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Strength in numbers

Co-locating tradeshows has trended upward in recent years. Smaller conventions have found it more cost-effective and more profitable to join forces on the show floor.

The desire to share a show can be largely attributed to practicality. With consumer confidence at such a low watermark, dwindling attendee/exhibitor numbers have put further strain on tradeshow markets. The economy has put the hard stop on a great deal of the “buy and sell” happening in the U.S. in recent years, making the increase in tradeshow mergers a logical survival step.

According to Michael Hough, former industry consultant, author of The Profitable Tradeshow and co-producer of the Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum (ECEF), there are several types of co-location.

“Two or more shows agree to co-locate in one venue over the same dates but keep identity/brand, ownership and finances completely separate,” he said. “One show locates as a Pavilion within another (usually larger) show. This can also include clearly defined educational tracks added to an existing program. Two or more shows merge completely; both have ownership, finances and a new identity/brand. A standalone conference locates within a larger event, such as a tradeshow.”

Also a founding member of the Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO), Hough founded a website that outlines a number of reasons why exhibitors and associations can and do find financial refuge in coming together. It illustrates the intricacies of why and how it is done, as well as how to make it work.

Hough passed away a few years ago, so longtime partner and friend, Sam Lippman, producer of ECEF and the Large Show Roundtable (LSR), shared insights from the ECEF 2011 Pulse Report, which predicts the likelihood of continuing show co-locations are on the downturn with the economy moving away from the recession.

“The likelihood of events continuing to co-locate is significantly less than it was a year ago,” said Lippman. “Only 13 percent of organizers plan to continue their co-location efforts during the next three years; and only 15 percent are very likely to initiate new co-location efforts during that period.”

According to Lippman, co-located shows are more likely to be aggressively pursued by independents rather than associations in the future. For exhibitions choosing to continue sharing space toward a common goal, there are still distinct advantages.

“The most important benefit of co-locating is providing your exhibitors with more and different attendees at the same cost,” said Lippman. “The second most important benefit is co-location results in a ‘bigger tent’ for your industry, which will attract additional media and attention from Wall Street, as well as more international exhibitors and attendees.”

Lew Shomer, SISO executive director said that even though there’s been an upward shift in co-locations in recent years, it’s only one marketing aspect in a sea of intensified strategies.

“Organizers are looking at new ways to expand their businesses and brands,” said Shomer. “One is through co-location at similar or like events where there is synergy between attendee communities.”

The reasons shows choose to co-locate vary according to Shomer, but there needs to be some level of symbiosis for the partnership to work. “The decision to co-locate is based on the benefits to both parties,” said Shomer. “If one party has more benefits than the other it will probably not work. It’s really a meeting of minds that both shows will do better if they co-locate.”

According to Shomer, co-location usually occurs for three reasons. The first might be that a show is failing and needs to partner with a similar event where the audience may overlap but the exhibitors don’t. They can extend their brand and save on expenses.

The second reason is that a new show is looking for an audience. The new show builds a base, and the existing show benefits by introducing new products and new attendees.

The third reason to co-locate is an organic reality, where two shows might get together and find they have similar audiences and exhibitors, and it makes sense to co-locate.

One collective that finds co-location sensible is the upcoming AMI International in Dallas, Texas, May 1-3, 2012. The US Poultry (IPE), International Feed Expo (IFE), and the International Meat Expo (IME) have combined efforts in the interest of making it one of the 50 largest tradeshows in the United States with more than 1,000 exhibitors and nearly 1 million square feet of exhibit space. The organizations have kept separate identities while all moving under the same umbrella during the storm.

“We are co-located and remain separate organizations,” said Anne Halal, vice president of convention and exposition services, AMI. “We are equitable partners in this co-location. The tradeshow floor is a blend of exhibits from each of the three industries, and all is accessible with one badge.”

The show has not yet settled on an overarching brand, but John Starkey, president of the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association, said each entity will maintain its own brand.

“In rough numbers, the tradeshow floor will be about 60 percent IPE, 30 percent IME, and 10 percent IFE,” said Starkey. “U.S. Poultry is responsible for show management and logistics, AMI is responsible for overall attendee and exhibitor promotion, and all three partners are responsible for developing appropriate educational programs, and exhibitor and attendee promotion to their respective memberships.”

The reasons for the decision include the conservation of time and budgetary resources for all involved, but co-location also increases the likelihood of better return on investment for the exhibitors.

“They will save by exhibiting in one show, seeing two target audiences; in some cases, even three with this co-location,” said Halal. “This strategic co-location means exhibitors have to spend less on travel, time and expenses to set up their displays.”

Dr. Charles Olentine, executive vice president of the expo and egg industry expert, said the benefits are simply better value for the exhibitor, better value for the attendee, stronger educational programs, stronger promotional base and stronger international appeal.

Constituents have offered the co-location efforts 100 percent of their support according to Halal.

“This is a long term partnership. The members of our associations and staff believe this is a great solution.”

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