Chris Jones asks whether trade shows are part of a by-gone era

With concerns about the coronavirus already resulting in the cancellation of numerous public events around the world, it seems as good a time as any to ponder on the value of trade exhibitions and their contribution to the heating and plumbing sector.

There was a time when physically attending an industry show would be the best way to learn about industry developments or catch up on the latest product innovations, but in our digital age, with video conferencing, constant news updates and social media comment, do we really need to gather in an exhibition hall to get up to speed?

Are such events part of a by-gone era or can they thrive in modern times?

While large scale gatherings are temporarily under threat, the long term future of trade exhibitions looks pretty well assured

Chris Jones PHAM News Chris Jones Editor of PHAM News

European shows

The biennial Mostra Convegno exhibition, the Milan based trade fair dedicated to heating, air conditioning and plumbing technology, was set to take place in March this year but has fallen victim to Italy’s travel restrictions and has now been postponed until September.

The most recent event in 2018 attracted more than 162,000 visitors over four days, with over 50% arriving from outside Italy, but even these impressive figures are dwarfed by Frankfurt’s ISH fair, which is staged in alternate years.

Last time out ISH brought 190,000 visitors to its 19,000m2 of exhibition space – the rough equivalent of 39 football pitches.

With those kind of numbers, it would be hard to argue that there isn’t an audience for these sizable multi-national events.

For many of the biggest brands in our industry they represent critical dates on the calendar, taking up a hefty slice of the marketing budget, as product launches and technological advances are timed in readiness for a grand unveiling.

UK shows

In contrast to these international trade fairs, UK shows in this sector look distinctly parochial.

Most exhibitions in recent years have struggled to attract visitors from around the country, let alone from overseas.

Is it the relative small scale of the event that limits the numbers or does the target audience simply have no appetite to travel any great distance to attend an exhibition at the NEC, ExCel or assorted football grounds?

It would be an interesting experiment to transport the Milan and Frankfurt shows to somewhere in the Midlands and see if they are equally successful in pulling in the crowds as they are on the continent.

If there were more reasons to justify the potential sacrifice of a day of earnings, perhaps UK installers would be as enthused by these events as their European counterparts.

Exhibitors

For manufacturers and suppliers, whether or not to fund the not-insubstantial cost of hosting an exhibition stand also warrants careful consideration.

Today, it is so much easier for companies to communicate directly with their target audience or stage a series of invitation-only events, but many still recognise that there’s some value in showcasing their products and services to passing traffic in an exhibition hall.

After all, even the most established brands can never assume that all their potential customers have been accounted for.

And for new names looking to get a foot-hold in the market, a trade show provides a perfect opportunity to make a bit of a splash and announce their presence to the world.

Networking

It should also be acknowledged that many of our industry’s trade shows have evolved in recent years so that they are as much about providing a source of information as they are about selling and marketing products.

The recent Furturebuild event, for example, had a full programme of talks and presentations covering an extensive range of subjects relating to the built environment and low carbon technologies, thereby engaging with those who are probably more interested in being educated than sold to.

That said, the social appeal of these events shouldn’t be underestimated. The opportunity to catch up with industry colleagues and friends, or network with company decision makers, is reason enough for many people to add their name to an attendance list.

For that reason alone, while large scale gatherings of people might be temporarily under threat, the long term future of trade exhibitions looks pretty well assured.

Chris Jones is Editor of PHAM News