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November 1, 2003

5 Min Read
Editorial: Trade shows: Small is good

MSnyder.jpgA group of us have just returned from the MassPlastics show in Massachusetts to our respective home bases. Another group has returned from the Fakuma show in Germany. One of our crew managed to take in both shows. This provides the occasion to reflect on the place of small shows in the plastics processing industry.

?Small? is a relative term, and show sponsors are naturally reluctant to have their show lumped in with others as ?one of those small shows.? But ?small? should not be an insult. The small shows are not insignificant, they just operate on a small scale.

What are these shows, and what makes them, by themselves and collectively, good for the industry? For starters, they remind me of one definition of a good job: clean, well lit, no heavy lifting. By their very smallness, they make everything and everyone more accessible. The interests of the press corps can be selfish, but it?s really a treat to have our sources easy to find and available for conversation. Conversely, exhibitors have good access to the plastics press at small shows. That is certainly good for them.

  • Big shows?The fact is that every plastics show in the world is a small show in comparison with the K and NPE behemoths. K 2001, held Oct. 25-Nov. 1, 2001 in Düsseldorf, Germany, had 2700 exhibitors, 1.6 million sq ft of exhibit space in 17 buildings, and a reported 228,000 attendees, down from the previous show?s 260,000 due to factors related to the economy and also to the 9/11 disaster. NPE 2003, held in Chicago June 23-27, 2003 had about 2000 exhibitors, over a million sq ft of exhibit space, and a reported 63,000 attendees (down from an initially predicted 90,000).

  • Small shows?A sampling of shows in our small-show category includes Schall?s Fakuma, SPI?s Plastics USA, MassPlastics, sponsored by the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, our own Canon Plastec shows, and SPE?s Antec.

    Fakuma, held Oct. 14-18, 2003 in Friedrichshafen, Germany, had 678,000 sq ft of exhibit space, 1375 exhibitors, and 36,000 attendees. It was predominantly, but not exclusively, a German event.

    Plastics USA 2004 will host more than 400 exhibitors, occupying 100,000 sq ft of net exhibit space according to show management, which says that 15,000 visitors are expected. The show will take place on Level 3 of the East (Lakeside) Building at McCormick Place. MassPlastics, held in Fitchburg, MA, reported some 300 exhibitors and said that it expected 5000 attendees, although the actual figure was likely much smaller.

    Plastec shows, sponsored by PM&A?s parent corporation, Canon Communications, are commonly colocated with other shows. This gives the shows the best of both worlds. They can be a small show and a not-so-small show at the same time. The immediately upcoming version is Plastec West 2004, to be held Jan. 6-8 in Anaheim, CA. Other shows running in parallel are Medical Device & Mfg. (MD&M), Pacific Design & Manufacturing, West Pack, and Electronics West.

    SPE?s Antec (Annual Technical Conference) has not traditionally been a show, but rather a technical conference with an accompanying side show?originally a table-top version but now the equivalent of a small regional show. This year it was held in Nashville. In 2004 it?s slated for Chicago.

    Industry calendar listings indicate there is a plastics show held somewhere in the world virtually every week of the year. It could become essentially a way of life for an exhibitor or attendee to get to all of those shows. As a practical matter, I know of no company or individual that has made this attempt. The cumulative expenditure of time and money would be staggering.

    A benefit of the small shows is the opportunity to be selective in choosing the right ones for you, as either an attendee or an exhibitor. Small shows offer the opportunity to meet and greet customers, prospects, and suppliers in a relaxed setting. Exhibitors offer information in a low-key environment, in part because they expect few actual sales to take place in the small-show environment. Immediate sales are really not the point at a small show. Any exhibitor expecting to get a lot of immediate sales out of a small show is likely to get a heavy dose of reality for their trouble.

    It is apparently obligatory for exhibitors to grumble about something at a show, and diminished attendance on this or that day of the show provides a good target. Mostly this comes in the same category as college students grousing about the cafeteria food or military troops saying that MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) do not qualify as meals, are not ready, and are not edible. College officials and military officers know that this sort of grumbling is par for the course?if it stops there might actually be something to worry about.

    Likewise with show exhibitors. If the grumbling stops, it may be a bad sign. In the dozens and dozens of small shows I have attended, there is almost always some grumbling about too many shows or too few attendees. When I ask whether they consider pulling out and no longer exhibiting at the shows, the thought is usually met with a look of horror and rejection.The common fear of absence for potential exhibitors is that the competition will tell people that company X is on the verge of collapse, gone into bankruptcy, or at the very least, is no longer a significant player in the industry. Show sponsors have been playing this card, whether overtly or implicitly, since shows began in ancient history.

    Notwithstanding some limitations, small shows will always have a role to play in this industry. It is a good and important role, and should not be disparaged.

    Snyder-Signature.jpgMerle R. SnyderEditor

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