Finishing Line - September 2010

CCWE — EXPO or expo?
By Robert Roman

A total of 5,512 car wash equipment buyers and sellers attended Car Care World Expo 2010. The International Carwash Association has tried to put a good face on the numbers, but the reality is that they represent another consecutive year of declining attendance and a precipitous drop compared to the 10,605 who attended in 2004.

So, is the Expo broken? Perhaps it is not.

Other industries with fairly mature markets have also experienced significant decline in turnout for their meetings. For example, consumer electronics show attendance was down almost 20 percent, homes and housewares was down 13 percent, and the national restaurant association show was down 24 percent from the previous year. Arguably, some of the decline in attendance at CCWE comports with the recession and the credit crunch.

So it should come as no surprise that the number of buyers, the most coveted of attendees, fell by 900 this year — or a 19 percent decline. Given the current economic outlook, lower attendance and fewer buyers at the Expo may be a fact of life for several years.

So what about next year?

Probably the best news is that the show is staying put in Las Vegas. Other venues may be more appealing from a practical point of view, but Vegas remains one of the best and perhaps the most likely of locations to pump the “fun” factor and attendance.

Hopefully, moving out of the Las Vegas Convention Center, with rates that are set by an authority board and not discounted, and into the Las Vegas Sands will do something to help reduce the cost of attending and exhibiting.

Otherwise, success at the Expo next year will most likely fall on the shoulders of the exhibitors.

As an exhibitor, I would bank on the fact that seeing products close up and meeting with supplier prospects in person are still of substantial concern to buyers. Consequently, it is still very important for suppliers to make a presentation at Expo.

Research on U.S. trade shows continues to suggest that the quality of an exhibit is far more important than quantity (i.e. booth size and number of exhibitor personnel).

The research also suggests that successful supplier interaction greatly affects interest when combined with seeing products and trends and gathering buying information. Achieving attendee objectives significantly increases their interest level in future attendance at shows.

A good example of what is possible in applying these principles is Sonny’s The Car Wash Factory. In 2004, owner Paul Fazio doubled the company’s Expo sales orders from $400,000 to $800,000. The following year, Sonny’s generated 70 leads and wrote $4 million worth of orders on the show floor.

According to the literature, some of the gains were attributed to design and imaging such as having personnel in color-coordinated clothing, a floor plan similar to a modern convenience store, and even a 45-seat theater.

Otherwise, the big bang for the buck came from simple things like training personnel to shoulder clasp and handshake and cross-introduce whoever they greet. The company also held a series of 15-minute educational seminars. With these simple things, Sonny’s achieved attendees’ objectives in coming to the show: interact and network and also learn about recent trends and new opportunities.

In the final analysis, Sonny’s interacted with a daily average of 84 percent of booth visitors, or more than three times the average of all other exhibitors at the show.

Yes, Sonny’s is a large company and most of the suppliers that dot the exhibit floor cannot afford to put up a similar retail environment or theater. However, suppliers can emulate the strategies and tactics that Fazio used to change the way Sonny’s interacts with people.

By doing so, exhibitors can create a stronger value proposition for attendees and, hopefully, send them home feeling as though they gained an edge from attending the show.

Bob Roman is president of RJR Enterprises — Consulting Services (www.carwashplan.com). You can reach Bob via e-mail at bob@carwashplan.com.

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