Cyclists on the Showfloor

Nielsen Exhibitions is the latest show organizer to become part of a trend that has been slowly building momentum for years and recently seems to have picked up steam: It is inviting the public, the consumer, on to the once-hallowed business-only trade showfloor.

In a Monday morning conference call, Interbike General Manager Pat Hus announced there would be a place on the cycling showfloor for attendees’ customers, but in a limited way that seems to make sense to me.

Retailers—the heart of Interbike’s attendee base—will get a pre-determined number of invitations

that they can pass on to what they consider their best customers. Somebody—the retailer, the customer, whoever—pays a $50 admission fee and the customer is allowed on the showfloor the last day of the show, which happens to be a Friday, and the possible beginning of a three-day weekend in Las Vegas.

It does come a day and a half after the CrossVegas race, one of the largest cyclocross races in the United States, and a day before the Viva Bike Vegas race, which takes cyclists on a Tour de France-style course through the Las Vegas Strip and, in some cases, as far as Hoover Dam. And, of course, Nielsen itself will be staging a handful of cycling-related events around and on that Friday as well.

Get the point? Interbike is moving beyond the boundaries of the strictly defined tradeshow in which attendees (in this case, retailers) look at new products and make deals with exhibitors on the merchandise they hope to eventually sell to their customers. Instead, the show will also be a pl

atform to raise the enthusiasm level for cycling among what retailers themselves have said is a very excited part of their customer base.

At the same time, in an era and an industry in which it is easier every day for consumers to find what they want online, Interbike is helping the brick-and-mortar retailers establish the relationships with customers that, in some ways, are slipping away ever so swiftly.

In the first paragraph of this blog post, I mentioned the possibility of a trend, one in which traditional b-to-b tradeshows are helping the industries they serve make better connections with the end users of their products, and not just offering them a forum in which to make deals.

In the not-always-linear way I have of looking at things, I saw a few parallels with the agricultural tradeshow sector. The recent news that Penton Media was buyinggot me thinking about this. When news of that deal came out, I was reminded of, one, how little I know about farm shows and, two, how little it is covered in the tradeshow media (in other words, it’s not just me).

The farm show is a part of the tradeshow industry that seems to steadily grow year in and year out, spreads out over millions of square feet and attracts tens of thousands of attendees who spend several days at the shows—and yet, you wouldn’t know much about it if you were reading our magazines or surfing our websites.

One reason for that, which we once thought was legitimate, is that it hasn’t always been easy to classify these farm shows as strictly b-to-b events. From the farm show organizer’s point of view, anybody who’s a farmer or even wants to be a farmer is a qualified attendee. They often simply stand at the gate, charge a few bucks for admission and let anybody in. Who, they ask, is to say what is a qualified attendee and what is a mere “consumer?”

So, we who have had a “purist” view of the tradeshow have not always wanted to call these real tradeshows—since they don’t really qualify they’re attendees, we stick them in the same category as consumer shows. As a consequence, we have neglected a legitimate, fast-growing segment of the business.

But now, as other sectors are introducing their consumers to the mix—just as the ag shows have all along—we all need to ask ourselves: What’s a tradeshow—and who cares, as long as it’s helping the industry it serves?

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Posted by Michael Hart

Michael Hart is the executive editor of Expo. Reach him at mhart@accessintel.com.... View all articles by Michael Hart →