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Trade Shows: Still Valuable After All These Years

January 2nd, 2020 by Kenneth Abrahams

Over the years, there has been a steady decline in the number of trade shows held nationwide, along with fewer associations that put them on. Prior to the creation of the Internet, trade shows were the best way to get specific information about one industry, all in the same place at the same time. It is hard for people that weren’t born 30-plus years ago to envision a world where sources of information arrived via snail mail or in magazines. It could take weeks to get a brochure or a catalogue from a supplier and even longer than that to connect with a salesperson. Remember, back then, many salespeople spent a lot of time on the road actually visiting clients. Of course, only the very wealthy had car phones so instant access was for the most part unheard of.


Trade shows, for many, were the most efficient way to connect with vendors, get information on products, attend sessions on best practices, network with new vendors or clients, or simply see current clients or suppliers. Trade Show floors were bustling with activity, and bars, restaurants and hospitality suites were often where business was done and deals closed. Over time, people became more reliant on technology. Whether it was using the Internet to research products, get almost instantaneous quotes via email, or contact a company representative via their ever-present cell phone, the allure of trade shows faded. Many companies felt the benefits were outweighed by the expenses, add on employee time out of the office and many trade shows became financially unfeasible. 


Perhaps it is the fact that in six weeks this fall I attended seven trade shows, but I am not in that camp. That would be the camp of trade shows having diminished or have no value. Maybe it is because I have some distrust of the Internet, having purchased a number of goods that didn’t quite live up to the quality of their description or reviews; but I still see huge value in trade shows. Yes, there is a huge expense in attending them. One must simply walk by our CFO’s office during the tradeshow season as he grumbles about booth fees, registration costs, airfare or hotel costs. More than once this season, I have been called to his office to answer the “Haven’t we already paid for this?” question. But, despite the expense, I still attend many trade shows.


What do I like about trade shows, where is their value you might ask? Please allow me to explain. My gray thinning hair and more than a few wrinkles on my face would lead you to the assumption that I am older. Guilty as charged. For me there is great value in having those one-on-one, face-to-face conversations. Being able to shake someone’s hand and look them in the eye often provides more information in a few minutes than dozens of emails back and forth. Instead of hours of phone calls in one day, where I may or may not talk to my client or prospect, I can connect face-to-face with dozens of them all at once. We can conduct our business and exchange information in minutes instead of days of phone tag.


There are more advantages that tradeshows offer as well. Generations X, Y and Z are losing some of those “soft skills”. They have no idea how to network. Business social events where they need to work a room, for many of them, are akin to going into a haunted house around Halloween—absolutely terrifying. So much of their human connection is done virtually and they struggle when it happens face-to-face, especially if it is with someone from a different generation. Trade shows are a great way to improve those skills that will prove invaluable as they navigate the business world. Another benefit is that trade shows allow you some time away from your office to get to know some of the people that you work with, supervise, advise or mentor. Being removed from the office allows us time to talk to people without interruption. There are often meals where phones are put away and there are few, if any, distractions. These are times when we really can focus on others and learn more about them.


Yes, there are some downsides to tradeshows, but don’t sell them short. They can and do provide incredible value, if you let them. Face-to-face, in my humble opinion, is still the best way to size someone up and get to know them. Years ago, United Airlines ran a commercial where a business executive called his staff together and handed out airplane tickets. He explained that they needed to see their clients face-to-face instead of always on the telephone and he was on the right track. So, if you get the opportunity to attend a trade show take it, you won’t be disappointed. Of course, if you ever need anything to bring that wow factor to a tradeshow, your booth or a hospitality suite, we are just a phone call or an email away.



Ken Abrahams has been going to trade shows for 40 years now. As an introvert these can be painful experiences but also rewarding. He is a veteran of more than 300 trade shows as a student and a professional. Through these shows, associations and organizations, he has conducted lots of business, eaten hundreds of plates of conference chicken, had tons of laughs and made lifelong friends.


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