Advanstar’s initial Off-Road Expo gets mixed reviews

LAS VEGAS, Nev . — The inaugural 2003 Off-Road Aftermarket Expo, held here Oct. 10-12, received mixed reviews. Some groups, including the promoter of the show, Advanstar, claim the show, which was held the same weekend as the U.S. Open Supercross race across the street at the MGM Grand casino, was a success and will only get better in following years.
Others, however, say the show was indicative of the state of the powersports industry: over-reaching after a few good years and overextending the industry’s resources.
Advanstar claims that the show attracted more than 1,900 manufacturers, exhibitors, dealers and retailers. That number is a bit unclear, however. The show was sparsely populated by exhibitors, only taking up a small portion of the large convention hall in the Mandalay Bay Casino, and the aisles appeared to be only thinly populated by dealers.
Advanstar didn’t have hard numbers on actual dealer attendance at the show as this issue of Powersports Business was published, but a spokesperson said that 200 to 300 dealerships signed up for the event. A total of 133 exhibitors participated in the show.
Karen Widdicombe, marketing and promotions director for the Expo, said that the show lived up to Advanstar’s expectations.
“We thought that it was definitely not a heavily attended show, but we were happy with it as a first-time effort,” Widdicombe told Powersports Business. “It was pretty close to what we were expecting for a first-time effort. We’re definitely looking to bump that number up next year.”
So, while Advanstar was pleased with the first-year showing at the show, it had mixed reviews from exhibitors. Intersport Fashions West had one of the busiest booths at the show. The company’s line of off-road and street helmets drew a crowd, and Paul Golde, product development manager, said the show was successful for the company.
“It went pretty well for us,” Golde said. “If we hadn’t had a new product to show, it would’ve been slower. And even then, we still would’ve liked it to be busier. The show was the North American debut of our Vemar helmet, which went over well. Dealers like new products, just like their customers.”
While Intersport was enjoying activity, other booths didn’t fair as well. Purely Custom, a company that makes customized accessories for many powersports vehicles, attended the show to reach out to off-road dealerships. As the company’s first venture into the market, it wasn’t a huge success.
Shel Clark, of Purely Custom, said, “The show was pretty slow; it wasn’t near what we thought it would be. It was our first try at reaching some of the market, but we’re going to change our direction a little bit and do some motorcycle shows.”
Clark went on to say that the show probably worked for some exhibitors, but didn’t allow Purely Custom to reach its target market — dealers. “There weren’t a lot of dealers that showed up,” Clark continued, “and that was the problem. It wasn’t good for us.”
Even though there wasn’t a huge dealer turnout, it wasn’t for lack of promotion, says Advanstar’s Widdicombe.
“Our feeling wasn’t that the dealers weren’t aware of it,” she explained. “but they were taking a ‘wait and see’ attitude. We had pretty heavy coverage out to the dealers in the marketplace. We have a pretty large database that is, of course, a result of the Dealer Expo.
“We targeted people who had indicated that they were off-road dealers. From June through September we had something going on, either we were telemarketing or direct mailing or sending e-blasts. I think word was out there. I think that we’re pretty happy with it and looking forward to building on the event next year.”
While Purely Custom remains open but pensive to the thought of the 2004 Off-Road Aftermarket Expo, other exhibitors have sworn off the show entirely. The strain that shows like this put on a small business’ budget is considerable, but when the show doesn’t deliver dealers to the vendors, the outcome can be catastrophic. Jay Hubelbank, of NextStep Computer & Software, was extremely disappointed with the show’s attendance.
“It was a joke. I mean, it was pitiful,” Hubelbank said. “This is the first time that this industry had a show in Vegas, and I had expressed my doubt that Las Vegas was the best venue. I expressed my doubts and sure enough, it came to pass.
“One of the problems is that we’re a small industry made up of small businesses,” Hubelbank continued. “These shows cost, for a small company like us, between $7,500 and $10,000. If we were a little larger company, it would cost more because bigger companies bring lots of people who are on the payroll — we don’t do that. They fly — we don’t do that. They buy a booth for thousands of dollars — we don’t do that. So, we are on the light side of expenditures, not the high side.”
Hubelbank went on to explain the fractured nature of the industry. “Let’s go back four years. Four years ago, there was one show. All the vendors went to the show, all the trade and dealers knew they could go to one show and get to see everybody. Therefore, we knew we could spend $7,500 to $10,000 to see the majority of the industry at one location. Here, now, we’ve split the venue. There are now six shows going on. And I guarantee you a year from now, this number is going to go up.”
With a plethora of possible shows to attend, a small company can’t represent themselves as well or as easily as the big companies. “Can we really afford to do six shows?” Hubelbank ponders. “Can we jump our budget up from what was $10,000 to $60,000? Are we going to get more people coming to visit our booth? The answer is no, we’re not, and this show proved it. If there was ever any doubt, this show proved that is no viability of having additional shows.”
While the perspectives on the show range from blissful to bleak, the sentiment about attending next year’s event is the same: unsure. While Advanstar said that 60% of the vendors at this year’s show signed up for booth space at next year’s event, there is still uncertainty about the fledgling Off-Road Aftermarket Expo.
Intersport Fashions, the company that claimed the show worked well, is still weighing the pros and cons of attending the 2004 Expo. “I would certainly want to have more attendance next year for us to say we’d go,” Golde said. “A lot of dealers in the area didn’t go or didn’t know about the show.”
Purely Custom, the company that used the show to reach out to off-road dealerships, shares the sentiments of the much-larger Intersport. “We probably won’t go next year,” Clark said. “It’s something we’ll keep talking about, but unless the show turns into something more spectacular, we won’t be there. I know it’s the show’s first year, and maybe we don’t want to give up our spot if it becomes a huge success, so we’ll have to keep our eye on that.”
Hubelbank, when asked if NextStep Computer & Software will be at the show next year, pondered bigger questions: “Who has been serviced by this [show]? I didn’t make money. The customers didn’t make money. I’m sure Advanstar didn’t make money. Nobody did. The only way they could get me to do this show next year is if they paid me. The only thing they did right was that they had coffee outside in the morning.”
Despite the thin turn-out and bleak outlooks by some vendors, the show will go on next year. Advanstar is still taking opinions and thoughts from all the attendees and exhibitors to better next year’s event. “One of the things that came back to us that may change a little bit of our approach is that people felt that the show had a little bit of a feel of the Dealer Expo,” Widdicombe said.
“Next year, we’ll give it a stronger identity of it’s own, one that’s more closely aligned with that particular marketplace — more in tune with the personality of that marketplace. We worked toward that this year, but I think we can do more next year. And that may mean trying a few different things.
“Maybe what our direct mail looks like will change a little bit,” Widdicombe continued. “Or, maybe what information we put into it will change a little bit. Maybe we’ll do more e-mail marketing. Those are the things we’ll be looking at. And, hopefully, those dealers who said they didn’t hear about the Expo this year, next year will say, ‘Oh yeah, I did get that.’”

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