(March 31, 2003) — Are you a tire kicker? In a few months, Milacron Inc. will find out if most buyers of plastics machinery are tire kickers. At first glance it looks like a pretty important question.
Officials at the Cincinnati-based company — the largest U.S. manufacturer of plastics machinery — confirmed recently that they plan to exhibit no machines at NPE 2003.
At the last NPE, in 2000, Milacron had 37 pieces of equipment spread out over 34,000 square feet of exhibit space in five locations. The company claimed to be the largest exhibitor at the show.
To be sure, Milacron will have a significant presence at NPE. It will have no machines, but the company still will have 14,850 square feet of exhibit space, split between two locations. So, instead of machines making parts, the company will feature what it calls islands of technology: kiosks staffed by experts who can explain innovative technology like water-injection molding and the latest in in-mold labeling.
Milacron knows this is a risky move. For one thing, NPE has a reputation for being a show where people buy machines.
After NPE 2000, for example, Milacron, a publicly held company, reported to its shareholders that it booked orders worth more than $50 million at the show.
In addition, company executives said NPE generated 9,000 leads for Milacron, and they credited their exhibit for helping the company grab business from competitors.
That sounds like a lot of business to put in jeopardy with such a radical change in strategy. To put it into perspective, the company reported $693 million in 2002 sales from continuing operations. So $50 million is a serious chunk of change even to a big company like Milacron.
Still, not to single out Milacron, but we've always been a little skeptical of all the claims about deals made at trade shows. Sure, machines get sold, especially floor models. But those are a given — no supplier wants to ship a machine to a show and then pay to ship it back home.
Other deals are all but wrapped up in advance; the show is an opportunity to schmooze the customer one last time before you sign the papers.
Will Milacron lose sales as a result of leaving machines at home? Will it provide other suppliers an opportunity to pick up market share? Or will this prove to be a brilliant decision that others will emulate?
Those are key questions that could foreshadow big changes to trade shows in the future.
The verdict will come in June in Chicago's McCormick Place, and the decision makers will be the company owners, plant managers and engineers walking the show floor.
We can't wait to see what you decide.