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Trade Shows Join Other Industries in Anticipating Rising Numbers

Let's be honest. Much of the trade show attendance in our industry has declined. No amount of disguising (including the “quality versus quantity” claim) will change this fact. Is this a blip in trade show attendance statistics? Some say it depends on the show.

Remember that also smaller are the budgets of individual companies that pay for employees who either staff booths as suppliers or visit the shows as converter attendees.

In turn, with less trade show attendees, many suppliers have opted to reduce the amount of contracted exhibit space they consume as well as the variety and size of equipment they showcase. With less to see, many shows seem to continue decreasing. Throw in a worldwide recession, and the circle becomes more vicious as shows come and pass.

On April 12 I returned from the quadrennial IPEX show in Birmingham, U.K., held April 9-17. Contrary to the general shrinking trend of the worldwide economy, with only a few countries as exceptions, this was IPEX's largest show with more exhibitors than in the past. Held concurrently with this show for the first time were Converflex@IPEX, PrintCity, and Vision. Exhibitors in all 18 halls were poised in hopeful anticipation to declare the recession on the wane with a pickup in equipment sales or at least an increase in “window shoppers.” Some exhibitors did experience good sales activity, but sadly, there were no aisle traffic jams.

Moreover, the funeral of the United Kingdom's beloved Queen Mother added a further depressed tone to the lackluster attendance figures.

But since the US economy started to turn sour in early 2001, the IPEXes, Prints, Plastic USAs, CMMs, and other large trade shows that have been staged can't be blamed for not trying hard. Heaven knows they've attempted nearly every trick in the book to promote the shows to as many prospective attendees as possible through every medium possible as much as their own budgets will allow.

Perhaps a bigger question is: Will trade show attendance ever surpass previous records — that seemed to grow larger (until recently) with every new staging — even after the economic recovery is evident?

The answer is anyone's guess. Certainly shrinking budgets abound, affecting research and development, travel, salaries, hiring, etc. But there are those who, with good reason, remain optimistic. A new report from NAPL VP and chief economist Andrew Paprozzi (see this column in the April issue) says, “Three key NAPL printing industry business indicators derived from our database — general business conditions, work-on-hand, and confidence — have strengthened recently. They don't suggest the industry is about to swing from gloom to boom, but they do suggest the recession is just about over.”

It's a good thing, because Chicago-held Graph Expo and Converting Expo 2002 report they are counting on the combination of a “reviving national economy, a favorable new tax climate, and the continuing surge of highly productive new technologies…to boost expectations for another successful” show this fall on Oct. 6-9 at McCormick Place.

I have my fingers crossed.

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