In late 2011, leaders of the Boston Society of Architects (BSA), one of the largest chapters of the American Institute of Architects, decided to retire two 27-year-old events BSA had co-produced, Build Boston and Residential Design & Construction, and launch a new annual tradeshow and conference in 2012 called the ArchitectureBoston Expo (ABX).
The rebranded event would also take place in a larger new venue, the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. In 2012, the show used 50,000 net square feet of exhibit space versus 42,000 net sq. ft. at the Seaport World Trade Center in 2011.
Although most of the metrics were positive for the inaugural ABX in 2012, the new location also presented several issues the team wanted to fix in 2013.
Because ABX was held in the convention center’s Hall C, attendees needed to walk past the first two halls, perceived by many as a long trek. Also, the relative locations of the trade show and conference rooms made it easy for delegates to attend educational sessions without entering the exhibit area.
Within the exhibit hall, attendees had difficulty navigating the large space and, in post-show surveys, they reported that they missed the intimacy and networking spaces of the former venue.
“We implemented a lot more signage to help people get to Hall C,” explains Angela King, ABX Marketing director. “To combat the perception that it was a long walk, we had signs that would say things like, ‘Just 50 more steps.’”
A key change for the second year of ABX was moving the registration desk into the exhibit hall. The first year, when registration was in the foyer, attendees could register and go directly to conference sessions without entering the exhibit area.
The exhibit hall itself was organized into four equal-sized quadrants separated by the main aisle and cross aisle. “Within each quadrant, we had spaces for networking, socializing, browsing and presentations,” King says.
“Each of these spaces created an identity for the quadrant and broke up the monotony and density of rows of booths.”
Near the physical center of the exhibit floor was BSA Central, which was set off with lime green carpeting reminiscent of the signature feature of the society’s headquarters, BSA Space—a lime green open staircase.
“BSA Central was a hub where people could grab coffee, sit and relax, and find out about m
embership, BSA committees, and so forth,” King says.
In another quadrant, the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance created what King calls a “park-let” with benches for networking and relaxing.
Also, BSA set up a Learning Stage where industry experts gave free 20-minute presentations during show hours. In another quadrant, the Innovation Pavilion was a “product petting zoo” that gave attendees the opportunity to touch and test dozens of new products without any pressure from salespeople.
“Traffic flow through the hall was greatly improved from 2012 to 2013 with this initiative, and the show just had a dramatically different feel,” King reports. Although King did not have traffic numbers available, she says the majority of attendees responding to post show-questionnaires said they spent two to four hours in the exhibit hall in 2013, as compared to one to two hours in 2012.
The number of exhibitors rose 9 percent, from 374 in 2012 to 407 in 2013, while ABX attendance increased 4 percent from 8,200 in 2012 to over 8,500 in 2013.
“While most shows look to technology such as mobile apps to solve wayfinding challenges today, we bucked the trend with a printed map and show guide,” King says. “We saw people really using those maps. For our tactile- and design-focused audience, anyway, having something physical was very comfortable.”