As we worked our way across the floor of the ABC Kids Expo, the doom and gloom among the BPA-free bottles and cloth diapers was palpable. Listless exhibitors would meet us at the front of their booths with tales of woe — low foot traffic, poor food choices at the convention center, spotty internet.
And that was at last year’s show. In Vegas. At that show, most of the problems with the expo were blamed on a sputtering economy. The overall sense was that the attendees, and the show itself would soldier on.
This year, of course, ABC Kids moved from Las Vegas, where it had been held for the previous several years to Louisville, Kentucky. In the new venue, exhibitor grumblings built to a dull roar. At the vast majority of booths, we encountered loud complaints about the Kentucky Expo Center, attendance, and the host city. Instead of the economy, exhibitors blamed the venue and the expo organizers. Many went so far as to predict a much lower attendance for the 2012 Expo (also to be held in Louisville). Some suggested that this spelled doom for ABC.
Is the ABC Kids Expo in a death spiral?
It’s quite possible for misgivings this widespread to become a feedback loop — which really could spell problems for ABC. For myself, I think that some of the grievances were misplaced.
As I referenced above, the last Vegas show wasn’t exactly a barn-burner in terms of buyer attendance; the food wasn’t any different, as far as I could tell, and one cavernous, windowless building is the same as the next. Some other underlying factors might include:
-Disappointment and finger pointing is to be expected when 40% of exhibitors don’t make it past their first show
-Change is death
-Despite a lively restaurant and nightlife scene, Louisville can’t get past of image as a backwater
-The economy still stinks
I’m an admitted Louisville apologist. I have great friends there. I had the best production of my brief playwriting career there. And given the positive experience reported by one randomly selected exhibitor, the show wasn’t uniformly worse than in previous years.
There was one group that definitely was less represented than in the past. Bloggers. Why is that? I suspect that it may be the explosion in blogging conferences. Mom and dad bloggers are blowing the travel budget trying to represent at the mushrooming variety of conferences about mom and dad bloggers. I attend lots, and feel this strain acutely. But to attend blogging conferences at the expense of attending industry conferences, “content” conferences, if you will, is to miss a huge opportunity. For mom and dad bloggers, ABC Kids is where to spot trends and changes in the marketplace (BPA, Green, Dads). It’s also the only time you will find an airport hanger worth of potential sponsors and partners under one roof.
Those that schedule mom conferences that conflict with ABC are not serving their attendees well. I’m looking at you, SheStreams.
Is there a solution that might keep ABC from circling the drain? I think so. ABC currently hosts an educational conference in the spring. They need to collapse these two events. The Expo needs to be a richer offering. To lure more buyers, especially independent shop owners, the show needs to provide something beyond an exhibition floor, one that has few advantages over the web. Educational resources motivate attendance in an internet age.
Seminars bringing brands, buyers, and media — new and old — together will restore excitement in a flagging event. Here, I’ll even propose one: How to Use Web Video to Enhance Your Site and Display Product.
We’d come back for that one.