Going to a trade show where no one shows up is sad.

I had this very experience last week.  I went to a trade show, heck I actually showed up early enough for the opening keynote address.  You can’t imagine how shocked I was that the room was nearly empty.  Even worse, the keynote speaker is a great guy, a leader in the community and in the business this trade show was supposed to be promoting.

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I know that there are some people (um, yes, I know I’m talking about myself) who don’t like to get up early, don’t really enjoy going to trade shows, and try to make it as painless as possible by picking out the bits in the schedule that might be interesting and only showing up during that time frame.

This isn’t the only trade show I’ve attended recently.

As a matter of fact, I went to another trade show a couple of weeks earlier, and while it seemed a tiny bit lighter on attendance, there were still a good number of attendees around the property on all three afternoons that I showed up.

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So I’m not complaining about every trade show – I was in Denver for one a couple of months ago, and I thought it was fantastic!  (Aside from being in Denver in January when it was cold and there was random snow on the ground and I wasn’t wearing a fur coat, lol!) Lots of people, lots of exhibitors, great division and layout of exhibitor booths in the venue.

I’m really not sure why there was no one at this particular event.

I’m on a lot of different mailing lists and I got multiple notifications about the trade show.  Discount offers (although when they are still mailing 50% off specials the day before the show, that’s usually an indication that they’re nowhere near capacity) coming in regularly, updated speaker lists, news and announcements about events associated with the show, etc.  Everything you expect to see, or at least it seemed like it was happening that way.

If I had exhibited at this event, I’d ask for at least part of my money be refunded.

I know what the show was charging for booths, and I would be flat out pissed off if we had decided to exhibit and then no one freaking showed up.  And I mean no one showed up. I had some other business in the neighborhood on the second day, so I popped back in, just in case I was there on a down day and it really was well attended, but alas, it was the same ghost town as it had been the day before.

I attended a couple of seminars – more out of curiosity than anything else…  and you guessed it, vastly empty rooms, and almost no one in attendance.  Other than one really sweet, yet very annoying, older lady, who just kept asking the same questions of every speaker, even though none of them were able to answer her, and believe me, she wasn’t taking “I don’t know, but I’m happy to follow up with you and see if we can figure out who does know…” as a real answer.  I did chuckle at her a few times, so there’s that.  It wasn’t a complete dud.

What went wrong and how can it be fixed?

I’m going to guess that the targeted marketing that was done prior to the show was extremely limited in scope and scale.  The producers were from out of the area – out of state, actually – and I’m still not entirely sure who was producing this sad little affair.

Some of the seminar scheduling was pitting speakers against either, especially in the financial segments, and for this particular industry, finance is a key component.  So that was some bad thinking.  Perhaps holding the show during two holiday weeks (Passover and Easter) also contributed to the light attendance, I can’t say for sure.  Maybe holding a two day trade show in the middle of the week on a holiday week is where it went off the tracks.

In any case, it makes Phoenix look bad to exhibitors who haven’t been to a show here before.

There’s a second show that takes place at the same venue each year; it’s held in the fall, and both times I’ve been, there have been good numbers of people on the floor, in the seminars, and exhibiting.  Granted this show is produced by the locals and they know their market well.  They do the same pre-show email marketing blasts as our out of town hosts, but they also get media coverage on the local talk radio, and they get exposure in the New Times (alternative newspaper chain), and likely in the regular newspaper as well.

I know it’s hit or miss with shows, we’ve produced and attended enough over the past three decades to understand that.  But truly sad productions don’t get a free pass, they need to up their game or stay closer to home where they have (or do they?) attendees.

 

Good luck with your trade show!