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Archive | March 2, 2011

[Analysis] CHA Winter 2011 Attendance: The Road Forward

The Craft & Hobby Association has released their statistics about attendance at the CHA Winter 2011 show in Los Angeles, and it is sparking a lot of discussion in the industry about the show and its health & future as an industry event.

The CHA statistics for Los Angeles include:

  • 5,245 verified trade show attendees
  • 522 exhibitors filling 193,827 sq. ft. of exhibit space representing a 5% increase in show floor square footage, up from 185,250 sq. ft. in 2010
  • 110 companies (about 21% of the exhibitors) were new to the CHA Winter Show – an 8% increase over the number of new exhibitors at the CHA 2010 Winter Show
  • Average seminar attendance up 140%
  • Almost 80% of all CHA member buying companies attended the Show and 90% of CHA member manufacturers exhibited at the Show
  • 74% of exhibitors rated the attending buyer quality at satisfactory to excellent

Anecdotal evidence from discussions in Los Angeles indicate that the shift to Los Angeles from Anaheim was not a popular one. Common complaints included how spread out the convention center location was, attendees feeling unsafe in the downtown Los Angeles area, the lack of budget food options for attendees in the area, and the expense of exhibiting in the Los Angeles building compared to Anaheim. Also, some attendees like to use the Anaheim location as a family vacation that is tax deductible  by taking advantage of the proximity of Disneyland to the Convention Center. That wasn’t something most people considered an option in Los Angeles.

All in all, it did not seem that Los Angeles was a comfortable fit for the attendees. No one seems disappointed that the show is moving back to Anaheim in 2012.

The attendance statistics above, which show attendance being decreased significantly (21%) from the CHA Winter 2010 show in Los Angeles, would seem to be troubling. CHA Winter 2011 is over, and what’s done is done, but the big question for potential participants in future shows is…will this trend continue?

There are probably several factors that affected buyer attendance in Los Angeles. I think the first place to look for answers is the venue itself. A primary factor was travel costs. At the Anaheim venue, many attendees search out budget tourist hotels that are not on the official CHA list and book rooms for a fraction of the price of the official show hotels. Because of the proximity to Disneyland, there are dozens of these hotels within walking distance or a short drive of the convention center. In Los Angeles, the extreme distance of the neighborhood hotels from the convention center and perceived lack of safety in the downtown neighborhood at night led many attendees to believe that they needed to restrict their hotel choices to the selections on the official show list so that they would be on the convention center shuttle route. This priced out of the market people used to booking the extremely inexpensive tourist hotels in Anaheim, and also explains why CHA was reporting dramatic increases in hotel bookings prior to the show that weren’t reflected in actual attendance numbers. Everyone was probably crowding into the official show hotels rather than spreading out between official and unofficial hotel choices.

Also creating budget concerns was the food options. Anyone researching the neighborhood and the hotels discovered quickly that affordable food like is offered all over the Anaheim neighborhood was not on offer in Los Angeles. I don’t think I ever paid less than $20/plate for a meal except in the convention center itself during my trip. In the tourist area in Anaheim, with loads of family-friendly fast food and budget offerings, it is easy to eat for half of that (or less). The JW Marriott in Los Angeles simply did not have any options that could compete budget-wise for food, for instance, with the similarly-priced Marriott in Anaheim where my favorite meal option is to grab a $6 pan pizza and retire to my room and put my feet up while going over materials gathered that day.

Which brings us to another point about the lack of popularity about Los Angeles: Expense isn’t the only turn-off when eating requires a big sit-down experience. For many attendees, the hassle and time required to seek out and experience a sit-down restaurant after a full day of work on the show floor is simply exhausting. And it cuts into the work time of many buyers who rely on their evening time in their hotel to go over catalogs they’ve collected during the day, consult with other staffers, and determine what to order. Other groups of show attendees also have evening work to do as well, and a venue that offers no quick-and-easy food options (budget issues aside) does these attendees a disservice as it places yet another burden on their time and energy just to fulfill a basic need: eating.

Another killer for the Los Angeles venue was that it simply wasn’t a family-friendly vacation destination. A surprising number of people use the Anaheim show as a tax deductible vacation. You walk around the show floor there and hear lots of people talk about how their families are at Disneyland while they are at the show. Many use the affordably available “after 4pm” passes to join their families in the evenings in the park. In Los Angeles, I didn’t hear one person say they brought their family along for a vacation. Since they couldn’t get “double duty” out of the money, many people probably didn’t feel they could justify the expense (rightly or wrongly) and didn’t make the trip at all.

So will the return to Anaheim in 2012 increase CHA Winter attendance again? I think the 2012 Anaheim show has two things going for it that the 2011 Los Angeles show didn’t. First, the return to Anaheim will make attendees happy, bringing back attendees who skipped Los Angeles for the reasons described above. Another positive force will be the new conference format. It was generally well received in Los Angeles, with session attendance up an average of 140%, and interest in it should continue to grow as attendees experience the value of it. The conference format is the future in the 21st century for trade events like CHA. While the internet increasingly facilitates product previews and wholesale purchasing by buyers, it cannot effectively replace the intense networking and educational experience of a conference event. That is the value that both the association and attendees will likely concentrate on from the CHA conferences in the future.

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