Stone Column

Stone Column: Trade Show Mania

January 1, 2005
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After arriving home late one night last October -- after yet another trip back from Newark International Airport in New Jersey -- I looked down at the set of keys in my hand and was not sure which one would open the front door to my house. I slowed my pace to concentrate, and it was at that moment that I realized things were getting out of hand.

Shaken by this experience, I went to my office the next day, and looked at the month of October on my wall calendar. Three major trade shows took place in October, all of which have importance to the U.S. market -- Marmomacc in Verona, Italy; the International Tile & Stone Show (ITSS) in Las Vegas; and StonExpo in Los Angeles. As a result, I had been out of town for over 20 days during the course of the month. Going beyond numbers, I missed most of the Northeast's fall foliage season, almost all of the Major League Baseball playoffs and my 34th birthday. (Tearing down a trade show booth at StonExpo, after all, hardly qualifies as a birthday “celebration.”)

For many of us in the stone industry, October 2004 was a month of pipes and drapes; of plastic trade show badges; of thin carpeting and subsequently swollen feet. It was an ever-changing stream of new hotels and all that comes along with it -- figuring out the room key; the shower; the television; and, if you're lucky, the coffee maker. I ran into some colleagues who did the “trade show trifecta” along with me, and everyone was worn out. Even the heartiest of industry veterans carried a haggard expression that read, “Enough is enough.”

I have long been an advocate of stone industry trade shows, and I have argued that something can be gained from each and every event in our sector. But it appears that matters have gotten to the point that many of the stone industry shows are operating unilaterally, as if there is nothing else on the landscape but their singular event. Dates and locations are being continually shifted with no regard for the dates of other shows or the logistics involved. Mind you, I am not singling anyone out here, since all of the major stone shows in the U.S. have changed their dates over the past few years for one reason or another. (Although I should point out that Marmomacc sets its dates in Verona years in advance, and the show always somehow manages to take place as originally scheduled.)

At one point during this absurd game of “musical chairs,” the record stopped with ITSS and StonExpo taking place in the same city at the same time, prompting one colleague to wearily note: “Someone needs to blink in this game of trade show chicken.” Fortunately, StonExpo's new owners wisely moved their dates to a different time than ITSS -- which in my eyes is the only good reason to move show dates from those originally planned.

Two of the major trade shows in this country -- Coverings and StonExpo -- are being run by new organizations, and ITSS is a relative newcomer to the stone industry as well. As editor of our industry's trade magazine for more than a decade, I would like to offer an industry perspective. The vast majority of trade show attendees and exhibitors don't care who is actually running the event. Sure, they want good results, but they don't really care if it is a big corporate entity or a small office that organizes the show. Exhibitors simply want a lively show that takes place in a suitable venue without excessive drayage costs. Attendees want to be introduced to new products and services in a well-planned environment -- and they want seminars. If a trade show organizer can achieve those things, no one cares what their corporate structure is.

This is not meant as any disrespect to the show organizers, because I know running a trade show is not easy. But the same applies to my magazine, for example. Our readers want a good product to show up at their door every month, and they don't care if we are owned by a large conglomerate or by a retired couple from Ohio. They probably don't care where I went to college, either, or what kind of relationship we have with our competitors. It just doesn't matter.

Some of my colleagues in the trade press have found that the jockeying among organizations makes for interesting news. I disagree. It just fuels the fire, and I for one would rather see it die out. The only reason I am writing this column is because I think a lot of trade show attendees are getting fed up, and I fear we're going to “kill the Golden Goose,” so to speak. As I said, trade shows are a valuable resource and they can bolster and advance the industry when they are done the right way.

Now, the way I see it is this: Coverings is taking place in early May, so they run no risk of conflicting with other stone shows right now. (Just keep an eye on the AIA and CarraraMarmotec dates in future years, OK, guys?) As for StonExpo and ITSS, right now the dates are different, although I have heard whispers that yet another move might be made. This must not happen.

(By the way, I ultimately made it into my house that dreary October night. Turns out it was the slightly tarnished key with the “Reliant” logo on it. I'll have to remember that this fall if the merry-go-round starts again...)

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