Two Tradeshows Become One

By: Linda C. Chandler

There are so many things—good and bad—that can happen when you combine two tradeshows into one. But when the National Automated Merchandising Association launched OneShow, it created an event that exceeded the sum of its parts.

The National Automated Merchandising Association's (NAMA) goal was not just to merge its regional spring exposition and national fall expo. Its goal was to make OneShow an all-under-one-roof, knock-your-socks-off event. "We were convinced that having two shows actually divided the excitement and energy that our industry and our association needed," says Jim Brinton, president of Evergreen Vending, who was NAMA's board chairman in 2008 and 2009. So NAMA's staff, members, exhibitors, and sponsors joined forces to produce something totally new, and the results were astounding.

"NAMA's income from the OneShow was the same as that of the two 2009 expos combined," says LyNae Schleyer, CMP, NCE, senior director of education and OneShow. "We had 230 exhibitors, an increase of 16 percent over our last national show, and 35 of them were new. More than 3,800 attendees registered for the new event, a number that exceeded our target."

While the OneShow last April was an unqualified success, it certainly wasn't an overnight one. The planning began several years ago and continued despite the economic slump. But the downturn, coupled with a number of other factors, allowed NAMA to drastically change the way it does business.

Evaluating the State of the Industry

Founded in 1936, NAMA represents multiple facets of the food-and-beverage vending industry, from vending machines to coffee and catering services, and involves mom-and-pop operators as well as industry giants. Advances in technology and financial practices (e.g., vending machines accepting debit and credit cards) are changing the face of the vending industry, and public issues such as taxes, food-labeling requirements, and school food programs are among concerns faced by NAMA's members.

Since the 1960s, the association has hosted a regional spring show, originally in California and later in Las Vegas, and a national show in the fall (dating to 1947) that would rotate from the East Coast to the Midwest to the Rockies. The exhibitors were essentially the same for these two shows. With the mergers and acquisitions climate of the last decade, conversations about avoiding duplication and controlling costs were constantly at the forefront.

"Strategic factors for combining our shows included evaluation of industry health, outlook, and consolidation and a proactive approach over two years to the tactical execution of the plan—making it happen under control rather than simply letting it happen subject to whatever market forces dictated," says NAMA's President and CEO Richard Geerdes.

"The basis for the change was sound in that OneShow puts the entire industry together at one time, under one roof, in the first half of the year," says Dan Mathews, NAMA's executive vice president and chief operating officer. "It benefits exhibitors and attendees alike in areas like travel savings, budgeting, planning purchases for the year, fewer last-minute dropouts [occurring in the fall show because of year-end budget revisions], expanded networking, wow experience factors, and more."

To determine whether that rationale would be accepted by the industry, in 2007, NAMA conducted surveys and hosted small focus groups and then a daylong tradeshow summit. Bellwether exhibitors, sponsors, volunteer leaders, and members were involved in developing a "collective recommendation that supported the format change," says Geerdes. "The plan was built with strong input from all stakeholders about what they wanted to see and what they thought would be successful."

By the time the board voted in February 2008 to make the transition, there was little opposition. "The COO and I provided a completely crafted plan, including financial assumptions, to the board, and we presold the executive committee and key directors," says Geerdes. "You can't underestimate the importance of one-on-one communication, having a coordinated vision and a strong way to convey that vision to obtain buy-in."

A few members objected to starting the show in Chicago in 2010 and 2011, but they were pacified by the plan to take OneShow to Vegas in 2012 and 2013. "We had to be sensitive that the attendees in the West were attached to that show," Brinton says.

NAMA leadership says staying in one city two years in a row not only gives the association more buying power, but it also makes a more compelling case for all members to attend the show no matter where it is located rather than choosing to skip a year waiting for it to be closer to their area.

Bridging the Financial Gap

Merging two shows could be expected to cut exhibitor, attendee, and sponsorship revenues in half. And because 60 percent of NAMA's annual budget was dependent on its two shows, the decision to create OneShow presented significant financial challenges for both association operations and tradeshow production. The situation was magnified because the plan had been laid out in 2007 and 2008, before the economic slump started. But since NAMA was already invested in the change, it undertook a number of different approaches to help cover the potential financial loss:

Legacy Partners program. NAMA asked its exhibitors to make an investment in the organization that would help pay development costs and shorten the timeline for creating OneShow. NAMA convinced exhibitors to participate by showing them the savings they would gain. Donations were calculated using a formula based on the size of the exhibitors' booths. In return for participation, Legacy exhibitors could purchase space at a discount for the first three years of OneShow, get first choice of booth location, and were recognized on the website and in printed materials, among other benefits.

