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Wild January Weather Didn’t Hamper Good Start to 2014 Exhibition Calendar

Hil Anderson
, Senior Editor
March 3, 2014

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Oceanside, CA – The New Year roared in like a polar bear with a slew of epic blizzards, but the performance of trade shows in general during the critical first month of 2014 warmed the hearts of many a show organizer.

A large number of intrepid exhibitors and attendees left their ice scrapers at home and still made their way to the many major exhibitions held in January in cities such as Las Vegas, Orlando and Atlanta where cold weather is usually out of sight and out of mind.

“Usually” is the operative word because Old Man Winter threw some show organizers a curve ball in the form of deep-diving Arctic cold and heavy snow and ice. More than 200 million people were affected, from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean and from the Northeast down to Florida, the “Sunshine State.” On January 7, numerous cities in the Midwest had the dubious distinction of being colder than the North Pole which was a balmy -20° F. 

The polar vortex resulted in numerous flight delays and cancellations, which had a ripple effect throughout the nationwide air traffic system. During the first three weeks of January, an estimated 33,000 flights were canceled, according to masFlight, a data company specializing in airline operations. That’s more cancellations than in January 2013 and January 2012 combined, the company said. 

Trade Shows Always Deliver

Even with the rough sledding, January produced some of the most robust percentage gains seen in recent months, according to the Trade Show Executive (TSE) Monthly Dashboard of Trade Show Metrics. The 22 shows surveyed yielded a 3.0% increase in exhibit space, a 2.8% increase in the number of exhibitors and a 1.1% boost in attendance despite the travel challenges. Anecdotal evidence from show organizers suggested attendance woulda, coulda, shoulda grown another full percentage point had it not been for the canceled flights and tough driving conditions for local attendees.

Atlanta was virtually paralyzed for a couple of days, but the show went on at the Georgia World Congress Center for the trio of associations that staged the International Production & Processing Expo (IPPE). The IPPE took a modest hit with a loss of some drive-in attendees; however, there were still nearly 25,000 visitors and an exhibit floor of 396,135 net square feet (nsf).

“Despite the weather, we were pleased with the number of attendees on the show floor and we received several comments about the high quality of the attendees present,” said Charlie Olentine, show manager. “In general, both attendees and exhibitors understood the challenges presented by the weather.” 

By the Numbers

The 22 shows analyzed in this report spanned 8,857,293 nsf of exhibit space in January. There were also 21,378 exhibitors and 807,943 attendees. That translated to an average of 402,604 nsf of exhibit space per show along with 1,018 exhibitors and 36,725 attendees.

The adjusted totals excluded exhibi-tors for one show in January: the Winter Fancy Food Show, which was considered an outlier in that category due to a jump of more than 25% in exhibitors. Six shows reported increases in all three metrics, and three others experienced declines in all three.

Sixteen of the 22 shows were 100,000 nsf or larger and were ranked on the most recent TSE Gold 100 list of the largest U.S. trade shows. There were also three shows that were on the TSE Fastest 50 roster of shows. Two of the Fastest 50 shows — the International CES and Surf Expo — were proud members of both lists. 

CES Breaks the 2 Mil NSF Barrier

The International CES redefined the meaning of biggest annual trade show this year. The big and mighty show shattered its own record, set last year, by blazing past the 2,000,000 nsf mark, a growth of 7.1%. The landmark show, which was ranked No. 1 on the most recent Gold 100, also grew its exhibitor base by 6.4% to 3,502. A rare drop in the attendance column revealed an estimated (1.8)% dip from 152,759 in 2013 to an estimated 150,000 this year. That number was still awaiting the results of the show’s official audit and stood in sharp contrast to a pop in the exhibitor-related metrics.

CES arguably generates more media coverage and social media buzz than any U.S. trade show, which makes it visible to far more people than were actually hiking the show floor. “CES was amazing, magical and inspiring,” said Gary Shapiro, the CEO of the CEA.

This year’s show floor was again highlighted by CEA’s 25 market-specific TechZones plus other booths in 15 different product categories. Show staff also welcomed a bevy of VIPs, including Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and members of Congress.

Other Growth Leaders

  • The Florida RV SuperShow drew a record crowd of 5,835, a 3.5% increase over last year, despite a rainy opening day that discouraged outdoor browsing among the new models of recreational vehicles. Exhibits covered an area of 954,473 nsf, which was 10% above 2013. The increase came in spite of (3.0)% fewer exhibitors.
  • ITEXPO reported double-digit growth in exhibit space and exhibitors and a 5.4% increase in attendance. Technology Marketing Corporation put together four days of sessions on high-profile tech topics that have picked up sales momentum, such as cloud computing, Web-based communications and machine-to-machine, which has earned the acronym m-to-m. The show at the Miami Beach Convention Center covered 72,000 nsf, a 24.1% increase over last year. A Las Vegas version of ITEXPO takes place in August.

The Great Outdoors

Outdoor sports were probably not on the minds of many snowbound Americans in January, but the trade show calendar had plenty of thriving shows catering to fresh-air recreation.

The SIA Snow Show was in its element in Denver with 329,300 nsf of the latest in skiing and snowboarding gear. The show floor was actually (3.2)% smaller than last year, but the SnowSports Industry Association (SIA) said moving the exhibits into the main hall at the Colorado Convention Center this year required a 200 square foot limit on booths.

The Gold 100 show picked up some extra energy from the Winter Olympics. The show opened less than a week before the games and featured an official industry pep rally and sendoff for the U.S. team.

“This was an exciting moment for every-one in snow sports,” said SIA President David Ingemie. “Walking the show this year, you couldn’t help but appreciate the huge amount of time and talent required to forge innovation on this scale.”

The sporting goods sector was also represented by the SHOT Show in Las Vegas; the PGA Merchandise Show and Surf Expo in Orlando; and Outdoor Retailer in Salt Lake City.

The SHOT Show reported record atten-dance for the second consecutive year. The crowd spiked 7.9% to 67,318, with more than 100 overseas nations represented. Exhibitor count was also up 7.9% and exhibit space increased 1.2% to 636,500 nsf. “I think that really speaks to the quality of the event and the enthusiasm and passion of our industry,” said Chris Dolnack, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

Top Cities

The SHOT Show, CES and three other Gold 100 shows propelled Las Vegas to the top spot among host cities with a combined 3,935,440 nsf of exhibit space.Tampa took the second spot thanks to the Florida RV Super Show and its 954,473 nsf. Atlanta was third with 736,765 nsf from IPPE and Atlanta Inter-national Gift & Home Furnishings Market.

Coming Up in Next Month’s Dashboard

The rough Winter conditions did not let up in February. Travel and logistical challenges continued for the exhibition industry, but the freight and the attendees still seemed to get to convention halls nationwide. 

The February show calendar was headed up by MAGIC Market Week, Advanstar Communications’ massive fashion exhibition. Tarsus staged its OFFPRICE Show for the non-branded clothing industry niche in Las Vegas at the same time as MAGICGlobal Pet Expo, which made the latest Fastest 50, had a tough act to follow. Last year’s show in Orlando grew 8% to a record 268,200 nsf.

Will these and other shows carry the momentum of January show performance? Stay tuned to Trade Show Executive’s News Ticker and E-Clips Breaking News for news as it happens, and the complete report on February shows in the next TSE Dashboard in April.