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Tiffany Montgomery
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Roy Turner gives an update on Surf Expo

By Tiffany Montgomery
December 02, 2008 6:00 AM

I keep reading about car companies pulling out of trade shows, so I thought it would be a good time to check in with the industry's largest trade shows to see how things are going. I also keep hearing rumblings that something is happening with the skate community with regard to trade shows, and wanted to try to find out more.

I sent some questions to Roy Turner, the Surf Expo show director, and Andy Tompkins of ASR.

I'll run Roy's answers today and Andy's tomorrow. Surf Expo's show in January is its biggest show of the year, while for ASR, the September show is its biggest.

Q: I've been thinking about the tough economy and how it is impacting different sectors of the industry. It's a tough time for everybody. Just recently there was a story about GM and Chrysler pulling out of the LA Auto show.


Roy Turner: Funny, I look at it as half full: Yahoo earnings are up. Google is having a great year, Apple remains a great market leader with exciting products. Companies like Research In Motion have risen to the mobile challenge with not one, but three new answers to Apple's iPhone. At the end of the day, Chrysler is still building uninspiring mini vans and GM makes gas-guzzler Hummers and SUVs - enough said.

Q: So my first question is, what are you hearing from exhibitors and attendees? 

RT: Times are tough, but we're definitely hearing that there are some bright spots out there. Online is doing well for retailers and their inventory levels are in check. There is opportunity for manufacturers in the re-order business. Acceptance of and interest in our sports in mainstream media and advertising remains extremely strong. Our industry is trend conscious and on point. We usually travel in seven-year swings, and this is based on enthusiast interest, not just the economy.

Q: How are your bookings for the January show relative to last year? 

RT: Exhibitor bookings are maybe 10% off. With retail store attendance, we're actually looking to increase our numbers by 5%. We do see, however, that stores are bringing fewer buyers - those employees they know who can get things done.

Q: Is Surf Expo doing anything new or special to attract attendees and exhibitors? Perhaps offering discounts or incentives or extending deadlines?

RT: A unique aspect of Surf Expo is our Buyer Relations department. They reach out to both exhibitors and retailers to ensure a smooth and well-balanced trade show.

They help buyers register for the upcoming show and search for the manufacturers the buyers want to see most. The staff is also in communication with exhibitors, helping them spread their marketing message to our 9,000 buyers. We have that overdrive! We have increased our buyer fly-in dollars by 50% above last year and are working with key exhibitors to make sure the right buyers are attending.

Our next buyer frontier is Canada and we are focusing efforts there as we speak. Discounts, deadline extensions? If our buyer attendance is in the right, we know we're offering more of a value now than ever.

Q: The skate community has had challenges with some of the trade show dates. Are there any changes planned to accommodate them? Or any plans to create spin off shows?

RT: We are different from ASR in that we meet the market needs of several groups outside of IASC and SIMA. Our skate market also has a large presence with some great distributors like Eastern and South Shore. So while we're in constant contact with the spectrum of our exhibitors, our decisions to move the show (dates) are more buyer-focused.

Q: What do you think of the school of thought that trade shows need to be re-engineered and a new model created for the future?

RT: Interestingly, I was a retail buyer for 25 years, and a tradeshow was the only place where I could look, see, touch, and communicate with eight or more lines a day. So over the three-day run of a show, I could efficiently get my business done without in-store interruptions. That hasn't changed. In fact, it's more important than ever. At the end of the day, the buyers are king. They are the reason we're here. What we continue to hear from them is that they value the convenience and camaraderie of tradeshows, and the ability to quickly comparison shop among the leading lines.

I would say though that this is not a new school of thought. And it's, of course, true - shows that fail to respond to their markets do so at their peril. The same is true of any business. So if market shifts dictate a renewed focus on education, or opportunities for more product categories, or changes to the date pattern, Surf Expo will respond. The primary goal of a tradeshow, to get buyers and sellers together, remains as vital and as necessary as ever though.

So who is calling for re-engineering?

Q: I'd like to end on a positive note. Is there any thing new or exciting scheduled for this show that you would like to share?

RT: Of course, our marketing department has some great new programs in the works. But I'm going to give away the surprise. All I can say is that we believe that a main element in a trade show is the "show" aspect. Look for that in our openings and closings each day - as well as events and surprises on our floor.

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