Trade shows

The promotional problems encountered by foreign industrial marketers are little different from the problems faced by domestic marketers. Until recently there has been a paucity of specialized media in many countries. In the last decade, however specialized industrial media have been developed to provide the industrial marketer with a means of communicating with potential customers, especially in Western Europe and to some extent in Eastern Europe the commonwealth of independent States (CIS) and Asia.

In addition to advertising in print media and reaching customers through catalogs, web sites, and direct mail, the trade show or trade fair has become the primary vehicle for doing business in many foreign countries. As part of its international promotion activities, the US Department of Commerce sponsors trade fairs in many cities around the world. Additionally local governments in most countries sponsor annual trade shows. African countries for example host more than 70 industry specific trade shows.

Trade shows serve as the most important vehicles for selling products, reaching prospective customers contacting and evaluating potential agents and distributors and marketing in most countries. Firms that have successfully integrated trade show attendance and follow up personal selling efforts have been consistently shown to be more profitable. Although important in the US, trade shows serve a much more important role in other countries. They have been at the center of commerce in Europe for centuries and are where most prospects are found. European trade shows attract high level decision makers who are attending not just to see the latest products but to buy. Pre-show promotional expenditures are often used in Europe to set formal appointments. The importance of trade shows to Europeans is reflected in the percentage of their media budget spent on participating in trade events and how they spend those dollars. On average Europeans spend 22 per cent of their total annual media budget on trade events, whereas comparable American firms typically spend less than 5 per cent. Europeans tend not to spend money on circus like promotions, gimmicks and such; rather they focus on providing an environment for in depth dealings. More than 2,000 major trade shows are held world wide every year (although the largest US trade show, Comdex, was canceled in 2004 after the IT meltdown). The Hanover Industry Fair (Germany) the largest trade fair in the world has nearly 6,000 exhibitors who show a wide range of industrial products to 600,000 visitors.

Trade shows provide the facilities for a manufacturer to exhibit and demonstrate products to potential users and to view competitors’ products. They are an opportunity to create sales and establish relationships with agents, distributor franchisees and suppliers that can lead to more nearly permanent distribution channels in foreign markets. In fact a trade show may be the only way to reach some prospects. Trade show experts estimate that 80 to 85 percent of the people seen on a trade show floor never have salesperson call on them. Several Web sites now specialize in virtual trade shows. They often include multimedia and elaborate product display booths that can be virtually toured. Some of these virtual trade shows last only a few days during an associated actual trade show.

The number and variety of trade shows are such that almost any target market in any given country can be found through this medium. Most remarkable was the Medical Expo in Havana in 2000 – the first trade show to be sanctioned by both the US and Cuban governments in more than four decades. Over 8,000 Cuban doctors, nurses, technicians and hospital administrators attended. This initial event was followed in 2002 wit a major food products trade show in Havana. In Eastern Europe, fairs and exhibitions offer companies the opportunity to meet new customers including private traders, young entrepreneurs and representatives of non state organizations. The exhibitions in countries such as Russia and Poland offer a cost effective way of reaching a large number of customers who might otherwise be difficult to target through individual sales calls. Specialized fairs in individual sector such as computers the automotive industry, fashion and home furnishings regularly take place.