In the end, 83 exhibitors took advantage of the Legacy Partners program. But what if not enough exhibitors had been sold on this unusual concept? "We would have moved forward in any event," says Geerdes. "The investment by these Legacy Partners gave us the additional dollars to up the stakes and add more wow features to the expo."

Sponsorships. Strategic sponsorships were revamped. Four levels—founding ($50,000), silver ($25,000), bronze ($10,000), and event ($5,000)—offered a sliding scale of opportunities, including ads, logo placements, speaker introductions, web links, email blasts, and complimentary admissions, as well as access to Club One, an exclusive lounge for customer meetings and refreshments. Eighteen strategic sponsors accounted for $400,000 of revenue. Only those companies that committed the first year will claim the "founding" label. Future $50,000 level sponsors will be called "gold level."

"Wow" sponsorships at varying dollar amounts offered support for special enhancements to the show, everything from video walls to stage entertainment to the speakers, including newsman Ted Koppel, football's Terry Bradshaw, former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain, and Mike Ditka, who was emcee for the Industry Awards presentation. Total sponsorship value for the OneShow came to more than $500,000.

Registration fees. Some additional revenue came from increasing registration fees for attendees. Previously, members paid $40 in advance and $65 onsite, and nonmembers paid $200. New price points of $99 in advance and $129 onsite were set for members, and nonmembers would pay $249. Only about 40 percent of attendees previously registered for both shows and could see a travel savings from the combined event, but all attendees could enjoy the enhanced aspects of OneShow, including new pavilions, big-name speakers, awards, and networking opportunities. With more than 3,800 attendees, revenue budgets were exceeded in registrations as well as sponsorships.

Not the Same Old Show

Since NAMA had asked for so much help from its exhibitors to get OneShow off the ground, it had to launch a new product that would impress them.

NAMA started with a new name, logo, website, and approach to everything involved. "It is not possible to fully explain and do justice to the tremendous planning efforts covering thousands of details that have gone into this change," says Mathews. "Absolutely nothing has gone unchanged." Here are a few examples:

Show-floor design. Twenty-foot-wide "main street" aisles radiated from a center stage at the show's entrance, providing more front-row space for key exhibitors and driving traffic to special areas. Each day, attendees were greeted with entertainment on the center stage as they arrived and departed as well as presentations throughout show hours and a reception following the awards ceremony. NAMA also held its industry awards on the center stage, which drew almost 600 people.

Branding and marketing. NAMA partnered with Healy and Schulte, an association marketing specialist, to help create a new identity for OneShow. In addition to direct mail, email, and industry advertising, NAMA initiated marketing through social media and texting. The association expanded its media outreach, inviting a broader base of coverage from all media, including bloggers. Attendees and exhibitors were encouraged to register for text updates during the event.

Exhibitors' increased participation. Exhibitors showed their enthusiasm for the new show concept by taking larger spaces, updating their booths, and increasing their sponsorships, notes Schleyer. On-floor interactive events, such as celebrities, custom cars, interactive games, and the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, were added. Exhibitors also stepped up by hosting large customer events throughout the city at museums, restaurants, and other Chicago locations.

"OneShow attendance was excellent, and there were more dedicated buyers. Turning this into a once-a-year event means that if you want to be on the cutting edge of your competition, you had better not miss it—as an exhibitor or operator," says exhibitor Terri Starnes-Bryant, president of Microtronic US Cashless Systems.

Pricing Changes

 

National Show

OneShow

Members

$40 in advance, $65 onsite

$99 in advance,$129 onsite

Nonmembers

$200

$249

Exhibitor Growth

 

National Show

OneShow

Number of Exhibitors

198

230

Sponsorship Revenue

18 strategic sponsors = $400,000 of revenue

Looking Forward

Although the OneShow concept was well received by the industry and attendees, the future holds even brighter prospects. "Some exhibitors have not yet stepped up their game to bring the best booth, programs, marketing, and excitement, but after this year's OneShow, they know they can't get left behind again. Our post-event marketing will stress what everyone who did not attend missed," says Geerdes.

Brinton expects NAMA's second OneShow to ride the wave of the successful first event. "Attendance should grow as we market how good and different it was, and in the future, we will challenge ourselves to maintain the peak we've achieved," he says. "I think we've accomplished what's best for the association's wellness in the long term."

As for Schleyer, after launching a totally new show of such scale just six months after the last national show, she says, "The pressure makes you focus on what's really important. Our staff of five, with the help of Corcoran Expositions to sell exhibit space, has always produced an expo every six months, so having 12 months to plan the next OneShow will be a new experience for our team." 

Linda C. Chandler is a freelance writer based in Tyler, Texas. Email: [email protected]