How Many Trade Shows is Enough — 3, 5, 10, 20?


How Many Trade Shows is Enough — 3, 5, 10, 20?

During or after each national parking show, there is a traditional event.  A few of the exhibitors get together and grouse and complain about the fact that there are too many shows. When there were only two, NPA and IPI the complaint was that there should be only one, and the two organizations should combine and have one giant show.

Most often, the organizers of the ‘one show’ cabal are salespersons for vendors who don’t want to work the booths and put up with the stress of a major trade event. This was true at PIE in Chicago. After I brought out the fire hoses and rubber bullets and put down the insurrection, I got to thinking…just how many shows is the ‘right’ number.

It really depends on what the exhibitor is trying to accomplish. If they are simply going to the event to show their competitors that they can mount a nice booth and be sure everyone knows they are still in business, then one show is enough. However if they are trying to reach the greatest number of potential customers, I’m not so sure.

When you compare the events in Europe to those in the US, the numbers are staggering. More than 12,000 people attended the Traffex/Parkex event in the UK last week. More than 22,000 attend Intertraffic in Amsterdam every other year. Why? The main reason is geographic. The UK is about the size of California and has excellent rail coverage. Western Europe could fit east of the Mississippi river and also has super and cheap rail and air connections. People can easily hop in for a day or two and not spend a fortune. In the US its not quite the same.

It takes five or six hours and $500 bucks to fly from the west coast to say Florida. And you have to commit at least three or four days. Hotels aren’t cheap. Budgets are stressed. To get to the Traffex show in Birmingham from London takes about $40 and an hour on the train.  You can go home the same day. Attending a trade show in Miami if you are in California is a big deal. Dropping in to Intertraffic is an afterthought.

If we posit that a different group of people attend each event and you see about what 500 or so potential customers at the NPA and double that at the IPI and this year nearly 700 at PIE, (all numbers are taking away exhibitor personnel).  So that means that with the three shows vendors are exposed to about 2200 potential customers.

We know that there are more than 30,000 potential parking customers in the US (public and private sector, university and city, operators, developers, airports and shopping centers, etc). So why do the different events attract so few attendees? And since they are so few, why do vendors go to the shows at all.

First, they are really cheap. If you consider that out of the 750 that showed up at PIE, maybe 200 are your potential customers, you are making 200 sales calls at $50 each. (Assuming the total costs to the average vendor is $10,000.) There is no where else on the planet you can get exposure to possible customers that cheap.

But hold on, JVH, I didn’t get 200 people in my booth. Hey, sez I, I can get them into the hall, the rest is up to you.

Second, coming to the show forces you to look at your marketing program and get your act together. Often companies use the shows to showcase new products, or start new campaigns or programs. Without them, many, particularly smaller company’s marketing, would simply stagnate.

Finally, people who come to these shows are senior level staff. If not the ones who sign the purchase orders, they certainly are the ones who recommend. Companies and organizations don’t send staff assistants to trade shows. These people are geared up to learn, and to buy.

When one exhibitor was approached by the “only one show” crowd, he responded that actually he wanted more shows.  It gave him an opportunity to show off his product, and easily meet face to face with customers who could help him with product evolution. “So how many,” I asked.

At least five, he said. If the IPI is in Las Vegas, and the NPA is in Florida, and PIE is in Chicago, then two more are needed.  One in the Northeast and one in the Southwest. It would give parking pros in those regions an opportunity to attend a major parking event without busting their transportation budget and their schedules wouldn’t be cluttered with weeks away from their organizations.  They could attend for two days, see what there was to see, and be back on the job.

The US is large enough to support these five events,  he went on. Each region is roughly the size of the UK.  Thousands of people who are interested in parking will have the opportunity to attend events they otherwise would not. Having a good training and informational program, high end speakers, networking, and a good exhibit floor would attract folks that cannot afford the time or money to go to one of the existing shows.

At this point the “one show” group was hyperventilating. My God, Five Shows. Are you nuts?

“No,” said my friend. ” I want to sell my product in the best way possible. The industry isn’t large enough to put on a major event like the Consumer Electronic Show or the World of Concrete in Las Vegas. Those draw 50 or 100 thousand people. The IPI and NPA focus on their membership and thus limit the size of their events.  PIE is attractive to those who aren’t members, but once again, it draws much of its attendance from what, a 5 hour drive from Chicago. Two more events like PIE strategically located would attract…”

He was shouted down by the “one show” group. They were thinking about cost, time involved, the amount of work they would have to put in. They wanted to make their lives easier. He wanted to sell his product in as many markets as he could and his experience was that the trade events like PIE, the NPA and IPI enabled him to do that.

Whatcha think?





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John Van Horn

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