Our editorial board members review the ADA Annual Session

I recently asked the editorial board members for Proofs to share their thoughts about the ADA’s annual session in San Antonio.

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By Kevin Henry, Editor

I recently asked the editorial board members for Proofs to share their thoughts about the ADA’s annual session in San Antonio. While sauntering along the Riverwalk and tours of the Alamo were fun, it was the happenings inside the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center that had the attention of ADA exhibitors. Following are some of their thoughts after leaving the Alamo City.

Notes from the Dental Trade Alliance*

DTA members report mixed results from the ADA show in San Antonio. Final total attendance was 29,148, with 8,382 dentists registered. The configuration of the exhibit hall drew the largest number of complaints about the show. The organization of the floor “cut off” some aisles and made traffic patterns for customers very difficult. This show will be our second beta test of our new Dental Meeting Evaluation Report. We hope to launch the fully tested product in January.

* Editor’s Note: The DTA is a supporter of Proofs, but not an editorial board member. These notes were used in this article to give an overall feel for the ADA Annual Session.

From Al King, Preventech

As expected, the aisle traffic at the San Antonio meeting was low. The combination of Hurricane Ike (four hours away), the poor economy, and the relatively poor drawing power of San Antonio seemed to conspire for one of the worst ADA meetings ever, putting this meeting in the same class as the Kansas City ADA in 2001. After many conversations with the trade (primarily through the DTA Exhibits Committee), the ADA has committed to moving to better venues in future years. Once we get past Hawaii in 2009, the ADA should improve dramatically for exhibiting companies.

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Much of the discussion on the exhibits floor in San Antonio centered around the poor economy and how it might affect dental procedure counts and the purchase patterns of dental equipment and supplies going forward. The consensus seems to be that the elective and “higher-end” procedures are way down. Big cases are hard to come by. Fortunately for Preventech, dental hygiene procedures seem to be holding up so far. Let’s hope that continues.

Most seemed to feel that the effects of Section 179 purchases will be muted for the remainder of 2008 since most dentists are “tapped out.” I expect there to be some tightening of the belt. I would expect dentists and their staffs to stay open longer hours in order to maintain their historical revenue streams. The days of the three-day week seem numbered. It would make sense for them to turn their attention toward paying off the loans they have created in the past three years rather than buying new equipment and products. I would also expect a few retirements to be delayed as dentists have seen their retirement portfolios shrink.

On the consumables side, I think this will put an emphasis back on materials and products that save time or money. In recent years, much of the consultants’ selling time has been spent discussing high-tech equipment, office renovations, and new dealer services. As dentists return their attention to the blocking and tackling of dentistry on a daily basis, perhaps product performance, technique enhancing innovations, and high value alternatives will regain favor and selling emphasis.

From Mike Beaudoin, Sybron

Here are comments from our sales team that managed the booth at the show.

  • Poor booth location for us as we were located in the back hall. Convention center was poorly designed for a meeting of this size.
  • Overall foot traffic was down for Kerr. 30-40% decrease from last year.
  • We had doctors tell us that it took them “a day to find us.”
  • San Antonio was not an ideal location for this meeting.
  • Venue was nice with the River Walk and ability to walk most places; however, most attendees had to take connections to get to San Antonio.
  • The economy played a role in this as it was more expensive to fly into this destination than a major city. We are expecting Hawaii to be even worse.
  • ADA really needs to rotate the program with major cities — it would drive more local traffic as well as easier access for dentists around the country.
  • On a positive note, we saw a nice bump in our small equipment sales (curing lights) as we had several aggressive promotions running for the show.
  • The dentists and staff that did attend saw many manufacturers with aggressive promos and almost all dealers were offering 5-10% off on orders placed at their booths. Good buying opportunity.

Overall, this year’s ADA was not very good. We expected this to be a challenge but would really like to see the ADA leadership focus on bringing this back to prominence. This show, even in good years, is half of what we do in Chicago. They need to improve locations and ensure the convention halls can support equal traffic throughout. If not, you will start to see many companies limit what they spend on the ADA going forward.

From Eric Shirley, Midmark

The meeting in San Antonio continued the unfortunate trend of declining attendance at dental trade shows. I wouldn’t blame it all on the economy; we have seen declining attendance over the past several years, even in booming economic times. The clinicians who do attend seem genuinely interested in new products available to them, and are willing to spend time in our booth having meaningful conversations.

The hall layout was good for some companies, and horrible for others. I walked the exhibitor floor at various moments during the meeting, and one large section of the hall was very poorly attended.

The ADA and many other associations don’t seem to truly understand the needs of the exhibitors, and I question whether the ADA understands how impacting a properly attended meeting can be for its members. This is the association’s flagship meeting and, as a manufacturer of dental equipment and products, we are genuinely questioning the value of the annual session. Manufacturers like us have definitely cut back in how much booth space we take at the ADA and other meetings, and I only see this continuing if attendance remains in decline. There are other cost-effective and efficient ways to reach our customers, and we owe it to our employees and our customers to utilize those vehicles which provide the best return on our investments. However, we want to remain committed to supporting the ADA, and are always willing to work with the association to reverse this trend and improve attendance and impact.

From Chris Corsette, Septodont

My comments on the ADA show: Location, location, location! Meaning: Where the show is held (city) and where your booth is located in the convention hall.

One of the problems that we as manufacturers experience is the large expense in participating in conventions with seemingly consistent decreases in attendance. A major concern has always been the lack of traffic on the exhibit floor. During prime workshop and lecture hours, the exhibit floor can be very slow. Some parts of the convention center in San Antonio seemed to have greater access and noticeably with more people walking the aisles than in other parts of the building. Our experience was that of those who came to the booth, a good portion of them were ready to buy. As is the usual case, the better the destination city, the more people in attendance. San Antonio was just an okay meeting. I also think the decrease in attendance was impacted by where the meeting was held as well as the concern for the economic climate.

It could be easy to assume that the attendance was down because of the economy as well as the lack of destination city. A fairer test would be to judge a meeting that is held in a popular city and then see what attendance numbers are. That could say more about the economic climate than just second guessing. Some also take the position that it is our (manufacturers’) responsibility to bring the customer to our booths, either by pre-show marketing, special booth offers, or stimulating interest in the company’s products. I still contend that floor traffic maintains a major concern and that manufacturers are competing with CE workshops and lectures. Again, our experience was that there were people ready to buy and listen to new information. So, to summarize – LOCATION – the more popular the city, the greater the attendance.

From one of our members

* Traffic at the meeting was light; would someone please explain why the ADA has this meeting in locations where the members don’t want to go?

* Overall, we’ve seen a slowdown in purchases since mid-September. We haven’t totaled up the business we wrote at the ADA, but I’m sure it will be light.

* For next year, we’re going to cut back on our dental meeting expenses: smaller booths, fewer attendees, etc.

* Nothing interesting in the way of new products.

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