DEMA and the Public Shouldn’t Mix

by Christopher Buttner, VP and President of PR THAT ROCKS!

Just some random thoughts, facts and observations. As someone who was a trade show consultant to Fortune 500 companies, a sales and marketing director, a trade show coordinator, an owner of a PR firm for 12-years – sometimes working with scuba industry clients – and someone who participates in about ten trade shows annually (yech), the last thing a manufacturer wants to do is have any part of their trade show dollar going to opening an industry expo to the public.

First off, Dema is an industry association paid for by the industry. Dema represents the industry and what is best for it, such as managing the trade show, but Dema does not, nor want to, represent the public, although it values its feedback in how to best represent the industry and sport of diving.

Keep in mind, many Dema members boycotted the Dema show when it was held in Houston a few years ago, because they felt Dema was not working for the members, who pay very high annual memberships, by having the show in Houston.  Why the boycott?  Several reasons, such as Houston was too expensive from many angles, and in a boring middle of the country city.  The bulk of the dealer base would not come, there was no other reason to come to Houston, except Dema and participation costs were too high, thereby lowering the ROI.  The best part of Houston is leaving.  I know, I was there and the show was dead.  Even Scubapro bailed out of the show.  Ouch, a keystone company pulling out of the show in difiance.  That’s like GM dropping out the the NY Auto Show…  Not good PR.  For many, a great loss of business and profits compared to, say, this last show in Orlando.

Exhibitors want to have trade shows in “party cities” like Orlando and Vegas because you can bring the family, and still conduct business and write off your expenses.  And these cities attract more potential business to business customers.  These are quickly becoming the leading industry trade show cities, for all industries.

But having a trade show in a party city is not a reason to open an industry show to the public, or what an association is all about.  A trade show is for the industry to do business – it’s resellers and representatives from all over the world.

The dive industry represents about $1 billion in annual equipment sales, which is puny compared to 18 to 20 billion dollars annually in dive travel.  The travel aspect of the industry is far greater than the gear side.  Compared to the Musical Instrument industry, which is about $9 billion in annual sales, or the video porn industry, which is $15 billion, and restaurant (dining out) industry which is $445 billion, (huge business which accounts to 4% of the gross national product), the dive industry is actually bigger than two of the three aforementioned most – some more bizarre than others – industries, and growing faster than you would expect.  In fact, it has grown over two billion dollars overall by conservative estimates in the last  two to three years.

Eco-tourism, including scuba, is growing so fast, one article I read recently stated the impact of all these eco-tourists are having a negative impact to the point, “We are loving out planet to death.” More dive boats, more pollution, more divers, more damaged coral, etc.

So, you ask: “And what is a trade show? A trade show is the gathering of people who want to get together to talk about, learn, meet people, and have fun participating in the thing they love to do, which in this case is scuba diving.”

A trade show is about business, hence the world ‘trade’ in the title. It’s opened to the trade.  Manufacturers participate with representatives to “trade” their products of goods and services to resellers for cash and then the reseller or agent then retails the products to consumers.  Opening a show to consumers prevents manufacturers from effectively reselling their product in a trade show setting.  You cannot do business to your wholesale trade customers effectively while potential retail customers who are just looking are milling about at the same time.  Trade shows provide a forum for the manufacturers to have the undivided attention of the retailer to present new products for only four days.  The dealer has the retail customer’s attention the rest of the year.

Dema is about business.  Retail is defined as the sale of goods or commodities in small quantities directly to consumers.  The trade does not want any part of their trade show to be retail oriented, and in fact – many trade shows have regulations that prevent exhibitors from reselling in a retail-like fashion on the trade show floor.

Without the ability for businesses to conduct business, the industry suffers. There are only a few public shows, because they are not viable to the participants that make up the industry: manufacturers and resorts.

Opening an international industry dive show for one or two days, which is regional to either Orlando or Las Vegas when it is taking place, will not help the industry, it will only piss off the exhibitors who are paying in excess of $25.00 per square foot, before all other expenses, to be there.  Opening up Dema will attract some local divers, but not really generate an industry buzz, or provide the ROI an exhibitor expects from his trade show dollar. Opening trade shows to the public is a luxury few companies can afford these days, hence the reason there are so few shows. There is no ROI for a company to participate in a public show.  A trade show is the most important aspect of a company’s marketing mix, but only when dealing business-to-business, not business-to-public, therefore every minute on the trade show floor is critical.

