In the age of the Internet, how important is face-to-face contact with customers?
The question came up last week, when I was talking with a friend who recently sold his manufacturing business. We were talking about my expectations for this year's NPE (June 22-26 in Chicago).
Some companies might have travel restrictions this year, I said. That could hurt attendance.
That would be a big mistake, he said. You can't replace face-to-face meetings.
He didn't necessarily mean with exhibitors. He really valued social interaction with other show attendees.
Have a talk with a competitor over drinks you'll get good information, he said. That's a great thing about trade shows.
He's absolutely right. And I bet that almost every manager reading this column knows it.
Yet the reality is that some of you won't come to NPE2009. You're cutting your budget to the bone, and every dollar is precious.
It's noteworthy that the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., the organizer of NPE, doesn't have low expectations. On May 13, the Washington-based association put out a news release titled Next Month's NPE Promises to Be a Success 'in Defiance of the Economic Crisis.'
SPI notes that show registrations have begun to spike right on schedule. Also, the number of booths this year is actually higher than in 2006 1,455 compared with 1,253 and paid space is down just a smidge, at 893,906 square feet, from 898,914.
Success is a relative term, of course. Many exhibitors and attendees will be glad they attended NPE2009. I just hope it's the event that helps kick-start the sluggish plastics industry.
Business is slow in China, too. On May 13, Steve Toloken, our Asia bureau chief, interviewed Stanley Chu, chairman of the company that organizes the Chinaplas trade show. I found it striking how Chinaplas (May 18-21 in Guangzhou) is dealing with exactly the same issues as NPE.
Chu noted that this year's Chinaplas will be the same size as last year's, with 1.5 million square feet of exhibit space. But that's a big disappointment for a show that's accustomed to 20 percent growth every year.
Like NPE, the number of Chinaplas exhibitors is higher this year, but there are some high-profile companies that have dropped out. Chu said Chinaplas has subsidized hotel and travel costs for some major Chinese buyers. Doesn't that remind you of SPI's stimulus plan for NPE?
In the end, both shows' organizers are doing all they can to encourage managers to do what they already know they should be doing visit the largest trade show in their region, get caught up on the latest and greatest, and find a few minutes to have that all-important casual meeting with a key colleague or competitor.
Loepp is managing editor of Plastics News and author of The Plastics Blog.