Quantity vs. Quality

Coyote Days
A major part of being a buyer in our industry is about keeping up on new product trends and new releases, as well as understanding the ins/outs of what each company has to offer. To do this we receive email blasts, product samples pour off our desks and we diligently leaf through industry magazines.

But the best way to really understand this industry and our place in it is to attend trade shows. It’s here that the best business is done – products are presented to you by the people who (in theory) know the most about them, you see everything that is being released and can therefore discern which products will work the best for your company and, most importantly, you get to take the time to meet with the people behind the products.

When I first began buying about 6 years ago there were four major U.S. shows each year… 2-3 of which we attended regularly. Over the past couple of years that 2-3 has grown to be about 9-10… all competing for manufacturers to attend and all trying to draw in buyers.

Honestly… it’s too many.

And yet, when another show is announced I am drawn to attend because maybe it will offer something different, maybe I will see something special and maybe the conversations I have there will make up for the travel, the time away from the office and the expense of just too many trade shows. I do this with the hope that next year (crossing my fingers) it will be better. Maybe shows will merge, maybe some will throw in the towel, and maybe (just maybe) people will realize it’s about quality over quantity.

With all that in mind I recently headed south to the recent XBIZ show not really knowing what to expect, a little cynical having just attended two rapid-fire trade shows and it being the weekend before Valentine’s Day. I didn’t have high expectations and truth be told I came away with something I didn’t quite expect.

The show was set up a little differently than most shows – there were seminars in the beginning of the day, exhibitions (show floor and suite-style) in the afternoon and events in the evening.

The exhibitions varied from well established companies (DVD and pleasure products), companies new to trade shows as well as service-oriented booths. But this is not where this show excelled. The exhibitors were great – it was just that I’d seen most of them once (if not twice) the month before, they didn’t have new products and we didn’t really have new business to talk about.

But the seminars… this is where the XBIZ Retail Expo excelled. I’ve attended panels and I’ve been on panels… and in general I appreciate what other people in this industry have to offer – the insight, history, suggestions etc… But these seminars were different. What stood out were people talking about the issues that affect our industry – politics, free speech, sex-negativity, fear, stigma, bigotry. These are issues that are discussed here and there – articles written and perhaps read. But listening to Larry Flynt talk… hear him say “apathy is the biggest enemy that Democracy has… the biggest enemy that business has” or quote Janis Joplin “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”. Just his being there was inspiring. And I was… I was inspired. Not inspired like “Yes! I have to add that vibe to our line” but on a deeper level… regarding the issues that affect our industry at large.

Then attending the Retail Law panel I saw this whole other side of our industry – people who look at everything through a legal lens and work behind the scenes to make sure we can do the business we do.

Not to gloss over the many differences in our industry and in our business styles, missions, values, practices… but leaving this show I had more of an understanding of the issues that bind us together rather than separate us. And that, to me, made this show worth attending. Because it’s not the new products or the business (and many times personal) conversations that make this industry what it is. That’s an important part of it. But another part is the history – those that have sacrificed their freedom and happiness to pave the way for us to have the rights we do. We are no different from other persecuted entities… we have rights because others fought for it. We can open stores and sell certain items because somebody paid a due. And I left the XBIZ Retail Expo feeling grateful that I got the chance to hear these people talk and listen to their stories.

As for the way-too-many shows? My hope, as a buyer, is that in 2011 some will merge, maybe some will throw in the towel, and maybe (just maybe) people will realize it’s about quality over quantity.

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