Are trade show organizers missing a beat in the timing game?

If you thought the scheduling of this year's cadre of ski and outdoor trade shows was a bit wacky, you weren't alone.
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If you thought the scheduling of this year's cadre of ski and outdoor trade shows was a bit wacky, you weren't alone. A few company principals, such as Tom Herbst of Arc'Teryx, were living the jet-set life hopping from SIA in Vegas to one day of Outdoor Retailer in Salt Lake City to several days of ispo in Munich, Germany. Not one person we spoke with was all too happy about the opportunities for extra frequent flier miles.

Next year it gets even worse. SIA kicks off the fun, frivolity and frequent flying in 2004 with its SnowSports show Jan. 26-29 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas. As it stands now, the Outdoor Retailer on-snow is scheduled for Jan. 27-28, followed by the OR trade show Jan. 29 to Feb. 1. The ispo show in Munich is Jan. 31 to Feb. 3.

Now before you get your antimicrobial undies all in a bunch, perhaps we can clear up some common misconceptions for you.

1. While it is quite fashionable to point fingers at OR and VNU for the scheduling mess, they really aren't the sole culprit here. OR established its end-of-January date tradition in 1990, when SIA was in March and ispo was a bit later in February. As an organization, it has only moved its trade show dates twice: Once because of the Olympics (and we all know how successful -- sic -- that date-move was) and once again for this year, to give more breathing room between the first announced SIA dates and OR -- that was as you surely remember before SIA moved to March, and then back to January but with different dates yet again because Mandalay Bay doesn't allow trade shows to be scheduled over a weekend.

We asked David Loechner, group president for VNU Expositions, if OR might consider slightly moving its dates again for 2004.

"The key for us always, with any show, is to look at our dates relative to our market and the world market and determine if they are appropriately timed and positioned," Loechner told SNEWS. "I have talked with David (Ingemie) at SIA and we are exploring options. We both have to share the responsibility of serving our respective markets."

Loechner told us he has had no contact with ispo.

2. OK, so if OR is not to blame, it has to be SIA, right? Well, not exactly. Despite the appearances of an organization that could not get its scheduling ducks all in a row last year, much of the difficulty arose when Mandalay Bay informed SIA that it could not book a trade show over a weekend -- and certainly not over Super Bowl weekend.

True, SIA did make a strong play for the outdoor market over the last year, a play that certainly fanned flames and caused some confusion among the ranks, but that effort has since fizzled and the association is entirely focused on the business at hand -- serving the interests of the snowsports market.

So what gives with the scheduling overlap in 2004? SIA's president, David Ingemie, told us that the date positioning certainly wasn't the result of a strategic play by SIA to force manufacturer and retailer hands.

"We are in discussions right now with Mandalay Bay to see if they will waive their policy of not allowing trade shows over a weekend," said Ingemie. "If they will allow us to move the dates by one day and start on a Sunday, we would certainly put the move to a vote of the board and see if it would be in the best interests of our membership.

"OR has a bit more flexibility than us about moving I would think, but only a day or two. If we can get several days of separation like we had this year that would work much better for all of us," Ingemie said.

3. OK, so if OR moves a day or two in one direction and SIA moves a day in the other, OR will be right on top of ispo and that won't work, will it? Well, it will work much better than SIA and OR being right on top of each other. The real deal would be to ask ispo to move its dates a week or so later, but is that likely? Not a chance. When we asked Peter Knoll, show director for ispo, about the scheduling conflict, we were told basically that ispo management felt it was OR that was causing the date conflicts and it was not ispo's place to have to solve them or to move its dates. Of course, going back through date history, ispo has floated from early to mid-February, with most dates in the '90s standing about a week after OR. Last year, ispo moved to early February, a time it now claims as its own. Loechner told us that ispo has never contacted him to talk about scheduling changes when it wanted to move.

SNEWS View: Manufacturers and suppliers told us that the overlap with ispo and OR created scheduling and staffing havoc (and a lot of bleary eyes), and will do so again next year. The space between OR and SIA was less of a problem, but still created challenges and forced choices. Smaller manufacturers told us they had to choose between one show or the other. Whether this is good or bad depends on your perspective. The Nordic community has firmly aligned with SIA, as it should, though there is little doubt that the same Nordic community would dearly love to do both shows if the two trade show entities could figure out a schedule that would allow such an opportunity. Likely? Probably not. Retailers don't seem to be as phased by the schedule dance. A significant percentage appeared to hit SIA for two days and then follow that up with a two-day OR chaser. No big deal really. Manufacturers forced to choose between one show or the other probably aren't missing their regular customers. How much they are missing from possible new business opportunities is an intangible.

Trade show organizers will argue that trade shows are not about manufacturers, they are about retailers. And while that may be true to one extent, we believe that view is short-sighted and quite self-serving. Manufacturers that are forced to split staffs, scatter their principals around the globe, create multiple booths, hire additional trade show help, and essentially make do just to be at shows that serve key markets they sell into are being shorted, overworked and highly stressed. Resources that get poured into trade shows are not available for marketing, R&D, benefits, etc. Manufacturers are not bottomless wells of money and those expenses incurred -- at an average minimum of $50k per show -- get passed on one way or another through increased product costs, less advertising, less services and less industry goodwill.

We've heard from many more manufacturers this year than in past years that they will likely stop doing trade shows completely if this trend continues. While we don't support a mass exodus away from the national trade show arena as it could serve to create a market that is fragmented, regional and isolated, we do believe trade shows need to learn to work more closely together, and on a global basis to minimize costs to the industry as a whole -- costs that are as much about emotional health as they are about financial well-being.

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