|By Kathy Bergen, Chicago Tribune|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Oct. 5, 2004 - For the first time in nearly 30 years, Chicago no longer will host a hardware show at McCormick Place, a show that at its peak in 1999 drew 67,634 people to the city and triggered $85 million in direct spending.
Cancellation of the 2005 show, announced quietly over the weekend, means Chicago lost out to Las Vegas in a pitched battle for a nationwide hardware show.
Reed Exhibitions, the owner of the National Hardware Show, moved that show to Las Vegas last May after an acrimonious split last year with the American Hardware Manufacturers Association, the longtime sponsor of the show.
But the Schaumburg-based AHMA mounted its own alternate show at McCormick Place in April, with dismal results. In an announcement dated Oct. 1, the trade association pulled the plug on 2005.
"AHMA will proactively focus on creating alternative, optimally valuable and relevant events for its members and its industry," the organization stated in its announcement.
Timothy S. Farrell, AHMA president and chief executive, did not respond to requests for an interview.
The Chicago show has seen significant decline since 1999, due to industry consolidation, objections to exhibition costs and some dissatisfaction with the association's management. Last spring, the Chicago show had only 700 exhibitors, with attendance estimated at 20,000, less than a third of the peak level.
But the loss still stings.
"We're disappointed that a longtime, exceptional partner has had to make a difficult business decision," said Chris Bowers, chief executive of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, which is charged with bringing trade show business to the city.
Still, he said, "AHMA's withdrawal will not pose a significant negative effect on Chicago's hospitality community."
The bureau is working to fill the AHMA's April 3-5, 2005, time slot, and two new shows are coming to McCormick Place in April 2006, Bowers noted.
BIO 2006, a biotech industry convention, is expected to draw 20,000 visitors and generate direct spending of $27.9 million, and America's NEXPO 2006, a newspaper industry convention, is expected to draw 4,500 visitors and direct spending of $6.3 million, according to the convention bureau.
Hoteliers expect the loss of the AHMA show to have a muted effect in Chicago because the show already had shriveled substantially, losing the tug-of-war with the Las Vegas show.
"It was very disappointing last spring, so we didn't forecast much for the coming spring," said Brian Winston, director of sales and marketing for the InterContinental Chicago.
Reed Exhibitions moved the National Hardware Show to Las Vegas last spring in an attempt to inject new life. And the show, which had been in Chicago since 1975, grew modestly in Las Vegas. It now stands to gain more ground with the demise of the alternate Chicago show.
"We've received several calls already as a result of the announcement," said Rob Cappiello, industry vice president for Reed's show, set for May 17-19, 2005. He expects it to sell out.
"We have some space left, but not a lot," he said, noting the show likely will fill 550,000 to 600,000 square feet of space in two venues, compared with 489,023 last year. These levels still remain well below 1999, when exhibit space peaked at nearly 1.3 million square feet.
Chicago came out on the losing end for a number of reasons, observers say. The AHMA decision to mount an alternate show was a risky one, particularly given the fact that Reed Exhibitions is a powerhouse in the trade show industry.
"Just the fact that there were two shows, and that people had to make a choice," said Beth Sulentic, senior manager of marketing at Waterloo Industries Inc., a supplier of tool storage products. "A lot of people waited to see which one was winning, because there is not enough budget to exhibit at both."
Reed hit the ground running, gaining early momentum.
Meanwhile, the AHMA was slow to disseminate information, said Bud Burkett, director of advertising and marketing communications for Cosco Home & Office Products.
"In the days of tight budgets, you can't afford to make a serious mistake," said Burkett, whose company chose to exhibit in Las Vegas.
Exhibitors ditched Chicago for other reasons. Some were angry with AHMA leadership, contending they were slow to address high costs in Chicago.
Some also objected to labor union work rules at McCormick Place, and what they perceived as hostile treatment by some union workers. City and state leaders are trying to hammer out work rule changes with the unions.
"We've always maintained that these issues were not about Chicago, but about the hardware industry, the association and the National Hardware Show," Bowers said.
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