Those Godawful Trade Shows

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In the late 1990s, I had a love/hate relationship with the financial trade shows that popped up around the country (and by “trade shows”, I’m talking about things like the Money Show, Traders Expo, and other such events). I loved them because they were bustling, exciting venues where I could check out the latest products, size up the competition, and have more human contact with traders and customers than anywhere else. I hated them because they were a lot of work (I typically manned the Prophet booth as an exhibitor and/or speaker) and were really repetitious with respect to questions, customers, and presentations.

Things have changed, though. First off, I haven’t had to man a trade show in many years, not only because I sold Prophet nearly nine years ago, but also because Prophet (and most other vendors) realized, particularly after the Internet bubble crashed, that you really didn’t get any customers out of these things.


Over the course of time, the split between what I considered “real’ exhibitors (interesting, innovative companies with cool products to share) and “filler” exhibitors (big companies like Proctor & Gamble that were there as a shareholder relations gig, and whom no one had any interest in seeing) began to shift. There were more and more filler booths and fewer and fewer real booths. I am frankly amazed these shows are still able to turn a profit. They have become boring as hell, and I felt really sorry for whomever had to man the booths, as I thanked my lucky stars I no longer to do so.

On occasion, I’d still fly out to these things, but the distance I was willing to travel shrunk. Last year, I went out to Las Vegas (which is a little more than a one hour plane flight), and the show was just as bad as I remembered. It took me about 15 minutes to blast through the entire show and see everything I wanted to see. Gone were the days that the show would fill multiple exhibit floors and take a copule of days to really absorb.

I had finally reached the decision that I would only be willing to go to one of these shows if it was local (which means San Francisco). This week, the Money Show is coming to SF, and I planned on going. However, I gotta tell ya, after looking over the exhibitor list, (Aflac? Claremont McKenna College? General Electric? Golden Gate University!?!?!?) I have decided it isn’t even worth a quick car trip to check out the exhibits. At this point, even if one of these shows opened up next door to my house, I don’t think I’d bother.

Maybe it says something about the state of innovation in this field, as well as the lack of retail customers. Or at least it suggests that these events have become more about listening to speakers than seeing products. In any case, I am a person who has trouble sometimes being thankful, but I’ll never stop being grateful for not having to staff one of these things again. God almighty.