Haroutunian, Outdoor Retailer show director; Joe Moore, president and CEO of FFANY; and Elyse Kroll, chairwoman and founder of ENK International.
FN: How have buyers’ and exhibitors’ trade show objectives changed?
EK: There is an ebb and flow to the cycle of trade shows. What [buyers are looking for] now is focus. They want a more intimate show so they can easily find what they want in the shortest time possible. Merchandising has to be perfect, and exhibitor selection must be tightly managed. There has never been a more ideal time for a trade show. Doing all your business, or the majority of your business, under one roof is the answer right now. Efficiency rules.
KH: Shows have crept up earlier in the cycle as preview events, so buyers are not only looking to write orders but also to see the new products and brands. That’s what’s different. Buyers also are coming to make strategic decisions about technologies they want to move forward with and new partnerships they want to [forge]. Orders are still written, but they’re written around the show. The face-to-face relationship building, the networking, the intelligence that’s gathered, those are the reasons people come.
CD: Buyers and brands increasingly regard shows as the most efficient way to get together and do what they do with a scale that can’t be accomplished any other way. We’ve certainly seen a rise in the number of retailers at Magic because they can come and shop multiple classifications, whether that’s apparel, footwear or accessories, as well as different parts of the market, all in one place. Brands have realized that a large show like Magic, where they can see thousands of potential new retailers, in addition to their existing customer base, is an efficient way to do business.
LCO: With the economy getting a little better, people are more apt to use trade shows as a tool. A lot of vendors can’t afford to travel to see smaller independent stores. It’s just not cost effective. Retailers, meanwhile, need to look at new things. It doesn’t work anymore to sit in your store and wait for the vendor to come to you. Buyers need to really shop the show, attend seminars and [find new ways] to make their stores more profitable.
FN: What are you doing to help buyers maximize their show experience?
KH: We’re helping them be more efficient. For instance, our OR mobile app, as well as our interactive website, will save them hours [by enabling them to] see the layout of the show floor better. We’re also providing more compelling educational platforms that give buyers tools to help them merchandise better or come back to their shops with fresh ideas for increasing sales.
CD: We offer a very well-attended session that gives first-time buyers the ABCs of how to plan out their schedule and maximize their time at the show. You can go on our website and see maps of where companies are and make appointments. We’ve also focused on giving buyers [a larger product offering] to shop. Buyers are telling us they’re buying a lot more classifications than they used to and that they want to see a lot of different things in one place at the same time.
FN: What new marketing tactics are you using?
KH: We’ve been on the social media bandwagon for a couple of years now, and we’re continuing to promote an aggregated Twitter hashtag for OR. We analyze those Twitter feeds and find who the most-mentioned brands are, who the influencers are. We also use Facebook to actively market new things, such as our virtual design center, specific features of the show and the design world behind the [products]. So we’re firing on all cylinders with social media. It’s a great tool for event planners.
CD: You’re seeing a lot more use of the Internet and social networking. There’s also an increase in the different forms of digital and mobile communication because that’s the way buyers consume their information. Still, in some ways, the old-fashioned [tactics] are best. We have a team of people who call buyers all day, every day to make sure they are registered, to help them use the online system and to let them know what new brands and products are being introduced at the show.
EK: ENK is debuting a new website. With that, we will use all forms of social media. Also, for this upcoming show, WSA mobile apps will be available for all smartphones.
JM: We do a lot more e-mail blasts. Communication through e-mail is more personalized and it seems to work because people live on their computers. Our website has been updated, and we’re investing more in it so people can find information easier.
FN: How do you support new exhibitors?
EK: ENK has a longstanding relationship with young, [up-and-coming] designers. We’ve always felt that bringing new talent to the forefront is incumbent upon us, and with footwear designers it’s no different. So we are subsidizing and encouraging new designers to participate in WSA to put them in front of retailers.
KH: We have lots of tools, including a PR toolkit that offers new exhibitors [ideas on how] to reach out and spread the message [to buyers] that they’re there and ready to do business. We also put out a document called the New Exhibitor Dossier. And we try to [group together the new exhibitors] in a frontal space on the show floor, so visitors can see them all together in one place.
CD: We have classes to get them thinking about the key things they should do before the show, during the show and after the show to [maximize their experience]. To help with their marketing, we have an extensive retail relations network that helps coordinate matchmaking between brands and retailers.
LCO: New exhibitors are given a retailer list from the previous show so they can contact potential new customers. We also make ourselves available to personally walk them through the show [and tend to] their needs.
JM: For us, it’s on an individual basis. For instance, if some young designer who is working out of his apartment wants to exhibit, we’ll give him a break on price one or two times. In general, though, [our fees] are considerably lower than at other shows because we’re a not-for-profit company.
FN: Is registration data showing any indication that the economy is starting to pick up again?
KH: We always look at the signals going [into a show]. Our pre-registration numbers are significantly up from last year. We saw a pretty huge rise in our summer [’10] market, which leads us to believe attendance is going to be very strong this winter. Hotel uptake on the peak night is always a great indicator, probably more than the registration numbers, which are also looking quite strong [for the winter market]. Still, a lot of the value of a show is in the quality of the attendees and the buying power that comes, not so much the raw numbers of people.
JM: People are coming to the show. We have every indication that retailers are in a pretty good frame of mind. There’s certainly an open-mindedness to buy and build inventories up a bit. Business isn’t off the wall, but it’s good compared with how it’s been lately. That’s a positive. Everybody feels the economy is slowly going to get better. It’s just a matter of how much better.
CD: Our retail pre-registration is up, our overall booth sales are up, and we’ve had more than 1,000 brand-new stores register, which is always a good sign for the economy. We’ll have close to 1,500 new exhibitors. Those are all larger signs that business is picking up.