At the March 2008 ConExpo-Con/AGG trade show in Las Vegas, organizers reported record numbers in terms of both bookings and attendance, despite the fact that the U.S. economy had already begun to show signs of tumbling into a recession.
Later that year, of course, the bottom fell out as trouble in the financial sector triggered a worldwide recession that deeply affected the health of the construction industry.
Now, as the 2011 show is almost ready to open in March, construction is just beginning to regain a stable footing. Will the optimism of the last year or so manifest itself into a successful ConExpo-Con/AGG and will the show itself herald a brighter future for the industry as a whole?
“Well, our expectations for this show are looking pretty good,” said Megan Tanel, vice president of exhibitions and events for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), the show’s organizers. “I would say our expectations are in line with where the economy is. Everyone has this sort of wait-and-see attitude and what we are hearing is that at the end of 2010, some contractors and end users actually had banner months. While we don’t expect to beat the numbers we had in 2008, when we had about 145,000 visitors, we are looking forward to a very strong outcome.”
Tanel said that AEM is expecting in excess of 120,000 people at this year’s show, but she adds that her group also believes that many people will wait longer before deciding whether to attend.
“I was out at the World of Concrete show in Las Vegas [in late January] and in talking to the show director there I learned that they just had an incredible amount of web registrations on Monday, the day before the show opened,” she explained. “It completely exceeded their expectations. While we are prepared for some last minute decision-making, that is almost beyond last minute. Now I am thinking that may happen at our show.”
In addition, Tanel said that she believes company executives planning to attend the show are still trying to decide how many people within their company will go with them.
“Maybe last summer they didn’t want to bring a lot of their people to other shows, but now they are rethinking that,” she said. “Hopefully, we will begin to see an increase in lower management people attending.”
Tanel reported that approximately 2.7 million square feet of exhibitor space will make up ConExpo-Con/AGG, numbers that are close to 2008’s total. She expects, though, that despite more optimism about the current economy, exhibiting firms will approach the show a bit more conservatively than in 2008.
“We are seeing some exhibitors ’right-sizing’ their exhibits,” she laughed. “Whereas in 2008 they may have had a huge presence at the show, this year they have scaled back their exhibits a little bit, which we look at favorably. That means they are paying more attention to what their expenses are, which I think is smart.”
Construction people come to the ConExpo-Con/AGG shows, first and foremost, Tanel said, to see new products and technology. Secondarily, they want to talk to industry experts and get that face-to-face experience.
“Besides coming to see the ’latest and greatest,’ they come in order to be able to make a future, informed decision,” she continued. “Past surveys have also told us that many people who have come to the show have changed their minds about something. Additionally, they are looking around to shop or buy. It hasn’t been pushed in the past at the show to close a deal, but that is changing, too, and I think that that coincides with the increased international attendance that we have had. The tendency has been that people from outside the United States are coming to make a purchase and we will have to see if that trend continues.”
Tanel is not ready to say that the level of attendance and bookings at ConExpo-Con/AGG is indicative of construction’s future health, although her group does feel that after a couple years of not being able to update their fleet of equipment, construction firms are now poised to buy again.
And it is that amount of buying on the show floor that Chris Meyer feels is the best indicator.
As vice president of sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Meyer is an expert on the impact of trade shows on an industry.
He said there has always been a debate about whether a trade show is a leading indicator or a lagging indicator.
“I, for one, think that they lag their industries from a purely economic perspective, meaning that I don’t think a trade show experiences a downturn until about a year after the downturn first occurs” he said. “However, I do believe they are an indicator of future activity because of the buying that happens on the show floor. The activity between the buyers and sellers is definitely a future indicator.”
As one example, he cites the recent success of the Consumer Electronics Show, held in Las Vegas in early January.
“That industry didn’t get hit by the recession until 2009 and the recession didn’t begin until late 2007. However, their growth came in this year in a big way and I think that that is an indicator of the orders that were placed in 2010, when there was a lot of positive vibe on the show floor. There was a lot of buying activity and you heard that from everyone at the show.”
And so far in 2011, Meyer said the level of buying activity at Las Vegas trade shows has picked up “significantly.”
Although Meyer recognizes the difference in the consumer electronics and construction industries, he said that the attendance at all trade shows, too, has picked up considerably in the last year, in some cases as high as 20 percent.
One interesting bit of information shared by both Tanel and Meyer that bodes well for the ConExpo-Con/AGGshow is that Bauma, the gigantic Munich, Germany construction equipment trade show, saw its April 2010 event severely disrupted by the Icelandic volcano. Airline travel all over Europe was hampered by the volcanic ash and kept many participating companies and attendees from attending the triennial show.
“I keep hearing a buzz that there is some pent-up demand for construction equipment and service companies to show their products because of the problem with getting to Bauma last year,” Meyer said. “Also, people really are anxious to buy equipment and I keep hearing that everybody is coming to Las Vegas because they weren’t able to go to Bauma, especially the international buyers.”
Tanel also has heard the industry chatter about the disruption of last year’s Munich show and she and the AEM are quietly hopeful that Meyer is right.
“Our show is really the next biggest show on a global scale, so we are curious to see if people who could not make it to Bauma will now come here. Since our event is also every three years and the next Bauma show is not until 2013, a lot of people don’t want to miss ConExpo-Con/AGG. It could very well be a precursor to how robust the market will be the rest of the year.”
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