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European Scene: April 2012

The trouble with trade shows

March 30, 2012  By John Roper

Currently in the United Kingdom we do not have a window trade exhibition.

Currently in the United Kingdom we do not have a window trade exhibition. Glassex, which began in 1982, was shut down after a failed attempt to merge with Interbuild, the general building exhibition.

That suffered the same fate a year later. There was a very good reason for this: nobody came. The same thing happened to a series of brave little regional shows.

Well, that is not entirely true. Of course, people visited, but not in sufficient numbers and not the right people. Glassex in the beginning was an artisan’s event. The people who came made and installed windows. No frills, that was what they did and often they looked like they had just come off a jobsite.


When Emap (a British publisher) bought the show in 1986 or thereabouts, it quickly became apparent that they did not take seriously people who were not wearing suits and did not look just like they did.

They stopped all of that nonsense – no kids, no buggies, no dogs. (Actually dogs were never allowed, but the exhibition manager got the job of looking after them.) That meant no wives and, therefore, very soon, no window installers. At least not the small ones: the one-man-band companies, the core of the industry at the time, the guys who carried cash. What you ended up with was the suit-wearing marketing men, salesmen and journalists: people who did not spend money on the equipment on offer.

So now somebody is launching the Fabricator and Installer Trade Show – FIT for short. And my question is, “Why, even now, perhaps especially now, would anybody go?”

For me, these days, exhibitions defy logic. Back when communication was either difficult or expensive we needed them. Manufacturers used them to launch new products. It was a good place to keep up to date and catch up with colleagues.

But now? New products are on the website. Want to catch up? Tweet me, find me on Facebook or LinkedIn. Why drive 200 miles to be bullied by car park attendants and humiliated by security men just to grab a seriously overpriced cup of coffee?

The organizers claim they will take a fresh approach to the event appropriate to the industry of the 21st century, offering ideas and working solutions designed to work in the real world. Additionally, The FIT Show has been “tailored to the needs of exhibitors and visitors following industry research.” Which strikes me as typical marketing-speak. It does not actually say how they will do this. And note: visitors come second.

Here is the same problem about to repeat itself. The organizers of FIT claim it will be different. They are ignoring what happened before and the reasons the established exhibitions failed. They are also ignoring all of the other ways we can communicate these days.

There is an exhibition in the U.K. that is successful. EcoBuild is attracting all kinds of exhibitors who want to push their environmental credentials even if, as in some cases, they don’t have any. This year will be its third manifestation but the visitor problem persists for window companies. Unless you want to see architects and journalists, you are, frankly, wasting your money.

In both cases people are not looking at the facts. EcoBuild, a fabulously glitzy show, is trading on its title – its claimed environmental credentials. An exhibition cannot intrinsically be environmentally friendly. In fact it is probably quite the opposite. For exhibitors it is a case of seen-to-be-green. Visitors may want to buy or specify environmentally friendly building products but will, in some cases, be disappointed.

As far as FIT is concerned it has no such pretensions. It is there to make money for the organizers, which it will do because companies are prepared to sign up. Finding willing exhibitors was never the problem; finding willing visitors, now there is another thing.

John Roper is the editor for The Installer, The Fabricator, The
Conservatory Installer and Glass Works magazine published in the U.K.

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