Admit it ... the cover drew you in, didn't it? It was more for effect than an overall commentary on the changing trade show industry today, so please don't draw that conclusion away from what you saw on our cover or what you'll read in my story that begins on page 6. Like the rest of you, I believe there is a great need for strong trade shows in today's dental industry.
I firmly believe in the notion that if you're not constantly looking for ways to improve yourself, you're not moving forward. Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, "There are many ways of going forward, but only one way of standing still." That's exactly what I see happening with trade shows today. Everyone is trying to put a little different spin on what they're doing to move forward and offer more to their exhibitors and attendees. Whether it's hands-on courses, food in the exhibit hall, more flexible dates and hours, or anything else, it's clear that many trade shows are trying to meet the needs of their customers.
Perhaps this month's cover story is geared more toward those shows that aren't doing anything different, yet still expect exhibitors to buy big, costly booths and attendees to chirp praise for why they came to the show ... and why they'll be back next year. While my grandpa was no FDR, he certainly had it right when he said, "If you're standing still on the train tracks when the train is coming, you're going to get run over."
Trade shows who refuse to change to meet the needs of today's attendees and exhibitors are standing still on the train tracks, and the express train known as the future is heading right toward them.
Apparently, one exhibitor had had enough of trade shows … even before the 2011 trade show season began. Darby Dental says in a widely sent letter, beginning with last month's Yankee Dental Congress, they are no longer attending the "big six" meetings. Rather, they will focus on study clubs and smaller, more intimate meetings. Their perception is that dentists don't have to attend the show to receive special pricing, so why spend all of that money to exhibit?
"We didn't do this to destroy trade shows and we didn't do this so other people would follow us," said Gary Rosenberg, president of Darby. "We believe that if you want to be heard, you make a statement. That's what we did."
Also in the letter, Darby states its belief that there is no ROI for most companies and that was a major reason for not exhibiting. Darby also cites a perceived lack of interest among the dental societies to generate the much-needed floor traffic.
Another huge factor? Darby's perception that unauthorized dealers are present on the show floor as well.
"We know there are people at these meetings who deal in gray market goods and they are undercutting us on cost," Rosenberg said. "If you're in Manhattan and you're selling Louis Vuitton merchandise in front of that store, you're going to get arrested. If you're unauthorized and selling dental materials at a trade show, you're rewarded with more sales. That doesn't make sense."
Darby's pullout was one of the big buzzes on the Chicago Midwinter trade show floor, with many exhibitors wondering if Darby would miss out on sales by not being present. Rosenberg said the company didn't miss a beat.
"We found that we had the same number of order referrals from Chicago as we had had in years past," he said. "If someone still wanted to order through Darby, our manufacturer partners made that happen. In essence, we were present without being present.
"We didn't have to pull 17 people out of the office for three days. They were still there in our office, doing business for us. The money that we saved by not exhibiting we have reinvested in more customer service personnel and more sales people to better handle our customer needs. We've wanted to see a return on our investment from trade shows and this year, we're investing that money differently."
"I think there would have to be a perfect scenario to get us to come back to those shows," said Michael Bocian, Darby's vice president of sales and marketing. "There would almost have to be a complete change of philosophy, and I think that's a long ways off."
The Dental Trade Alliance and the ADA are trying to take a step towards that, agreeing to conduct a national dentist survey in 2011, hoping to better understand the attitudes of ADA member dentists towards dental meetings and exhibitions in the U.S. The survey will be conducted in late spring and results will be published in early fall of 2011.
Everyone — exhibitors, trade shows, the DTA, etc. — has to work together and map out how trade shows will change and how that change will benefit everyone. Henry Ford once said, "If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself." Let's map out the future together ... for a stronger industry.
Read on ... this is your magazine.