WSA-Why go to a trade show?

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The World Shoe Association is one of the trade organizations that represents many of the players in the global footwear business. This show is held in February and August of each year. Trade shows were a huge part of this business and many other businesses over the past thirty plus years. But, times have changed...

In this article, I will try and give you a bit of a view into my job, selling advertising, and promoting our publications. For this, I go to about a half dozen trade shows, twenty or so running events around the world. Some of the events are glamorous and for a track and field fan, the meets are, well, like the Superbowl would be to a football fan! But the travel, well that will be another column.

The World Shoe Association show this August mirrors the world of business. With all the technology, why would people want to be at a trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada? It seems that many of the buyers and companies, at least in our business-sports footwear-believe the same thing.

But, the WSA grows. This year, I noticed a large increase in European and South American visitors, especially in the athletic category. The athletic area is way down in size, with New Balance, ASICS, Avia the most notable. Rugged had La Sportiva, TEVA,
North Face, Ecco among the strong players. Companies like Brooks and Mizuno were near the show, in local hotels or suites.

At these shows, Cregg Weinmann, the footwear editor for the Running Network, and I check out new product, look at old product and learn a little more about each company. In the two days time were there, we met with an average of 15 to 20 companies a day, as well as checking in with some of the key players in the business.

I worry that shows are going the way of the do do bird. Think about it, in the 80s and most of the 1990's, the Super Show ruled Atlanta for one week each year. Then in the mid 90's, Nike pulled out, then Reebok, and then, the whole show fell apart.

The companies had reach a time where they were spending way too much mony on upmanship and not enough on working the supply channels. But in killing the WSA show, and the departure of many of the companies, plus the shows unwillingness to change, the bad timing of the show, among others played their roles, the trade lost an important time to interact, to build relationships, to learn from each other. Those are not things that can happen on a computer screen or through a blackberry or Palm Pilot.

I will come back to the WSA show next year, as they are adding a Materials and components part of the show. They are trying to make it more relevant.

Where will the running footwear business go? Well, for the past three years, they have been going to the Running Event, in Austin, Texas. This event has been developed by some of my good friends at Formula 4 Media. They have a two day conference, two day expo and some great other events, including announcing the Top 50 Running Stores in America.

Events that will succeed will have to evolve, the WSA is trying to do that. Companies like ASICS will probably leave the trade show venues, citing too much cost and not enough benefits. It is my contention, that companies like New Balance and ASICS, in staying at these shows, have helped themselves in unquantifiable ways-staying open to change, listening to the industry and supporting the industry.

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