CounterPoint

Trade Shows: Fear and Greed

The JCK Shows in Las Vegas and Orlando. JA New York Shows in spring and fall. The Couture Show in Phoenix. Regional shows in Columbus, Dallas, Atlanta, and Miami. And now Professional Jeweler’s new shows in October and February. What’s going on here? Why so many shows? Consider the words of Michael Douglas playing Gordon Gecko in the movie Wall Street: “Follow the money.” The money consists of fees collected by trade-show organizers from exhibitors and revenues collected by exhibitors from retailers patronizing the shows.

It’s been said that the proliferation of trade shows in the jewelry industry is a function of fear and greed. Fear, because the exhibiting manufacturers are afraid they’ll miss out on business that will then flow to competitors who do exhibit at the show. And greed because the exhibiting manufacturers are afraid they’ll miss out on business that will then flow to their competitors who do exhibit at the show.

Developing any product—whether a piece of jewelry, a new diamond shape, a magazine, or a trade show—necessarily begins with a concept that addresses the consumer’s needs or wants. It should not begin with preconceived notions of what boards of directors, bankers, or business-plan writers think. And how are consumer needs determined? That process starts with basic legwork called market research.

For example, at the 1991 Pacific Jewelry Show, Joy Englebert of JCK asked my reaction (I was a senior VP at Krementz at the time) to the idea of JCK sponsoring a trade show in late May or early June. The object: to be more timely, affordable, and exhibitor-friendly than the New York show. Other JCK personnel canvassed the show, eliciting enthusiastic responses from nearly everyone. The result of these initial market research steps was the incredibly successful JCK Las Vegas Show.

Assessing the needs and wants of the marketplace, whether it is the exhibitor or the retailer base, is the key to whether any trade show, particularly a new one, makes sense. Timing, location, cost, convenience, and concept all are part of the process of needs assessment. Talking with exhibitors and retailers is a necessary first step to identify unfulfilled opportunities, if indeed there are any.

The jewelry industry is very competitive, from high end to low and for every segment, including manufacturers, retailers, and diamond and colored gemstone dealers. That’s equally true in the magazine and trade show businesses. Every business looks for ways to “knock off” the leader from its perch. In beverages, it’s Coke fending off Pepsi. In rental cars, it’s Avis taking on Hertz. In Internet technology, it’s Cisco vs. Lucent. In trade shows and magazines, it’s Reed Elsevier vs. Miller Freeman. Tough competition is everywhere, and if you want to remain on top you’d better do your homework.

Several years ago at the JCK Show in Las Vegas, keynote speaker Joseph Segal, chairman of QVC, gave the industry his view of the future of retailing. He said convenience and time saving would become increasingly important for consumers. Businesses that cater to the retail segment had to learn to do it right the first time, since consumers were less tolerant of time wasters.

The same argument is true for trade shows. Thinking about the needs of retailers and exhibitors and ways to make trade shows more timely, convenient, and efficient from the customers’ perspective should be the objective. Fear and greed? Maybe not. Maybe it’s just a lack of marketing research or wishful thinking.