Recently, our association management company brought on a new client. This association has hosted a trade show for many years, sometimes in combination with partners and sometimes alone. Over the years, exhibitor and delegate sales have become increasingly challenging and there has been demand for fresh ideas. So, we are now grappling with the question of do we explore other options for our membership base to network and learn about the newest trends in their industry, or do we continue to try to sell the tradeshow model to our membership?

The general consensus is mixed as to whether tradeshows are becoming extinct. My personal opinion is that the tradeshow model is only relevant for specific industries and target markets, but for other areas, such as the one this association is a part of, it’s time to say our goodbyes and move on.

Why are association tradeshows slowly becoming an event of the past?

1. In the retail space, there are simply fewer small retailers selling a product. In the past, a company representative could not service a territory and used tradeshows as method to cover the most ground. There are more franchises or chains that have central buyers which results in fewer retailers to service.

2. With technology, websites, and blogs, the newest products and trends aren’t a surprise anymore. There is no need to attend a tradeshow to find out what’s new. Companies will share information in real-time on their websites, in eblasts to their existing companies, and on professional blogs.

3. Delegates don’t buy on the spot. They take time to research online and compare prices. This means they spend less time at tradeshows and the era of full delegate bags are coming to an end. Why incur the cost of traveling and time away from your work and family to attend a tradeshow when a person can research the exact product they need online?

4. Because of the above points, exhibitors experience a lack of traffic and interest from delegates. The return on investment is not as good as other opportunities, so companies are budgeting for other tactics.

So, if the traditional tradeshow isn’t working for your market, what is the next step? You want to maintain a networking environment within your association, but how do you do this? What do your association members want to attend that will provide a return on investment?

Association members want experiential opportunities. The show may be over, but they want to keep on playing. Remember that the main reason for attending tradeshows is for the people. Attendees of tradeshows, both exhibitors and delegates, enjoy the aspect of face-to-face meetings which help to build relationships and foster existing relationships. For more information on creating networking opportunities for your association members visit: How to Create Value for Association Members – Face to Face Networking

To keep on trend with the networking and sales opportunity environment, consider events that allow for attendees to see friends from the industry and engage in a fun environment that still allows for leads to be developed. Consider an event that is built to create connections and build long lasting relationships that can aid in growing business. Perhaps a function with no formal responsibilities for attendees, instead build an opportunity to mingle and enjoy an event planned for the purpose of building professional friendships.

It is natural that when buyers and sellers mingle, leads will develop. Consider events that are conducive to industry conversation but without the formal interactions that tradeshows present. Some ideas include an industry dinner, a sampling opportunity, a performance, an industry related speaker, or a cocktail reception.

Use this opportunity for presenting a change as an opening to communicate with your membership and thank them for their valuable contribution to your association. In this communication, poll them on what type of event they would like to attend. Plan something that will help your membership meet their needs of belonging to your association while increasing membership and revenue for your association.

For more on finding the right event for your association see: Start With Why – Key Questions to Ask Before Planning an Event