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BUCKING TRENDS

In a departure from literally decades of ritual, the New England Fuel Institute (NEFI) in June held its bi-annual energy exposition not at the Hynes Exhibition Hall in Boston, but at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.


Notwithstanding a propensity by some to decry any change as bad, the overwhelming majority of the attendees with whom I spoke at the show viewed the move to Gillette as positive and encouraging.  In the wake years of downturn economy, not to mention the recent and some say ongoing general malaise of our own sector, attendees took the changes associated with the 2013 NEFI Expo as well intentioned and affirmative.


Generally, there was a sense from attendees that any movement from what was, to something else, is a good thing.  ‘Stand still and you die,” ‘change is good,” and ‘if you don’t change, your competition will,” were common refrains. 


It takes courage to act on the pursuit of change and old-fashioned ‘guts” to buck tradition, and    NEFI’s bold move to Gillette is certainly the latter.  It was only two years ago in the midst of the economic turndown that a major trade show service company reported attendance at their customers’ trade shows down 25 percent. Clearly, the past few years have not been an easy sell for those promoting trade shows, whether they are shows offered by trade associations seeking non-dues revenue or exhibition companies that create and/or manage shows for a living. 


The good news is that nationally the numbers are trending up although the tendency is far from meteoric.  In June, CEIR, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, said the ‘pace of [tradeshow] growth may be slowing, but the trade show industry still just keeps moving in a positive direction.” CEIR’s Index reported a ‘1.3-percent increase to kick off the first quarter of this year, compared with the same time period last year.”
 
CEIR also reported that net square footage and exhibitors were up a couple of percentage points each in the first quarter of this year.  Revenue was also up, sporting a modest 1.0-percent increase.  CEIR also says that after several quarters of attendance growth there was a small decline of 0.2 percent in the first quarter of 2013, which CEIR attributes to less participation from government personnel.  


At press time, we were not able to obtain the numbers from the NEFI Expo. However, supporters of the Expo’s new digs cited as positive the clear and open access to the property, plenty of free parking, the spatial openness and natural light of the stadium itself, and, quoting, ‘it beats the Hell out of downtown,” in an apparent reference to traffic congestion.  Bottom line:  It was good.


Some attendees noted the relative remoteness of Gillette to ‘the action” of downtown Boston, the distance from Gillette to the hotels serving the event as further than they would have liked, and that there could have been more instructional signage on-site, but that was the extent of it. 


Former Chairman of Chrysler Corporation Lee Iacocca is remembered for this trademark battle cry:  ‘Leadfollow, or get out of the way.


Expo organizers are to be congratulated for taking the risk and exercising the initiative to lead via change.


 


Shane Sweet is in management with a major Northeast marketer of heating oil, propane and motor fuels.  From 1993-2007 he served as Executive VP/Director and Lobbyist for the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, and from 2007- 2010 was President & CEO of the New England Fuel Institute.  He lives in Shaftsbury, Vermont and can be reached at shanemsweet@gmail.com or 802-558-6101 cell/text.   Suggestions by readers for future column content, as well as general comments, are welcome.

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