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Tools of the Trade?

Tools of the Trade?

Lighting manufacturers debate the value of trade shows.

The lighting industry is rife with opportunities to display new products.  From larger, more established forums like the 30-year-old Lightfair and the two decades-old Strategies in Light, to numerous regional and application-specific opportunities nationwide, trade shows have become a standard ‘modus operandi’ within the lighting industry.

But are they really worth it?

Following, representatives of several key lighting manufacturers share their perspectives on lighting trade shows and how they fit – or don’t fit – into their overall marketing and sales program.

According to Ira Greenberg, CEO of Keystone Technologies, “we typically showcase at four to six major trade shows a year (including Lightfair, Light Show West, Strategies in Light, and LEDucation) and also participate in roughly a dozen smaller shows throughout the year.  We use trade shows as a hands-on way to demonstrate our products. When distributors visit our booth, we view it as an in-person training opportunity for a product expert at Keystone to educate distributors and end users about the benefits and features of our products.”

“Products in the lighting space are changing so rapidly that educating distributors on what’s new is often a bottleneck to getting new products into the market effectively, so trade shows are a great return on investment because we can educate many distributors efficiently when they visit our booth,” Greenberg said.

The team at Signify agrees that trade shows represent an efficient way to convey key messages. “Our position as a manufacturer with [a broad] range of lighting products across various applications and segments results in a need for us to reach many different customer and stakeholder audiences,” shared Heather Milcarek, Signify’s Head of Professional Channel Marketing. “We participate selectively in more than a dozen trade shows at both the national and local levels each year and have found great success through events where we can effectively showcase our offer and generate business opportunities that lead to sales.”

Russ Sharer, Vice President of Global Marketing and Business Development at Fulham, has had a dramatically different experience. “When distributors visit our booth, we expect an intelligent business conversation – e.g., what’s happening with our business in their business? What are customers saying? What products are interesting to customers? How do they feel about business in the next six months? How can we work together to grow the business?”

But more often than not, Sharer said, “the ROI on trade shows is poor. More people are using the internet to get product information, so traffic is down at major shows. Tier 1 suppliers are pulling out or significantly reducing their footprint, new products aren’t being launched at shows, and customers have cut their travel budgets.” On top of all of that, he added, “the industry is suffering from tariffs which are about to get worse, so even when a company sends people to a show, their team is smaller than it used to be. When we compare the cost of a nationwide show,” he said, “I could hire two salespeople instead, and that has a much better ROI.”

Evaluating the Opportunity

At Signify, “we work to create an experience for our partners so that they can see, touch, and feel our products and solutions,” Milcarek said. “Our goal is to have a meaningful dialogue where we can share our points of differentiation, gather feedback and insights, and identify mutual opportunities for us to partner in gaining new business with the exciting value propositions that we can bring to the market together.”

But even with that, Milcarek said that Signify still carefully evaluates its trade show opportunities. “We’ve become selective over the past five years in terms of the shows we participate in, and attend only those events where we believe we can effectively showcase our offer and create business opportunities that lead to sales,” she said. “We continue to re-evaluate our trade show presence at each and every event to determine whether we’re generating enough leads that turn into genuine business opportunities to justify our involvement. Over the years, our ability to track these results through systems like Salesforce.com has helped to evolve and improve our evaluation process so that it’s based on actual data,” she said. “Similarly, our ability to track ROI on other marketing activities allows us to compare other opportunities for spend to help maximize our overall marketing budget. If another activity is found to provide a better return, then we’ll shift the spend from the trade show to that other activity (and vice versa).”

Based on their experience, Fulham’s trade show strategy has definitely changed over the years. “We’ve reduced our footprints, especially at international shows,” Sharer confirmed. “The return on investment has been lagging and we weren’t finding enough new, really good opportunities.”

According to Greenberg, Keystone’s trade show strategy has remained fairly consistent over time. “We provide hands-on product education and demonstration, making sure that all visitors are attended to and engaged,” Greenberg said. “Trade shows can be long days for booth personnel as well as visitors, so we always look for ways to maintain high levels of energy, enthusiasm, and fun!”


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Susan Bloomis a 25-year veteran of the lighting and electrical products industry. Reach her at susan.bloom.chester@gmail.com.

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