Keep in mind, a manufacturer or resort cannot participate in any trade show for anything under $8000 to  $10,000 these days, and that’s really at the low-end of the expense spectrum.  Hotels, trade show expenses, such as booth design, shipping, installation and dismantle, Drayage, food for employees, product literature, salaries for employees that still need to be paid, air travel, ground travel, etc.  Cripes, it adds up quickly.

Did you know 65% of all literature collected at a trade show winds up in trash bin even before the person who collected gets back on the plane to fly home?

Trade shows cost the most amount of money from a marketing budget, and deliver the best results dollar for dollar in a business-to-business forum, but they are not the way to reach the public, in fact, they are the biggest money waster for a company. Your cost per impression when trying to deal with the public is hundreds, if not thousands of times greater, in a trade show setting than other forms of marketing and advertising.

Manufacturers and resorts are there to conduct business with other businesses, ie: dealers, resellers, distributors, etc., in order to get their product and services to the most amount of resellers in the shortest amount of time.  The bigger companies often times can figure out their trade show expense to be as great as $200.00 per minute for expo participation when you figure in all expenses.  That’s $96,000 per day, based on an eight hour day, $384,000 per Expo.  If you’re a company exhibiting from another country, Ouch.  Add 25% to the above numbers.  The ROI has to deliver millions of dollars in orders for a trade show to be worthwhile to a manufacturer.  The ROI is not there when opening it to the public, in fact, it’s a major money bleed.

I agree, Chatterton and Cousteau when I was a kid, got me into diving, and other people like James Cameron, keep me there now that I can afford the sport.  But it’s an expensive sport that requires maturity, time, ongoing education, commonsense, and money, with travel being the most expensive reocurring expense.  In this day and age, the media is the best way to reach the dive industry.  There are more programs on TV about diving then ever before, from Chatterton’s Deepsea Detectives to Titanic documentaries that seem to come out every six months.  And, of course, the web.  Google “Underwater Photography” and you get back countless sites and links.

The dive industry is growing dramatically year after year, especially due to the fact that technology has made it safer, mass production has brought gear costs down, more exotic warm water resorts offer it, and new and cheaper digital photography and videography equipment has opened up a world of interest to many more novice to pro divers and non-divers, thanks to the above media and reasons, are getting into the sport.

There is no trade show of any kind where the entire industry is represented, that’s impossible.

“This means that more gear will be sold and more dive trips will be booked. DEMA is typically towards the end of the year (this year it was in November), meaning that if DEMA allowed diving consumers to participate, dive shops, dive travel businesses, and gear manufacturers could see a significant increase in their Holiday sales.”

Actually, this is not true.  Since Dema is regional to either Vegas or Orlando, any sales spike would be local to where Dema was held, but a sales spike in Vegas would be not even a blip on the radar.

Also, it’s almost impossible to get attendance to the Scuba Show in Long Beach, California to exceed several thousand over two days and that’s only a 30-minute drive from Los Angeles… how many people are going to drive five hours to Vegas from LA if Dema opened for only one day, every other year?  Not enough to warrant the industry’s investment in such a folly.

Also, the Dema show is in November.  It’s held in November for a reason, the dive industry goes into an end of the summer diving season lull at this time and manufacturers and retailers can participate effectively.  Even with Christmas coming, it’s a slower selling time of the year for scuba gear manufacturers – the spring is the biggest selling season.

This is the same way the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and The National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) have their trade shows after Christmas, so the industry can effectively participate.

But, overall scuba equipment sales spikes are regional based upon the time of the year. Keep in mind – What consumer is going to spend airfare, hotel, food and other expenses ($1000 easily), to travel to Dema with Thanksgiving days away, and Christmas looming 30 to 40 days away? I’d rather spend all year educating myself about the sport, spend $1000 on gear in the spring when I know I am going to use it soon, and then get in the water instead of spending it on a trade show to look at gear in,  of all places, a desert city like Las Vegas.

The overall public interest, statistics and industry demographics – for not just diving, but a multitude of other industries – don’t support the claim that  “gear manufacturers could see a significant increase in their Holiday sales.”  Manufacturers know they would see nothing but red in their sales forecasts with Dema being opened for even a half day to the public and you’d see many exhibitors protest, and even pull out of any Dema show that opened to the public.

Your article was a great impassioned plea for the industry, and the public, to support an incredible sport.