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Point of View

Trade Shows, RFK, Jr., and “The Right to Park”

John Van Horn

I had a chat last night with the CEO of a major parking equipment supplier. He was grousing about trade shows and just what is to be accomplished there. He commented that his technology, its return on investment, and its application were extremely complicated and certainly something that couldn’t be explained to someone walking through an exhibit hall.
The CEO felt he would be much better off not having a booth, but inviting people to seminars held in a nearby hotel and really giving them an in-depth look at his product and how it would affect their businesses. He felt the time and money spent on the floor were wasted. He would be better off giving a donation to the organizers of the event and then not worrying about booths, staffing and the like, the CEO said.
He indicated that he would probably spend more money with the “hotel suite” approach, but frankly, his return would be better. I have heard all this before, and on the surface, it makes a lot of sense....
However, if everyone did that, there would be no event. No reason for people to flock to the locale for a week and be available for his seminars. The organizers might make the same amount of money, but the “draw” of these events, frankly, is the exhibition itself.
People want to see all the whistles and bells. They want to see, touch, smell and taste the products and services available. It’s a place for networking, meeting and greeting, and gossip. The booths form a backdrop where attendees can chat, renew old friendships and make new ones. (This includes vendor personnel, as well.) It’s also an opportunity to put faces with voices and names they have spoken to only on the phone or communicated with via e-mail. I don’t think you can put enough emphasis on this part of the event.
I grant that my CEO friend would probably do very well with no booth and simply “sponging” off the show. (I’m told this is called “suitcasing.”) However, my recommendation was that he do both. The cost of the booth is minimal. He would be bringing the same number of people anyway. Why not have the booth and use it to funnel people to his presentations. Many exhibitors do that to great benefit. Some have their booths set up so private meetings can be held, and organizers are moving more and more toward arranging times for such gatherings.
But all this takes a lot of work before the show. Prospects must be contacted and meetings scheduled. Goals must be set and staff selected to provide the presentations necessary. You need to feel that if you do nothing more than that you have been a success. Every person that comes into your booth that you don’t already know is gravy.
My CEO friend believes strongly in individual discussions to “sell” his product. He is right. However, the need for those discussions doesn’t abrogate the need for the “sizzle” of the exhibit hall floor.
***

The International Parking Institute has invited Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to speak at its big convention June 1-4 in Dallas. My knee-jerk reaction was negative. My concern was that RFK Jr. is agenda driven and has a history of extreme political views. I have rethought my position and am now in the opposite camp. I understand that the IPI board has been assured that the speech will focus on “green” issues and not on political ones.
Frankly, having a “name” at the IPI convention is generally a good thing. It may attract attendees who wish to see the son of the martyred senator and presidential candidate, and I hope it does.
The IPI puts on a fantastic parking equipment exhibition, and anything that can be done to bring in attendees is worth it. More than 180 companies will be in Dallas hoping for a floor jammed with buyers. If RFK Jr. can help, great.
The problem with all such events is that “bodies in the aisles” is everything. Vendors spend tens of thousands of dollars to show their wares. A simple single-space 10x10 booth, staffed by two people, will easily hit 10 grand when you consider travel, food, hotel and the cost of the staff in the booth. Remember, one IPI show takes the staff out of the field at least a week, and if you add in preparation, probably more. This is a large commitment for smaller companies on limited budgets.
Those large booths, with the elephants, dancing girls and last year, a sign attacking Zeppelin, can involve 25 times that much. Yes, a quarter of a million. It’s a big investment. On wag joked that he could take all the people who came into his booth, fly them to the factory in Europe, and be money ahead.
It is crucial that the organizers get those folks in the aisles so vendors can get a return on the investment they make in the organization that is sponsoring the event.
If RFK Jr. can pull them in, more power to him, and the IPI board.
***
My screed in last month’s blog in favor of charging for parking in front of my house brought this succinct, well-written response:
“Why do so many think that parking is some sort of God-given right? In order to drive, you have to pay fees for licenses, insurance, tags, fuel, disposal of fluids and parts, tolls on bridges and roads, etc., etc. Last time I checked, driving was a privilege, not a “right.” Parking is nothing more than one more facet of driving wherein public property (the on-street parking space) is set aside for the exclusive use of a certain few who have paid for the privilege of driving.”
Well said.

Article Abstract from April, 2008




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