Trade (No) Shows

SMTAI is over and done.  It was, in my opinion, a disappointment. While several companies remain on travel lockdown, the location — San Diego — was central to large numbers of designers and assemblers, precious few of whom bothered to make the (short) drive.

I don’t have the numbers from the SMTA yet, but my sense is the attendance for the technical conference was pretty good. But there was very little traffic on the exhibition floor, a result that mirrored IPC Midwest a few weeks earlier.

We can blame the economy. We can blame the layoffs. We can blame a lot of things. But the industry seers — also known as the media — have been saying for years there are too many shows. With Electronics New England, Electronics West, SMTA Atlanta, the myriad Design2Part shows, IPC Apex, Assembly Technology Expo, IPC Midwest, PCB West, and SMTAI, among many others, the regionalization — and bastardization — is effectively complete. There is simply no reason for a potential attendee to get excited about an event, because when you are practically showered with opportunities, the impact is dramatically lessened. (As an aside, none of this should be laid at the feet of the SMTA staff. They worked their hearts out to put on a top-notch technical conference and to this observer’s eye everything was beautifully executed. They deserved better.)

The show producers of these events are going to have to look hard at their bank accounts and reconsider their missions. While I don’t expect the for-profit companies (of which Circuits Assembly’s parent company, UP Media Group, is one) to change their approach, it’s high time the trade associations get together and get an agreement done that puts some sanity back into the trade show calendar.

Put the egos and greed aside, and get it done.

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About Mike

Mike Buetow is president of the Printed Circuit Engineering Association ( He previously was editor-in-chief of Circuits Assembly magazine, the leading publication for electronics manufacturing, and PCD&F, the leading publication for printed circuit design and fabrication. He spent 21 years as vice president and editorial director of UP Media Group, for which he oversaw all editorial and production aspects. He has more than 30 years' experience in the electronics industry, including six years at IPC, an electronics trade association, at which he was a technical projects manager and communications director. He has also held editorial positions at SMT Magazine, community newspapers and in book publishing. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois. Follow Mike on Twitter: @mikebuetow

7 thoughts on “Trade (No) Shows

  1. Hi Mike, it was good seeing you at the show.
    I agree with you and in fact I have been sayng for years that there are too many regional shows. Yes the organizers of this event did a great job but you could bown down the aisleways. It is not just the economy, there are just way too many small shows. It is not only the atendees who have to decide, the exhibitors are also fragmented so now if you go to any show the chance of you seeing a good cross section of what is available is low.
    In the USA we are down to only one show worth going to and that is APEX/Expo.

  2. I agree with the too many shows. Last year in Chicago, there was so much confusion I wasn’t even sure what venue I was presenting at (IPC or SMTA) as they were both at the same time. I called up fellow colleagues wondering where they were and they were at the “other show”
    I think this fragmentaion was a lose – lose for both.
    Glad to see the technical presentations are still going strong. This has become need to know – not nice to know info.

  3. Mike,

    We all know shows serve three purposes, 1. forum for papers and technical sessions, 2. a place venders can show off their products and makes sales 3. make money for the show providers (at least you think they do, but I bet they get pretty close to break even, really the hotels and food providers that make out better).

    If you are talking just about #2, I believe many would agree with me, wouldn’t it just be wonderful if the US took Europe’s lead and had one big show every 2 years! Wow, how about alternate this show with Productronica. You might even get folks from Asia, India and Europe showing up. What a thought, a show that actually grows!!!

    As to #1, I can’t really make an argument, but SMTA does already such a great job with chapter meetings, table top shows and now with all the Webinars and on-line content, do we really only have trade show/conferences meeting this demand?

    I feel your pain Mike, all these venues are just killing us venders as I can image it must be similar for the press who needs to cover it all. I decided for example this year to bail on Chicago after the knuckle heads up there decided to have two shows in the same week in our industry. I mean come on, what were they thinking!!!

    I guess in the end, it doesn’t matter what any of us think, attendees vote with their feet. I’m with you Mike, economy aside our industry is shooting ourselves in the foot.


  4. Thanks for the comments. Brian, I have to think that if the primary goal of a technical conference is to create a forum for the exchange of ideas, that, too, would be enhanced by having a critical mass of engineers in one place. Productronica and Nepcon China are probably the largest electronics assembly equipment/materials shows outside of Japan, but they have no technical conferences to speak of. Meanwhile, the US-based shows are suffering in attendance, but the conference side is much stronger than what is found offshore.

    If we could marry the two, we might really be on to something.

  5. Mike,

    It was good to see you again at SMTAI. I must agree with your comments – “Trade (No) Show” is a good description. You could have sold lassos to those poor guys at the exhibition to try to rope somebody into stopping.

    Attendance at the conference sessions was generally OK, but I noticed that oftentimes many in the audience seemed to have speaker badges. In my session I took this as an honor, but you have to wonder how many companies were only willing to sponsor travel (or even allow the time off) due to having an employee committed to speaking.

    Somehow, these rival organizations have to face reality and find a way to work together to put on just 1-2 national events, along with the second-tier local expos.

    Tell Pete Hi for me, with my compliments on the continuing quality of the UP Media publications.

  6. Mike,

    From everyone’s comments I think we agree that technical sessions are all important, but the number of shows has diluted the relevance of any one show, thus like many things in life that are in decline, consolidation is a logical next step. I fear though that the organizers are blaming lackluster attendance only on the economy and it is going to be 2012-13 before folks realize it isn’t the economy but rather what is being discussed here today on your blog. Perhaps people like yourself are in the best position to advance this problem with organizers? How about a survey where amongst the questions being asked, we get to the bottom of the root cause of lackluster attendance, separating out economic issues from show relevance? I’m assuming that the organizers faced with solid evidence may be encouraged to change course when it is obvious that having too many shows hurts all of us. One would hope for our sake. I think I speak for many exhibitors, throwing everything into Apex no longer makes sense, but the current model is just not sustainable.


  7. That’s an excellent idea, Brian. I will get to work on developing one right away.

    What we will then do is compare the results to a survey we took in December 2007 (the results were published in February 2008: What that survey (which polled our subscribers in North America) revealed was that among assembly engineers, location ranked first in determining attendance (83.3%), followed by the technical conference (75%). Access to a pool of leading exhibitors (67%) outranked the presence of their own key suppliers (50%).

    It will be interesting to see whether this has changed. This time around, we will introduce a question to attempt to discern the impact, if any, of company travel policies/the economy on this year’s attendance.

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