Shows Reflect Tough Times, But Happier Days Will Come Again

Here's a pop quiz. What do the following have in common? The war in Iraq; the US economic recession; Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS); and travel budget cuts.

Answer: The Converting Machinery/Materials Conference and Exposition (CMM) held April 14-17 at McCormick Place, Chicago, IL. Unfortunately, all these extreme circumstances converged simultaneously to surround the CMM show.

Despite the difficult situation, CMM's organizers, Paperloop/Community Products, report 22,438 serious and focused buyers from 55 countries over the course of four days, visiting 700+ exhibitors. Considering the attendance trend for all exhibitions — not just CMM — has been downward over the last two to three years (CMM's 2001 attendance 28,000+ with close to 900 exhibitors), the decreased attendance figures are not surprising.

All shows serving the converting industry have issues to sort out. While the bulk of exhibitors with whom I spoke at CMM were strongly positive about converter sales leads, a smaller percentage were mildly to very unhappy. Likely this difference of opinion is not unusual for any show. With CMM 2003 staged during the most difficult convergence of negative circumstances surrounding any show (possibly in exhibition history), I remain convinced CMM is the best venue for converters and the vendors serving them.

However, these tough times have caused many companies — converters and suppliers alike — continually to analyze their return on investment in all aspects of their business, and exhibitions in general have hit many radar screens as a good place to consider cutting. Declining attendance figures at most shows prove this point.

Here are some problems industry professionals have repeated to me: First, there are too many shows. Just as suppliers and converters have experienced consolidation, exhibition organizers ultimately also must face their fates, possibly including a consolidation or, worst-case scenario, dissolution. In the end, it is the customers who will determine this.

Suppliers deciding whether to exhibit at shows are focusing more and more on cost — not only for floor space and booth design but also the cost to ship heavy equipment to the show as well as the cost for setup, travel to the show, housing, and food for booth personnel. With increasing costs, many exhibitors have opted to downsize their booths, leaving little room to accommodate working machinery.

Prospective attendees, in turn, frequently determine which show(s) to visit based on the diversity of working equipment and/or materials they can find in one place. A show's location also is often a consideration, depending on the cost of an airplane ticket and the availability of reasonably priced housing. They, too, are looking for the best bargain in selecting which shows to attend as much as exhibitors must determine which shows they can afford.

The result can be a vicious circle of negative factors that ultimately may spell doom for a show.

As for CMM 2003, many of the conferences (including the PFFC-sponsored session) were well-attended, and so were the new AIMCAL and Brazilian pavilions. Paperloop VP Leo Nadolske says 60% of exhibit space already is reserved for CMM 2005, adding, “Equally impressive is the fact that there were strong sales on the show floor and that the overall outlook for future sales was very optimistic.”

Surely, happier days will come again.

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