Trade Shows: The Great Debate

Are there too many trade shows in the Australian hardware industry? There are plenty of suppliers who think so – and we want feedback from all parties…

Trade shows are enjoyable and stimulating events for retailers. But what burdens do these shows place on suppliers? In particular, what are the costs to suppliers who do business with multiple buying groups across many Australian States? It’s an age-old problem – one addressed more often in hushed whispers than in open debate – and a conundrum for free marketeers who acknowledge the rights of all buying groups to operate in isolation from their competitors.

There are numerous well-known buying groups in Australia, the obvious ones being Mitre 10, John Danks & Son, Hardware & Building Traders and National Building Suppliers Group. Bunnings is another giant operator, though its buying arrangements are conducted for its own stores rather than on behalf of private member retailers.

Here lies the crux of the problem: in order to cater to the needs of all buying groups, broad-market suppliers have to maintain a strong presence throughout each separate buying group’s program of shows and conferences. In some cases a single supplier may feel obliged to attend two or more trade shows at opposite ends of the country in the space of a few weeks. It’s a matter of “flying the flag” in front of different sets of retailers at each function. And the overall expense to suppliers can certainly add up when one considers repeated purchases of show floor space, freight haulage, the construction of customised stands, staff wages, hotel accommodation, meal allowances and other expensive promotional trinkets.

Balanced Debate
Many suppliers over the years have mooted the idea of either a single, annual national trade show (or individual, annual State/Territory-wide events) for all buying groups, their suppliers, as well as independents. The advantages to suppliers of consolidating shows would be vastly reduced costs, representing savings, in some cases, of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

On the other hand, buying groups have every right to act in isolation from their competitors. And suppliers who form exclusive partnerships with individual groups might even welcome the existence of group-specific shows, rather than risk the open-slather competition of an all-embracing national event for all comers. In other words, not all suppliers find the current system inconvenient.

One Country: One Show
Individual groups might argue that a truly national show would pose practical difficulties. For example, what if a retailer from one group took an interest in a product that was only available to members of a rival group? What would be the ramifications to groups if members started ordering more products from unaffiliated suppliers?

Perhaps suppliers linked to certain groups could mount flags on their stands indicating exclusivity arrangements with certain groups. Or affiliated suppliers could be bunched in floor areas clearly marked by a group’s banner.

Whatever the practical headaches, some form of all-encompassing trade event might help many suppliers to save money – funds which could be channelled into product development, even lower wholesale prices and greater opportunities for reps to visit stores.

We are interested in your comments. If you are a group retail member, group representative or supplier, feel free to e-mail John Power at Australian Hardware Journal on jpower@nullglenv.com.au. We’ll try to assemble your responses (you may request anonymity) for presentation in the magazine at a later date.

In the meantime, enjoy the upcoming shows!

John Power