In a recent post, 2008 NFDA Convention: What NFDA Did Right, I detailed the good decisions I saw from NFDA.  Now comes the criticism!

First, I should tell you how much I appreciate the folks at NFDA and all the hard work they do to make this show successful.  In tough economic times and an era when many groups struggle to keep their membership and mission fresh, I know how hard it is to come up with new ideas or break out of old habits.

So here are the things I believe that NFDA should address to make the show even better in the future:

1.  Where was the food?  I got so excited seeing the floorplan with a section labeled “Cafe” at the back of the expo area.  When I arrived, I found out it was a few dozen tables and some high-priced vendors selling $10 burritos and $8 bowls of ginger chicken.  For exhibitors, this was at least an easier way to grab a quick bite to eat, but it felt more like a band-aid than an answer to food on the exhibit floor.

2.  Lotsa empty booths.  Adding the general session area (a good idea) to the expo space meant renting a whole extra hall at the Orange County Convention Center, which gave the impression that the space wasn’t filled and there were less exhibitors (not the case).  Many empty spaces on the grid were simply left open.  By not filling in back sections, NFDA left some exhibitors out to dry, especially those who spent extra and thought they’d be at the front of a deeper section of booths along the large back aisle.  I saw at least two exhibitors who picked up their booths and moved to another location (I’d guess they got permission first) to be nearer the crowds. 

3.  Not enough resting areas.  The only resting place I saw was directly behind our booth and featured a few sofas, some of those ufo-looking retro chairs and some gaming “slings” that sit way too low for adults.  NFDA could have used all those empty booths (mentioned in #2) to spread out the chairs or added some small bistro tables at strategic locations around the hall.  This would have allowed vendors a place to step away to without being too far away and funeral directors a place to stop and regroup while walking the big show floor.  (Note:  there was also a section of tables and chairs in the new exhibitor section.  I don’t know if this was planned or a solution hit upon when they didn’t sell all the space in that section.)

4.  Pre-Registration or Registration?  Maybe this is just me, but I when I tried to help several of my expo-only guests get their registration badges, they were bounced between pre-registration and (normal?) registration several times before getting the issue resolved.  I think the names are too close to each other and don’t give accurate direction.  Once again, that might just be me and the two folks who I was helping.

5.  9 am – 3 pm everyday?  While the evening preview session gave area funeral directors a chance to use their expo-only passes, the monotony of the following three days’ expo sessions did little to encourage different types of visitors.  I’d suggest having at least one more late afternoon or evening session, to give area funeral directors and visitors a chance to check out the expo at a later time.

6.  Too-long expo hours.  Turns out that very few people want to check out new trocar designs at 9:00 am.  Who knew?

7.  New exhibitors need nurturing.  Companies that have attended the expo even once before will look like old hands next to a new exhibitor.  From choosing a location to setting up a booth at a national show for the first time, new exhibitors need extra special attention.  I know that NFDA is working on this right now, so don’t take this as a huge criticism.  But the reality is that quite a number of last year’s new companies didn’t return this year.  Whether that’s because they had crappy product, bad salesmanship or no support from NFDA is unknown. 

8.  Sell space on the jumbo-tron.  The general session area had a huge jumbo-tron that could have been used to advertise for exhibitors.  Why not sell some ads cheap?  It would allow exhibitors to reach a few people who might not have ventured over to the east wall of booths but who might be the perfect customer.  And who knows, an obscure or brand-new product might do well with some big exposure.  Better yet, don’t charge anything for it and allow each exhibitor to submit a slide for the jumbo-tron and run each one for 5 seconds.  You could exhibit 400 of them in 35 minutes loops.

9.  $10 for parking.  Really?  This one’s a tiny pet peeve, but if I identified myself as a patron to the Southern Women’s Show, I only had to pay $6.  If I said I was with NFDA, they charged me $10.  UGH!

Could I complain more?  Sure, I’m good at it.  But the truth is, most of the issues I heard about at the show were confined to the expo floor.  I didn’t get out to a lot of the sessions, so I can’t comment, but I know that many of the attendees enjoyed the education portion of the show.

In my mind, NFDA needs to strive to make the expo floor more “attractive” to both exhibitors and funeral directors.  That doesn’t mean aesthetically, but attractive in the sense that it needs to be something people want to see.  Exhibitors invest a lot of money to attend a show and they need resources to do a better job of presenting as well as more people to talk with.  Better-equipped exhibitors will interact more with visitors, which will increase the interaction and information exchanged.  That makes the expo more inviting to funeral directors.

By continuing or expanding the expo-only program, NFDA and their exhibitors can invite a different set of attendees (usually first-timers who haven’t ever considered going to a national show) and expand the audience for their exhibitors.