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Joining Together for Industry Survival

Where to Find Data & Resources to Compete in the New Tomorrow

by Larry Kulchawik

While COVID-19 has kicked the exhibit industry in the teeth, it shall return. Being prepared to compete in a changed marketplace is a must for survival. Seeking out an industry association to help you collect your thoughts for a new strategy and compete in a new environment can serve you well.

Way back in 1997, I was honored to serve as president of EDPA. The company I worked for at the time was Exhibitgroup, a division of the Greyhound Corp. They also owned GES (Greyhound Exposition Services). I served a role in management, and we were required to present our profitability quarterly. We were members of EDPA, paying $2,000 a year as dues. Management often asked if we really needed to be a paying member and couldn’t we use $2,000 more wisely?

One year, Exhibitgroup (a group of 12 exhibit companies nationally) was asked to conduct an industry survey to determine how we were competitively positioned within the industry. Upon doing a thorough search to find a qualified accounting company to conduct the survey, we located a well-known and very qualified firm that would conduct the survey at a cost of nearly $400,000. We submitted the proposal to Greyhound and also mentioned that EDPA conducted an economic survey yearly that collected financial data from its members to come up with a combined P&L statement with operating cost averages broken down by the size of the companies. The exhibit supplier companies that provided their numbers were then given a copy of the final report. Greyhound concluded that this EDPA survey provided most all the data they were looking for, at a cost of the $2,000 EDPA membership fee. What a bargain!

Now there are 20+ exhibit industry associations to choose from in the U.S., each focusing on specific segments of tradeshow marketing. Membership to any one or more of these can offer help in managing your business. Successful industry associations function as a kind of club. Although many companies belong to an association, they seldom consider their structure and true purpose.

A club is a voluntary group deriving mutual benefits from shared costs and shared knowledge regarding the mutual services they provide. The gains from being a member of a successful club can be large when you seek out the true benefits. Companies that choose not to be a member, but use the data an association provides publicly, in my opinion are considered “free riders.” Being an active member to any of the exhibit industry associations can deliver real value, especially during these challenging times.

As an exhibit supplier, EDPA has consistently delivered value in membership. Over EDPA’s 65 years of service, they have changed their colors and focus to address the challenges of the times. From the boom years of the ‘80s, the recession years in the ‘90s, and new product/service boom of the 2000s (portables, systems, fabric, ink jet printers, computer technology, AV & lighting, international, and experiential design) EDPA forged the way to help its members better serve their customers.

So today, EDPA benefits of membership still offer value rather than going it alone. Benefits include:

  • Educational sessions
  • Annual convention
  • New products & services
  • Connections with other expo associations
  • Power of a joint voice in the industry—including lobbyists & Congress
  • Sharing knowledge and building relationships

I guess I am biased when sharing my thoughts about EDPA. In any case, work with any of the exhibit industry associations that relate to your particular piece of the market. They can help you adapt and survive.
Join the club, and take advantage of the shared knowledge that is changing daily. Good luck on this new journey when these challenging times are finally behind us and tradeshows go back to meeting face to face. I recommend connecting with your industry associations for added guidance—especially as they pool resources and lobby Congress for legislation and assistance to get through these difficult times.

Larry Kulchawik is the head of Larry Kulchwawik Consulting and author of “Trade Shows from One Country to the Next.” For more info, visit www.larrykulchawik.com

This story originally appeared in the Sept./Oct. issue of Exhibit City News, p. 16. For original layout, visit https://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/ecn_sept-oct_2020

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