The show must go on

27th of April 2012 Article by Andrew Large

Andrew Large, executive vice-president for the World Federation of Building Service Contractors (WFBSC), looks ahead to ISSA/INTERCLEAN, which is just over a week away.The great and good of the cleaning industry will be heading for Amsterdam in early May to attend ISSA/INTERCLEAN. This biennial show is in many ways the summit for suppliers to the industry. It is a global showcase and exhibitors and attendees flock in their thousands.

But as the world's economic woes seem to stretch into the middle distance, trade shows in general are looking to their laurels and the value they offer to both exhibitors and visitors alike.

From a visitor perspective, a lack of true innovation is a real issue. Much of what we will see in May is similar to things that were shown 20 years ago. Yes, there is incremental innovation; yes new technology is being introduced in the cleaning sector, but the fundamentals of trolleys, tub vacs and scrubber dryers remain the same.

I have heard the ceo's of many UK cleaning contractors say that when they attend an event they want to leave knowing something they did not know before. For exhibitors, ISSA/INTERCLEAN is a chance to meet that need by showing a concept that no one has ever seen, but few seem to try.

Exhibitors too are changing the way in which they interact with their customers. Trade shows are democratic events; they offer an equal opportunity to all to see and be seen. To create a more protected environment many manufacturers now are investing in their own display facilities where they can have close conversations with customers without the siren calls from other suppliers interfering.

For customers, the question is whether they want a wide market view or a close relationship with a few suppliers (or indeed both). For the manufacturer, how do they attract new customers, given that an invitation to a single manufacturer event is likely to be perceived as a 'sales pitch' and may be ignored.

Trade shows are at a crossroads. Faced with visitors disappointed by a lack of innovation and manufacturers seeking protected conversations with their customers, they themselves need to innovate. Radical product innovation can be driven by show awards schemes; especially those that set challenging targets and reward true novelty. These might also pull in design consultancies and students, seeking new markets for their skills. The level of interaction also needs to be increased.

Trade shows should not be passive events, and conference and networking opportunities should be grown to encourage commitment and engagement. For manufacturers, trade shows need to be more targeted in how they present new markets and customers, to show that they offer something different from single supplier events.

Shows also need to give opportunities for thought leadership and exploit wider networks, including social media to create both 'buzz' and interest from new groups. Like their exhibitors, trade shows cannot stand still - they need to lead the agendas of their industries. Just because they build it, there is no guarantee that people will come.


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