[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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14 Responses to [Analysis] CHA Winter 2011 Attendance: The Road Forward

  1. Scrapbook Obsession March 3, 2011 at 3:17 am #

    Great article, Nancy. Based on your review, I’m glad to hear the show is moving back to Anaheim next time. Sounds like a very smart decision.

  2. Sally Lynn MacDonald March 3, 2011 at 6:45 am #

    I am looking forward to Anaheim for 2012. I stayed at the Wilshire Grand (on the list) and TWICE both friends and I were approached and even followed into the hotel by people that were agressively pan-handling on the streets. It didn’t even feel safe being dropped off at the main entrance. I missed walking leisurely to\from my hotel in Anaheim and enjoying the sunshine and happy sounds from nearby Disney. Los Angeles was a horrible move on the part of CHA – let’s hope they don’t do anything like that again.

  3. Jane Hakes March 3, 2011 at 7:07 am #

    I don’t understand why CHA can’t find more central locations. Yes, Chicago is central, but California is NOT…. There are plenty of cities more convenient, less expensive, and more family-friendly (unlike central Los Angeles). For those of us coming from far, far away (i.e. the UK), it would be nice to have a change.

  4. marchelle March 3, 2011 at 12:01 pm #

    I’m not a vendor, but I couldn’t agree more w/ everyone. If CHA is going to be held in S. Cal. then Anaheim is the best choice no doubt. I think it is so sad that L.A. makes us feel un-safe. Maybe the Mayor and L.A.P.D. should see this so they know how tourists, feel…afterall, I’m sure even though there was a lack of affordable accomodations, CHA still brought revenue into that city. I grew up in Pasadena (I live in Prescott, Az now) and I know exactly how awful it is to go into LA…I avoid it like the plague. I don’t even fly into LAX I go into Burbank. Anyway…for our industry’s sake, I hope things can be worked out…we’re all such talented ladies. Have a good weekend.

  5. Judith Norman March 3, 2011 at 12:29 pm #

    Nancy, you nailed it in this review. Downtown L.A. and the L.A. Convention Center are two of my least favorite places – and I live here! I thought the show was very subdued. I cannot wait for it to return to Anaheim for all the reasons you mentioned in your article.

  6. Christine Ousley March 3, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

    Well said and reported Nancy! Thanks for the insight.
    xoxo, Christine

  7. kathleen.summers March 3, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

    Excellent review, Nancy. Thanks!

  8. Allison March 3, 2011 at 4:24 pm #

    Vegas was a wonderful choice a few years ago–hubby waundered the strip while I was at the show, and we had wonderful evening entertainment choices. Alos more central than LA.

  9. Lyneen March 3, 2011 at 9:06 pm #

    Love hearing what you have to say about CHA… great article.

  10. stumpedagain March 4, 2011 at 11:11 am #

    After 7 straight years without missing a show (including the old HIA and Memory Trends) we made a conscious decision to skip this one. As a manufacturer’s rep, the industry simply doesn’t hold the value it once did. To China — it does. To a US manufacturer — forget about it. What an interesting arc this industry has taken in the last 7 years. Sorry to hear that the Show may not have performed as is so often necessary. It will be interesting to watch where the Show, the industry, and the CHA itself goes next.

  11. Gab March 4, 2011 at 9:05 pm #

    Great article, thanks Nancy

  12. Molly McCarthy March 4, 2011 at 11:11 pm #

    Call me crazy but I loved the downtown venue. Being in the heart of LA Live was like being in the middle of Times Square. Sure there might be a few “colorful” people along the way but that is part of the excitement of being in a big city – not everyone is the same. The food choices around the venue were terrific and nothing like room service at the JW Marriott when my feet and body were too tired to move. I don’t eat fast food so I appreciated not having to walk blocks to get a good meal. I thought being in a big city was CHA’s chance to spread it’s wings and exhibit like the big associations do (aka PMA and CES). I didn’t miss Anaheim at all, give me a hip city with some night life any year and I’ll be there :D)!

  13. Jennifer Priest March 11, 2011 at 2:16 pm #

    Great report Nancy. Another thing I think might have contributed to the decreases in attendees is a local one. We have had ALOT of stores close here in CA in the last year so those people are not likely to come to the show. But more so than that, they used to bring their entourage of customers and staff, all on one CHA membership, becuase the show was so close to drive to. I think the new fees deterred those people from coming. Which is a good thing because there was really only one serious buyer (store owner) in those groups of 10+ people but that might be a reason those numbers went down. In working a booth and talking to other manuf while I was there it seemed that though there was alot less traffic (perceived and in reality) the people who were there were serious buyers. The majority of them came with a mission, a route planned out, and were there to order. So I think that is a good thing for the industry, exhibitors, and buyers alike. People will buy stuff instead of just getting what they can for free at the show, exhibitors aren’t wasting catalogs and time on people who are there to get freebies with no intention to order, and buyers can get into the booths to meet with their reps and place orders more efficiently because they aren’t crowded out by the people who aren’t there to buy. I am definitely looking forward to the show being in Anaheim again next year. And my wallet is too! (I spent about $300 on food, $60 on taxis and parking- I could have placed an order with that!!)

  14. Laura June 28, 2011 at 10:41 am #

    I have a small independent scrapbook store on the East Coast and the cost for us going to California is just not realistic. I look at that amount of money we would spend on flights, lodging, and food and think about all the product I can offer my customers. If we had an East Coast CHA, we would be there, but with the cost of flights, it is not possible. Thankfully with our reps and the internet we can see all the new product coming out!

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