|By Kathy Bergen, Chicago Tribune|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Apr. 20, 2004 - The Chicago version of the recently split-up hardware show is generating anemic exhibitor turnout and bitter disappointment among some buyers this week, which doesn't augur well for the city's hospitality industries.
"I'm quite disappointed, because I think this is really small," said Jason Chang, head of a 12-member buying delegation from B&Q International Co., a chain of big-box hardware stores in Taiwan.
"Maybe this is our last time," he said.
This is the first year when two competing hardware shows are being mounted, following a rancorous breakup of a longstanding partnership between the American Hardware Manufacturers Association, which was the National Hardware Show's longtime sponsor, and Reed Exhibitions, the show's owner.
Reed is moving the National Hardware Show to Las Vegas, to run May 10-12, after 28 years in Chicago.
The Schaumburg-based trade association, meanwhile, opened its AHMA Hardware Show on Sunday at McCormick Place. It runs through Tuesday.
Both organizations slashed exhibition costs, which had been a sore spot with exhibitors.
The city has a lot at stake in this battle. Even though the show had been shrinking for several years due to industry consolidation, objections to exhibition costs and some dissatisfaction with the association's management, it still drew 27,989 attendees last year. And it's estimated they spent more than $26 million on food, drinks, hotels, taxis and the like while they were in town.
But the prospects look rather dim, if this year's AHMA show is any indicator.
The show drew only 700 exhibitors who are using 200,000 square feet of space. Attendance is estimated to hit 20,000, which would generate $18.6 million in visitor spending.
By comparison, the National Hardware Show last year drew 1,969 exhibitors, using 459,030 square feet at McCormick Place. And at its peak in 1999, it drew 2,840 exhibitors using 1.26 million square feet of exhibit space, making it one of the city's choicest trade shows.
In May, Reed expects more than 2,100 exhibitors using 480,000 square feet of space at the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas.
Timothy Farrell, who succeeded his father, William, as president and chief executive officer of the AHMA on Jan. 1, said the quality of show participants is more important than the quantity.
"The buyers are here--Home Depot, Lowe's, Menards, Ace, TruServ," he said. "We've had incredible support from buying organizations, and people will be happy and satisfied."
And a number of exhibitors said they found the smaller size of the show to be an advantage.
"It used to be three or four times the size, and customers had to run through the aisles to see everything," said George Gianforcaro II, national sales manager for exhibitor Lynx Safety Products. "Now people are able to stop and look."
Two Home Depot executives stopped by his booth and expressed interest in a product, he said. "If this was a big show, they would've flown by the booth," he said, "because we're not big-name vendors."
And some companies, such as The Stanley Works, resumed exhibiting after a two-year hiatus because costs were slashed.
As of midday Monday, the major exhibitor had made "high-quality contacts, but not that many," said Scott Bannell, head of corporate marketing.
His company will have a small exhibit in Las Vegas, as part of an exhibit of CST/berger, a company it acquired.
"A few of us will walk the show and check it out," he said, adding that the company has not decided where it will exhibit next year.
"We're taking a wait-and-see approach," he said. "We're angry and upset and disappointed that we don't have one big show ... I know it hurts the industry," he said.
And some buyers are sitting on the fence about next year, too.
"If it stays this size, I wouldn't come next year," said Janice Coughlin, a buyer for the Plow & Hearth catalog.
"You need to go to the one where it's worth the money--the plane fare, the hotel cost," she said. "You want to come away with good product."
The AHMA will stay in Chicago next year, while Reed will continue in Las Vegas.
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