The ABC Kids Expo is the pre-eminent trade show for company's like ours to meet with buyers from boutiques and retailers in the US and Canada. It had been held in Las Vegas for the longest of times but this year they shifted it to Louisville, Kentucky which surprised a lot of people.
One rationale we heard was that the organisers wanted it closer to the East coast. I am pretty sure there are many direct flights from Boston / NYC to Vegas but none to Louisville. All involve at least two hops. For many cities, there is only one flight into Louisville each day. Miss your flight and you miss a day of the show. And that's nearly what happened to our PR guru.
A large contingent of gPeeps headed out last week. When the first part of our group arrived it was clear that registered attendance numbers were way down on last year so we had one of our group cancel their travel plans. The rest set up the booth and hoped.
The frustrations mounted as each hour went by. The official hotel (where our group stayed) was next to the Convention Center. A quick walk. Awesome.
But the trade show was at the Expo Center all the way back out at the airport. The opposite of awesome.
A free shuttle was on offer between the hotel and the expo center. Fabulous. But it took 45 minutes one way while a taxi took 20 minutes but it cost $30. The opposite of fabulous.
Kim tried to knock out some work at the local Starbucks but there was no WiFi at all. As in, at all. This was in direct conflict with Louisville's tagline: "It's possible here". It depends on what "it" is. If it's email, it actually isn't possible.
There was no real concession area. Just 4 – 5 small sellers of really average looking fare who ran out of food early on the first day.There was no coffee at the trade show itself. It was an hour round trip to find any. These concerns might seem petty but the show is on for 9 hours a day for 4 days. 36 hours on your feet, uncaffeinated. Kim did the coffee run on the first day and while walking back to our booth through the show, she was apparently offered many millions of dollars by fellow exhibitors dying for a caffeine hit. A hit all the more needed when the attendance was so low.
So I think this afternoon when the show wraps up, the organisers will be taking a long, hard look at the 2012 event. They are probably locked into Louisville in a multi-year deal so not much they can do about that. For next year there are so many things they can improve.
The risk is one bad year kills off attendance going forward and it is a downward spiral from there. We haven't registered for 2012. It is hard to do so when you speak with key account buyers who say they are not planning to attend in the future.
I am optimistic. The organisers have a stellar record, winning many Trade Show awards so they know what it takes to succeed. Here's hoping they can turn it around.