dog playing deadMany think KBIS is dying a slow, ugly death. Just about everybody has mentioned it at one point.

So is that the case?  Are we seeing less and less each year or will KBIS make a recovery?

Here were my random observations as a last minute exhibitor at KBIS this year:

  • Having gone to many of the shows it was apparent to many of us how small it was this year.  Personally, I’m ok with small and I found it worked better.  Sometimes when things are too large people just get lost in the confusion of it all.
  • The manufacturers may have pulled out on exhibiting, but they were certainly there poking around.  Even if it was just for a day or two.  I wasn’t sure what to expect here, but it was a positive sign that they see value in going to the event.
  • The use of more seating areas (probably because of the lack of exhibitors) was excellent.  It gave many of us comfortable and private areas to discuss with prospects.  In previous shows this could usually only be done by renting some sort of expensive, off-site meeting room.  I found the layout of KBIS this year much warmer and welcoming, and worked better for exhibitors.
  • I heard several exhibitors complain of extra charges from the show, but they seemed to resolve these satisfactorily.  We experienced the same, but most people associate this with Chicago unions more than KBIS itself.  Personally, I still can’t figure out why anyone would run a show in Chicago when other non-union cities would bend over backwards for the business.
  • I noticed a strong trend that manufacturers and dealers alike are not only struggling, but they’re starting to really do something about it.  It seems that the industry is finally coming to grips with things most people would find obvious (use of social media, doing things differently, technology, etc.). This encouraged me because most of our industry up to this point is bassackwards.  🙂
  • I was excited that this year’s state of the industry speaker actually talked about technology, urging companies to market more creatively.  That was awesome and we all wanted to get up out of our chairs and clap (but we thought that would be awkward).  Not just because we’re a technology company, but also because people in our industry are finally getting it.  After all, if what you’re doing now doesn’t work, continuing to do things the same way is madness.

We haven’t exhibited at KBIS for years – mostly because we’re pushing dealers to market online now.  But I will tell you we found the experience surprisingly positive for the money we spent (we co-exhibited, so it was much cheaper for us).

The event is sound, the economics are not

Overall, I think the event is sound, but the economics of the event are not for most companies.  I think event coordinators sometimes miss that events like this are predominately for market awareness. And even though sales are made, market awareness doesn’t necessarily have an immediate return on investment.

But in this day and age, every company in our industry is micro-managing their marketing dollars so they can try to get an immediate return on investment.  We can argue that viewpoint in another article, but right or wrong, that’s where things are out of sync with KBIS.

What KBIS should do

If I were running KBIS, I’d be trying to knock out expenses for exhibitors like crazy.  People clearly want to come to the show; the old KBIS pricing model just doesn’t work.  They should be looking for smaller towns or areas outside of major cities in suburbs close to downtown.  People in our industry don’t really care that it’s downtown — in fact we find that a pain in the butt because of the travel expenses and downtown madness.

Besides, if I have to take a 15 minute cab ride to KBIS to fight downtown traffic, then I’m more than willing to take a 15 minute cab ride from a suburb to downtown to party like a rockstar.

I think if KBIS found a way to cut their exhibition fees in half, you’d see resurgence in people wanting to exhibit in the future.  Remember, KBIS like many other traditional industry events, is up against online marketing now.  And I suspect if changes aren’t made to the event’s pricing model, more and more people will just want to attend instead of exhibit.

Then we’ll all be mulling around with nothing to look at – but each other.