Trading places

British industry has a pretty good set of trade shows running at the NEC next week – two of which are previewed in the centre of this issue. But in the spirit of continuous improvement, the question has to be asked: could these shows become even more useful for the many thousands of engineers and […]

British industry has a pretty good set of trade shows running at the NEC next week – two of which are previewed in the centre of this issue. But in the spirit of continuous improvement, the question has to be asked: could these shows become even more useful for the many thousands of engineers and technicians who will be attending? The fact is, they must.

The appeal of shows is fairly clear cut: it’s about personal contact, product demonstrations and the comparison of rivals.

But the downsides are also becoming clear. It may sound like marketing puff, but firms really are increasingly providing systems and solutions rather than just products and services. That means engineering consultancy rather than pure salesmanship, and it will also eventually mean an end to the almost medieval market stall where a supplier puts out his wares on a piece of green baize cloth.

Maybe the time is ripe for a return to core values. In the old days, a trade fair was the sideshow to a large conference, which would attract the movers and shakers of an industry or sector. Today, that balance has swung in the opposite direction. Trade shows are the main event, and the conference or seminar programme is added on as an intellectual incentive to more senior management.

Which arrangement works best? Probably a mix of both. One solution could be the creation of a large industrial conference whereissues can be aired and future trends explored – running next to a big trade show and maximising the appeal of both.