Report from World of Concrete

World of Concrete is an annual, mega-trade show event focused on concrete construction and produced by Hanley Wood. Chusid Associates was there, in Las Vegas, in force this week, supporting six clients that participated in the show. Here are some impressions that may be useful to you as you consider your trade show plans:

There was 1/3 less exhibit space used this year compared to last, undoubtedly due to current economic pressures. I have not seen attendance figures yet, but am sure they were down significantly. Yet the show floor felt just as vibrant as ever; fewer people in a smaller space = the same visitor density. More importantly, those attending this year had a higher concentration of buyers (or at least shoppers). In the past, in contrast, some contractors or concrete producers would bring a dozen or so employees as a mid-winter junket; they would wonder the aisles and gawk, but not have any purchasing authority. This year, everyone there seemed to know what they were looking for.

Many exhibitors took smaller spaces. Lafarge Cement, for example, has had 20 x 30 foot island booths in the past; this year they had a 10 x 10 ft booth that was un-staffed when I walked past. It is as if they kept a token participation in the show to preserve their priority ranking in the draw for future exhibit space. Firms that had both inside and outside booths in the past chose one or the other. The quantity of swag being offered was also reduced, and hospitality events seemed less extravagant. For example, last year's reception for one specialty cement producer had a giant roulette wheel that attendees could spin for prizes ranging from t-shirts with the company's logo to $100 bills. This year, guests got only free food and drink, plus a chance to schmooze with the sales team.

Even with decreased construction activity, many exhibitors enjoyed great success -- due either to significant product launches or better booth selling skills. An example of the former is our client, Lythic Solutions. Last year's World of Concrete was the launch of their new business. After a year of planting seeds in the market -- through advertising, PR, a rep network, and effective word of mouth -- their booth enjoyed very high traffic with people now ready to write orders.

Safety Step TD, in the second category, had double the number of qualified visitors. At our suggestion, they made a few minor changes in their booth design, and trained their booth team to work the crowd proactively. It worked.

World of Concrete has a large and active press room, with three rows of tables for press kits. Last year, the table was full. This year, it wasn't even half full. Certainly the decrease was partly due to fewer exhibitors. And some exhibitors probably eliminated their press kits in their struggle to cut costs. But this may also signal an increased reliance on electronic distribution of press releases.

Still, I believe that hardcopy press kits are valuable tools; we used them to introduce our clients to editors. We also made effective use of the press conference room at the show. While only four or five editors attended each press conference we produced, there is no charge for the rooms -- making this an attractive value proposition.

Want to learn more about trade show sales and marketing? Chusid Associates will be conducting workshops on the topic at CONSTRUCT 2010.