The future of trade shows

With the current financial crisis, some firms may be looking to cut what they might consider peripheral expenditure. Andrew Wooden asked Mark Burton, channel publisher at Channel Expo organiser Incisive Media why the channel should carry on spending the money at trade shows, and how the Channel Expo is evolving.
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With the economy as it is, many retailers may be looking to reign in costs and might skip shows this year – how would you argue trade shows in general can in fact help them at this time?
Retailers and resellers are coming under increased pressure from customers to show them business efficiency and a high return on investment.

Attending a trade show gives the retailer a fantastic opportunity to increase margin potential through meeting and learning from the key decision makers in the industry, seeing and understanding the latest products and services and catching up with peers. Ultimately, by seeing the whole market in one single place, you can ensure you have the correct business strategy.

What would you say to vendors and distributors thinking the same thing?
In potentially difficult trading conditions, with the same number of companies chasing diminishing pots of money, you have to work harder than ever to win what business there is out there.

One of the best ways to give yourself an advantage is by exhibiting at a trade show. Trade shows provide vendors and distributors with the opportunity to fulfil a number of sales and marketing objectives at the same time – lead qualification, market research, product launches and brand building, for example.

You can also see your whole marketplace in the space of a couple of days. I’d say the biggest strength of exhibiting at a trade show is being able to engage in conversation with your target audience.

How have technology trade shows changed in the UK and globally over the past five years?
It is fair to say that the collosal exhibitions that include huge expensive stand designs are becoming a thing of the past. Exhibitors and visitors are interested in more specialist shows and niche communities. I can see this trend continuing.

How do you see them evolving in the future?

I see trade shows naturally evolving into more niche, specialist exhibitions with focus being the keyword. We will also see the growth of pre-show professional networking as visitors look to maximise their time on site, instead of simply turning up and visiting stands. Increasingly, exhibitions will be as much about meeting peers and industry leaders as visiting exhibition stands.

What’s the hardest thing about running a technology trade show?

Spending a week with our sales team.

How will Channel Expo 2009 be different from previous shows?
We have taken some vital feedback from the 2008 event and used it to build a more detailed education and training programme, featuring key speakers from all areas of the industry.

We have picked out topical business areas that we think will affect our visitors the most over the next year and assembled a highprofile line up of expert speakers, business leaders and entrepreneurs to provide valuable advice and help for delegates looking to build a stronger business through difficult times.

2009 is also attracting more exhibitors as vendors and distributors recognise the value of the show. It’s great to see new clients exhibiting at the show such as Dell and Northamber and also exhibitors from 2008 confirming their presence again.

What aspects must stay the same?
Channel Expo’s ability to bring together buyers and sellers in a focused, high quality, professional environment.

Would you ever consider expanding Channel Expo into Europe?
The great success of Channel Expo is that the show understands and engages with the specifics of the UK market. Any European show would need to replicate that understanding across borders.

Where do you see the technology trade going in the next five years?
What will be the major issues and most popular products? I think it’s difficult to look beyond this year as we all wait to see how 2009 unravels. Although cost slashing, acquisitions and restructuring tales were more common in 2008, many technology providers still posted strong results.

2009 may be the year when more traditional resellers finally bid farewell to box-shifting business models to concentrate their efforts on the sophisticated provision of solutions, crammed with value-add. Demonstrating return on investment and business efficiency will be key for all in the channel this year.

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