Salt and Pepper #6 - Traditional Tradeshows vs. EME/Power Meeting

Welcome to Salt & Pepper! Salt & Pepper is basically the PromoKitchen equivalent of debate team. The purpose of this monthly article is to open up discussion and conversation on different challenges facing the Promotional Products Industry. In this edition of Salt & Pepper, Chef Kirby Hasseman and industry veteran Bill Petrie discuss the pros and cons of different industry tradeshow events.

What are your opinions? We welcome your comments!

NOTE: Salt & Pepper is intended to foster intelligent dialogue between professionals. This is not a dagger throwing contest. Be honest and authentic, but please also be kind and keep it classy.


Salt - Kirby Hasseman

I am a huge proponent of industry events…no matter what they are!  I have said many times that when I invest the time (and money) to go to an industry event, I come back energized,  focused, and reminded about why I love this business!  The EME style events are fantastic opportunities, and I am not just saying that because I want to be invited back (Hint, hint.  Nudge, nudge).  :)  But since the point of this exercise is to take a side, I find myself arguing between two great things.  Here we go!

Here are the positives of Industry Trade Shows:

Networking Opportunities:  So many of us go to trade shows looking for “the new idea” and that’s cool.  Often trade shows are a great place to find that, but I think the best things about  trade shows is they can be a great place to network with new contacts and old friends.

Lower Cost of Entry:  Though there is certainly a great cost for suppliers at shows, I think the cost of a show is less.  That is certainly the case for distributors which means you get more participation, which can be great.  The exclusive nature of the EME is fantastic, but I want to expose my new sales team members to products and suppliers too.  Shows can be the perfect way to get them started!

Ability to Bolt:  Let’s face it, sometimes suppliers and distributors are not a good fit for each other and that's ok. At a trade show, one of you can make that decision and move on and spend your time elsewhere.  This can be both a negative and a positive, but no one wants to waste a lot of time on something that is just not working.

New Products:  Trade shows have always been a great way to roll-out new products for suppliers.  That makes is great for distributors to see a lot of “new things” in a short period of time!

Additional Education:  I think the best shows are the ones that offer some level of education.  This additional education helps to create more learned sales people, salespeople who are in the perfect position to become next year’s EME participants!

Personal Note:  I understand the exclusivity of the EME is the point of the event.  This way (by limiting the invitations to distributors with $500,000 in sales) the suppliers know they are seeing “top notch” distributors.  That’s totally cool, but would love to see a “Triple A” EME event. This would allow sales people doing $250,000 to be invited.  As salespeople grow, they are the next superstars, and attendance at these kinds of events might help springboard their growth.  I've actually spent the last couple of years saying “we don’t need more trade shows.”  I bet you have too, but this year I have personally had challenges finding shows to attend and I miss them!

Though I know trade shows are a lot of work (and a big expense!), I think the traditional trade show still plays an important role in our industry.

Pepper - Bill Petrie

First of all, I don’t want anyone to take away from the below perspective that industry trade shows are bad – they aren’t.  In fact, there’s a lot to like about the current trade show model including the opportunity to network, take part in education, and the ability to see the newest merchandise suppliers have to offer.

I do, however, think that the EME model has something different to offer both suppliers and distributors. The key advantage EME brings to the table is the format: prior to the event date, private one-on-one meetings are scheduled between distributors and suppliers. Each meeting session is 20 minutes of uninterrupted time. There are many advantages to this style:

Getting Granular: At traditional trade shows, it can be difficult to get a few minutes of direct communication with a supplier representative. The ability to have a scheduled meeting where the supplier and distributor can take a deep dive into future growth or a specific project is invaluable.

Focus: When you do manage to get a few minutes with a supplier at a traditional show, there are others around seeking the attention of the same individual supplier which creates an enormous amount of distraction. The EME format allows singular focus which can provide the necessary communication to drive sales and solve distributor end-user challenges. The advantage to the distributor is that keeps them from falling into their comfort zone of seeing the same suppliers. Instead, EME forces the discomfort of conversations that normally wouldn’t take place – and that’s a good thing. I know one distributor who had over $30,000.00 in sales because of a conversation that took place at EME with a supplier this person hadn't previously known about.

Exclusivity:  The fact that both distributor and supplier attendees must be invited brings a sense of urgency to the proceedings. Ask anyone who has attended an EME event and they will tell you that ideas flow and business gets done at a much higher level and faster rate than at a traditional show. Suppliers know they are only speaking with distributors that have at least $500,000.00 in annual sales that have the potential to create a tremendous return on both investment and experience.

To be clear, both EME and traditional shows play an important role in connecting suppliers and distributors. Like Kirby, I’m a supporter of just about any industry event that connects distributors, suppliers, and service providers. However, as it becomes increasingly difficult to truly engage each other on a busy show floor, EME provides an avenue to make deeper connections. Perhaps it’s time both PPAI and ASI look at incorporating some EME features into their events.


How do you feel about trade shows and EME events? Do you find value in attending? And, outside of education and walking the show floor, what types of events do you seek out to network with other professionals?