By Lauren Burns
I had the opportunity to talk with representatives from two different state shows regarding low attendance numbers — and what they are doing to combat them. John Bobb-Semple, Convention Coordinator for the Oklahoma Dental Association, and Richard Stevens, Executive Director of the West Virginia Dental Association, tackle the problem.
Lauren Burns: Have you noticed any attendance trends at the state show?
John Bobb-Semple: There are many variables in attendance trends for us because we often change the location of the meeting – we switch from Tulsa to Oklahoma City. It just depends on which city people come to, but there has been a consistent drop in our attendance over the last few years.
Richard Stevens: No, ours has been relatively stable. We have an attendance that varies from 18 to 22 percent of our members. This year, we have our meeting in July, and we have a substantial increase in number of exhibitors – about 30 percent.
Burns: Are you implementing any new strategies for 2013?
Bobb-Semple: We've changed the weekend that we normally have our meeting so that there are no conflicts with other conferences.
Stevens: No, I was pleasantly surprised by the increased number of exhibitors, so I haven't given thought to changes. I've been in this business for 37 years, and I was an exhibitor prior to my position here.
Burns: How do you draw doctors to your show?
Bobb-Semple: We provide less CE opportunities, but bigger names.
Stevens: I look for vendors and suppliers and identify those that provide services, products and equipment to dentists that relate to what our education program is about. I start promoting about five or six months before the meeting by inviting an exhibitor to write a brief of the services and products that they make available to dental practices, and I publish that in our emails to dentists. It draws dentists' attention to the meeting. A few years ago, I changed the format of the meeting to allow dentists the flexibility of time they want to spend at the meeting. The meeting used to be spread out over four days so there was a lot of down time – wasted time. So I changed the meeting format to a full day just on Friday, because it was the most preferred day by dentists to do a meeting course. No frills, just a full day of meetings and clinical programs. And I made Saturday a half day. This resulted in dentists coming on Friday and then leaving. Some do Friday morning and come back for the half day on Saturday and then leave. Some come from Thursday to Sunday. Doing this gives dentists options – since we've held our meeting at a resort since 1961, some dentists bring their families and make a vacation out of it. For dentists who come solely for professional reasons, they don't have to waste any time, and they only have one night of lodging to pay for – plus, they're able to work more, so they make and save money.
Burns: How do you work with exhibitors to make sure they're happy?
Bobb-Semple: Over the last three years, we've kept our booth rate stable, but unfortunately we had to raise the price this year because our costs went up. We've extended our hours, had receptions in the exhibit hall, and we've started delivering lunch to our exhibitors. We send a list of our vendors to the exhibitors before the meeting.
Stevens: We have a luncheon with exhibitors. Sometimes it's a boxed lunch, where dentists can stand or visit booths, and other times it's a formal lunch. We do that for two hours, and we attribute one hour of CE credit to dentists and assistants who attend the luncheons. That gives the exhibitors exposure. We have a continental breakfast which is hosted by the exhibitors (included in their fee). That gives them attention and traffic. Also, we're a small state, so our exhibit fee is low. We have a second meeting in January, and if an exhibitor attends our July meeting and they want to attend the January meeting, we give them a 25 percent discount for the January meeting.
AN ARTICLE OF INTEREST
Poor procedures send profits down the drain: learning from Starbucks
Consultant Sally McKenzie suggests that dentists take a step back and focus on the seemingly insignificant details of their dental practice systems to make sure they don't turn profit into loss. She uses Starbucks as an illustration.
On www.dentistryiq.com, search "Starbucks"