Thursday, September 30, 2021

On The Death Of The Trade Show

 NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....

Dave Pryor @ CrossVegas in '13

Back in the early part of the last decade I was probably in Las Vegas, or in the surrounding environs, for this thing called "Interbike". It was THE industry trade show for cycling for many years. But as with many things in Life, there were changes creeping in back then. 

One of the major changes was the dawning of social media. The instantaneous broadcasting of - literally - anything was bringing a new threat to the stability of the trade show. It was making what was once an anticipated event irrelevant. 

Gone were the times of waiting, the 'breaking of news' on one page in a magazine, or even on a website. No, now anyone with a smart phone and a connection could Tweet, Facebook, or post onto a site immediately, often, and with impunity. There were no "embargos" or editors. No filters and no managing of story lines. People walked down show aisles and posted willy-nilly on every bobble and bit they saw until, well, you could sit on your bum at home and see everything. Why bother with soiling yourself with the unwashed masses at Interbike? There was no longer any point in any of it. 

Brands and marketers figured this pivot out very quickly and took control of the loose reins. Suddenly there were less and less 'big brands' at the shows and messages now were 'managed' through controlled releases to the press via embargos. There were the brand specific 'press junkets' where brands could fly out hand picked media and groom them on their messages. Then there was the dawn of the dealer only events for specific brands where new product was released, shown, and orders written up. The very things Interbike was founded upon were now commodities controlled by the brands and marketers themselves. Interbike, as a vehicle for these things, was bypassed and no longer necessary. 

I saw that and my partner in "Twentynine Inches", Grannygear, saw that. We decided in 2013 that it would be our last Interbike show.  By this point we were able to get what we needed in a day. Hardly worth it from the standpoint of travel, lodging, food, and transportation costs to the site. (Well, in reality- that was my expense) The show had tried a last gasp attempt at life when it moved to Reno in 2018, but that was a failure, and plans for another show were shuttered afterward. There has been no Interbike since that time. 

Some folks miss the Vegas atmosphere. Not this guy!

So there ya go. A brief summary of the death of a trade show from my perspective. I would have been there around this time back in the day. So, do I miss it


Overall, the answer would be a definitive "no". On one hand, I miss meeting people. I miss getting to know a few folks that are in the industry. But really, most of that, probably 90% of it, was superficial interfacing with a person for what? Five minutes? Maybe, if you were lucky. Then it was time to shuffle onward to the next "Hey! How ya doin? Yeah, the show is great. Goin home tomorrow. Have a good one!", and so on and on....

What people maybe choose to forget is the insufferable McCarren International Airport experiences, the sights of the downtrodden who live in the shadows of Vegas' Strip, or maybe the constant reminders that, on the Las Vegas Strip anyway, humans and their sexuality were nothing more than a way to make a quick buck and were meaningless otherwise. Some lament the 'getting together of folks', but you cannot ignore the rest of what Vegas stands for. And sure, there were multiple loud calls to pull Interbike into places like Reno, Denver, Anaheim, or the PNW, but when nobody could commit or seemingly make up their mind, Vegas became the default option. I think this was another key to Interbike's demise.

Some aspects of trade shows popped up at cycling events. The DK200 2015 here.
But the trade show, as a vehicle for information dispersal and business transactions, is dead. There is no real good reason to resurrect that idea, and 'getting together' is not good enough anymore. Not in large masses in centralized locations, at any rate. Business cannot afford to be a vehicle for superficial social gatherings. 

But other events do offer the opportunity for the gathering aspect that trade shows were once known for. Now, it would seem, the expo at a bicycle event serves as that social opportunity which fills a vacuum which was once served by Interbike, and to lesser extents, other smaller bicycle trade shows. In a way, the vestiges of the trade show are now carted around to various cycling events and one can see the old ways practiced, like they used to be, when Interbike was king. It's kind of like going to see the pioneer farming exhibit at the county fair. Quaint, but still irrelevant to modern times.

Probably the ultimate example of this is Sea Otter. A bicycle festival first, but a trade show as well. Sea Otter came to prominence in the late 00's as the place to introduce new product and get it into people's hands for impressions. Media jumped onboard with Sea Otter and it quickly became a much more efficient place to do business than Interbike ever was. A much more wholesome atmosphere didn't hurt either, as well as the beauty of the Monterrey area in terms of nature. 

But even Sea Otter has become somewhat lackluster in terms of marketing and newsy items since marketing and brand managers have sought out 'influencers', 'stories', and You Tube edits which they can control and measure metrics on better for their clients. Pinpointed marketing to specific media is also a big thing now and Sea Otter paints a broad stroke which doesn't always work for that. Add in COVID, and now one has to wonder how things will look moving forward in regard to 'expos' at events. 

Whatever happens, indoor trade show events are dead. What the future holds is not completely clear to me, but one thing is for sure- I don't miss flying out to Vegas. Not even one little bit!

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