I just received my “thanks for booking your booth” letter for the 2009 NFDA Convention in Boston and I’m excited (it’s a good convention) and a bit concerned.

I took advantage of a new feature at the 2008 expo; I booked my 2009 space in advance.  The benefit of this selection was being able to look at the layout of the booths and the main stage and choose a high-traffic location for my booth.  Another advantage was locking in the 2008 price.

My 2008 convention was a wonderful success, owed mainly to having a good location and enough time to interact with as many attendees as wanted to visit with us.  And while I’ve downsized for the 2009 show (a 10’x10′ corner booth instead of a 10’x20′ island) and expect fewer “wow, this is new!” visitors, I still hope to spend as many hours as possible telling funeral directors about our product and encouraging them to buy.

Which is why the letter I just received (nfda-2009-convention-letter) is so troubling.

Once you get past the payment instructions, two important things are revealed:

After just a single year’s experiment, the main stage in the expo is toast.

The opening night expo “sneek preview” is canceled and the last day is shortened.

Both of these things concerned me, so I immediately emailed Wynn Burke, the NFDA’s point person for conventions.  Here’s his response:

Dear Tim:

 

Thank you for your valuable feedback. Decisions about the direction of our signature event are not made in a vacuum.  As you correctly noted, in your email, the decision to not hold the general sessions in the Expo Hall was made based on feedback NFDA received. This feedback came from a number of sources, including the attendee and exhibitor surveys, the Exhibit Advisory Committee and the NFDA Executive Board.

 

In our attendee survey, the one thing voted as the “least valuable” aspect of the NFDA International Convention & Expo was the NFDA Main Stage in the Expo Hall. Results indicated that 30.7% percent of returned attendee surveys rated the location of the stage in the Expo Hall as the “least valuable” aspect of our convention. The exhibitor survey yielded similar, less-than-glowing feedback on the NFDA Main Stage.  

 

Additionally, NFDA incurred a significant expense constructing the NFDA Main Stage, and renting the necessary high-end lighting and sound equipment needed to create a quality experience for attendees.  Even with our investment in high-end sound equipment, we could not produce the kind of “NFDA Main Stage” environment we’d originally envisioned. NFDA has a fiduciary responsibility to its members – a responsibility we take very seriously. In these challenging economic times, we cannot justify the additional expense of constructing a “NFDA Main Stage” in the Expo Hall.

 

Feedback from the groups mentioned above also factored into our decision to cut back on our Expo Hall Hours. Nearly 50% of the exhibitor survey responses stated the hours/days were too long. The overall sentiment of exhibitors, attendees and the Executive Board was that NFDA should return to that had been used for previous conventions.

 

Best,

Wynn

Okay, so the main stage wasn’t as wonderful as expected.  I’ve already suggested how they can make it better (see the post, 2008 NFDA Convention: What NFDA Should Fix) and they seem to be taking some of that advice by offering “exhibitor product presentations” for a fee.

The general session location wasn’t a big concern of mine, so I was more disturbed by the reduction in expo hours.  Here’s an excerpt from the letter:

2009-nfda-letter-excerpt-1

Here’s where I disagree with other vendors (Wynn cites almost 50% of vendors and attendees claiming the hours were too long) about the length of a trade show expo.

While our first night at the 2008 show was kind of slow sales-wise, we still talked with a bunch of funeral directors.  In fact, we saw quite a number of “expo-only” visitors, locals who would not have visited the show during the week, but opted to take a stroll of the expo floor during the only evening session.

And many of the full convention attendees we met the first night browsed the floor and returned on another day to make their purchase.  By canceling that first night, NFDA cuts my chances to get folks to think it over and come back.  Worse, I think it forces people to make quicker decisions, which can lead to fewer purchases.

For exhibitors who complain that the hours are too long, I have three important words: get over it.

Meeting with past customers and future prospects is a HUGE opportunity!  People fly from all over the country to visit you and see what you have to offer.  Many list the expo as the main reason they come to the NFDA Convention.  And still, you complain about having to spend a few more hours with these folks who want to see you?

Are you kidding me?

Maybe you’re burned out on trade shows, but I wonder if this constant complaining isn’t just a symptom of a larger problem.

Consider the common complaints I hear from other exhibitors:

“No one stops to look at my products.”
“I can’t get anyone into my booth.”
“People just want to take the free stuff.”
“My feet hurt.”
“I’m bored.”
“I stayed up too late last night.”
“This show is sooooo slow.”
“My booth location is awful.”
“The hours are too long.”
“No one wants to buy anything.”

If 18 hours per year at the largest funeral convention in our hemisphere is too much for you (and the tens of thousands of dollars you’ve spent to get there) maybe the real problem is this:

YOU DON’T KNOW HOW TO PREPARE FOR AND RUN A TRADE SHOW BOOTH.

I’ve talked a lot on this blog about how to be better exhibitors.  I’m sure I’ll keep speaking about it and trying to educate my fellow vendors.

But it still doesn’t change the fact that the NFDA cut 5 hours out of my time to talk with my customers and is still charging me $2500 (booth fee alone) for the privilege.  I expect Boston to cost me over $8000.  Before the cut, I needed almost $450 an hour in profit to break even.  Now, with the time crunch, it’s $615.

I guess I’ll just have to talk faster.  All because my fellow exhibitors want to get off their feet a few hours earlier.

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