Interview with Former Group Show Manager, Part One

I love the internet!  Connecting with people is so much easier and fun than the ole’ fashion way!

On that note, I am fortune to make the acquaintance with Aubin Wilson, a former Group Show Manager with George Little Management (GLM) — producers of 22 trade shows across the country.  I am excited to share my interview with her about her job, the trade show experience, and tips for exhibitors.

Please tell us a bit about yourself, how you got connected with George Little Management, and what you do for them?

I joined GLM in the Fall of 1995 and worked for them until the Fall of 2009.   Aubin WilsonPrior to working for GLM I had attended the New York International Gift Fair (now called NY NOW) many times to find product for L’Herbier de Provence’s stores.  I worked with many long time NYIGF exhibitors including The French Look, Sarut, Random House, Chronicle Books, European Soaps, L’Aromarine, BTC Distinguished French Gifts, and Baudelaire.

How I got to GLM – the old girls network – An longtime  friend of my parents, Caroline Beebe, was a Human Resources consultant for GLM, and she introduced me to Alan Steel, then the Executive Vice President of GLM who, in addition to other responsibilities, oversaw new business development.  Little did I know that Alan and his associate, Dorothy Belshaw, had recently conducted research on the personal care category and were investigating whether GLM could purchase or launch a trade show for the beauty and personal care industry.  The timing was right for me to join the company – no one at GLM had a background in the category and they needed someone to spearhead this new initiative.  A late September meeting with Alan turned into a job offer and I started on November 1.

Initially I was responsible for overseeing the development and launch of this new show which we called EX∙TRACTS®:  A Trade Show for Aromatherapy, Fragrance and Personal Care.  It launched in April 1997 and ran concurrently with and adjacent to The New York Home Textiles Show®.  In this role, I planned, coordinated and managed all aspects of assigned trade shows, including selecting location and negotiating with involved parties, advertising and marketing to attract buyers, selling exhibit space, overseeing show logistics, managing exhibitor, attendee and press relationships, hiring and managing the show team, and managing finances.

Several years later, I was promoted to Group Show Manager with responsibility for EX∙TRACTS as well as spearheading GLM’s joint venture efforts with Western Exhibitors to produce The International New Age Trade Show (INATS) East (in Orlando) and in West (in Denver).  Later my role expanded to include overseeing GLM’s joint venture with Urban Expositions to produce The Orland Gift Show® and The Gift Fair in Atlanta®.  My involvement with the Atlanta project was short lived as in late January 2002, I was transferred to GLM’s new satellite office Los Angeles to be the lead senior manager reporting to Dorothy Belshaw, then a Senior VP at GLM, with responsibility for re-branding, elevating awareness and visibility  and increasing market share of the California Gift Show®.  During my time in Los Angeles, I continued to work on INATS and also worked on The Seattle Gift Show®, and The San Francisco International Gift Fair®.

In the Summer of 2009, I was part of the team who oversaw the sale of the 4 West Coast Gift Shows (LA, Seattle, Portland and San Francisco) on behalf of dmg world media (at that juncture, they were the owners of GLM) and was solely responsible for overseeing the closing of GLM’s satellite office in Los Angeles.

Since then I have done a little project work for GLM, but I am no longer employed by them.

I have not been to a gift show in several years now, but I am told that wholesale gift and trade shows are changing and evolving.  Can you tell us about the changes you have seen and expect to see in the near future?

Something that hasn’t changed – exhibiting at a trade show offers companies one of the very best ways to get in front of a lot of customers and prospects in a relatively short amount of time. Trade shows give you the opportunity to not only show your product or describe your service, but also to create that all important first impression. According to a Simmons Market Research Bureau study, 91% of respondents ranked trade shows as “extremely useful” as a source for product purchasing information. This was higher than any other source, including on-site visits from reps.  Also, nearly half of the respondents had purchased products or services at the trade show.

