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Ever wonder why some industries seem to be constantly innovating and improving and changing while others seem completely stagnant and stuck in a rut?

I spend a fair amount of time behind a windshield, and that gives me a fair amount of time to consider some of these things. It becomes even more time in the warmer summer months, when the orange cone zones spring up all over the nation’s highways and bring the smooth flow of interstate travel to a screeching halt.

On one particular route that I travel regularly, there is a ten mile stretch of highway that has been under construction the entire time I have been using it – almost two years. At other times, a three to four mile run will be coned off so that a hole can be patched.

The more time I have to study this phenomenon as I creep past each orange cone, the more it appears to this casual observer (well, maybe not so casual; I do seem to spend a lot of time watching this…) that the process of road construction and repair has not changed much in the last 40-50 years.

Sure, the equipment is newer, but the process doesn’t seem to have changed a bit. With all the new innovation and technology in this world, why does road repair appear to have remained in the dark ages?  It seems like there could be a new process whereby the old roadbed is removed, ground up, mixed with new asphalt, laid down, rolled and sealed all in one operation, all by one machine, all while proceeding down one lane, all done at night when it is cooler and there is less traffic.  But that’s just the daydream of one weary road warrior.

All of which brings me to another industry I have spent just a bit of time thinking about…the trade show industry. So, here’s a question to ponder: With more and more companies exhibiting in international events – both US companies exhibiting outside the US, and foreign companies exhibiting here in the US – when will we shift our method of doing trade shows to align more with the way the rest of the world does it?

As we work with more and more international clients coming to shows here, we seem to spend more and more time trying to explain – and justify – the idiosyncrasies of doing an event in the US. We’ve all heard the questions: “explain to me what drayage is again?” “why is it I cannot bring my own men to set my own exhibit?” “what do you mean I can’t plug in my own monitor?”  “I have to buy refreshments from the convention center; I can’t bring in my own?”

I’ll have to admit, after having worked shows on both sides of the pond, I can see where these things certainly can be head-scratchers for our international visitors. It almost seems like we are intentionally trying to make it more difficult for our international guests to produce a show here.

I am sure that at some time in our trade show past the processes we now use were developed with some logic behind them. Maybe it had to do with safety or efficiency…or profit and control.  Whatever the case, the world we now live in is changing rapidly.  Traditional trade shows are now competing with private corporate events, brand experiences, mobile tours, and the growing international trade show presence.

I am not suggesting that trade shows will go away. I strongly believe that the face-to-face opportunities presented by trade shows will remain a viable and valuable venue for marketers.  What I am suggesting, however, is that it may be time to take a look at the bigger picture – the global picture – and think about how to make US shows operate more efficiently and less expensively.  And more internationally friendly.   It’s either that or we continue to have it appear to the international observer that the process of trade shows in the US has not changed much in the last 40-50 years.

See you on the show floor.

Jim Obermeyer has been in the tradeshow industry 35 years, both as a corporate trade show manager and exhibit house owner. He is currently a Vice President at Hamilton Exhibits and can be reached at jobermeyer@hamilton-exhibits.com.

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