At a typical national trade show, with 10,000 attendees and 1,000 exhibitors, you can realistically have 200+  visitors per day. If you were making sales calls, you could not even approach that number. Granted, you don’t always have the opportunity to go into as much detail in your presentation as you would like, but it opens the door for future communications — a door that sometimes is very difficult to get your foot into.  Collecting business cards and making notes about your conversation with each buyer is key to successfully qualify the lead and to able to follow up after the market.

Markets are changing and evolving – As in other business sectors, mergers and acquisitions have played a big role in the trade show industry.

For example, on the Show Management side of the business Urban Expositions recently acquired the California Gift Show from MMPI and Advanstar producers of MAGIC recently (in the last year) purchased ENK, producers of Coterie and Accessorie Circuit and Intermezzo Collections.  On the exhibitor side of the business this is happening too.  For example, numerous candle companies including Votivo, Bridgewater Candles, Greenleaf and Fresh Scents are now all owned by Grace Management Company of Spartanburg, SC.  On the market attendee side of the business (buyers) this is also happening –  Federated Department Stores now owns Macys, and Bloomingdales and The Hudson Bay Company now owns both Hudson Bay Company and Lord & Taylor.

Manufacturers are also buying retailers and/or mail order catalog companies.  For example, in 2011 Evergreen Enterprises acquired Plow & Hearth from 1-800-Flowers.com.  This was a very strategic move as it allowed Evergreen who was already running a strong manufacturing and b-t-b operation to expand their reach into a direct-to-consumer business both via their mail order catalogue, e-commerce platform and their 19 stores (as of today, they have 18 stores, as one is closed for renovations).  Having a direct ear to the end user is of vital importance especially as the lifecycle of a product or collection gets shorter and shorter.

As with all industries, a softening of the global economy also impacted trade shows.  Overall market attendance on both the exhibitor side as well as the buying side shrank.  In an effort to control marketing expenses, some exhibitors began to cut Shows from their calendars and some retailers or market attendees opted to either cut the amount of time spent at a Show or to forego Shows altogether and to rely solely on Sales Representatives making sales calls and shopping on-line.

So as to be a valuable resource for market attendees and exhibitors 24/7/365 – trade show management firms have invested heavily in technology.  All Show management companies now have fully functional websites and most include a portal for “Product Search”.  This product search features allows a prospective (or existing) buyer to search by product category or by company name.  For example, if you visited NYNOW.com and searched for Dogeared – you would be directed to their listing which includes contact details and a link to their website.  If you cannot get to the Show or it is in between Shows – this is a great way to find discover new resources and to shop on line!

In the last five years or so many tradeshow management firms have also re-worked how they look at their attendees.  Buyers used to be classified by the type of store they were e.g. department store, specialty store, and clothing boutique and now they are categorized by the types of products they buy e.g. stationery, personal care, jewelry, handcrafted, etc..   Categorizing buyers by types of product allows for trade show management firms to do more targeted mailings and e-blasts to a select group of attendees.  For example, if you indicated that you were interested in Jewelry Made in the USA – an event producer could send you a pre-Show e-mail promoting that there are going to be x number of companies displaying Jewelry Made in the USA at the upcoming

Show or that there was going to be an educational program on How to easily incorporate a MADE in the USA section in your store.

With the advent of social media, how one markets a trade show has changed.  Now event producers and exhibitors can be in contact with buyers and prospective buyers before, during and after the Show.

Photo courtesy of George Little Management

Photo courtesy of George Little Management

During the most recent NYIGF (now called NY NOW), I received a few Tweets and saw a few Facebook posts from GLM promoting what was going on at the Show along with a gentle reminder that there was still time to visit the market.  Exhibitors, too can do that, they can talk about what product has been the “hot” product of the market, what the traffic in their booth has been like, and share the buzz about who they have seen in their booth or walking the aisles.

Expect to see technology continue to play a big role in the ever changing world of tradeshows.

My interview with Aubin, including her tips for exhibitors, continues next week …

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