Open the Door: Should Your Tradeshow Go Public?

More and more show organizers are inviting the public onto the usual business-only tradeshow floor. Should your association consider doing the same at its next event?

Earlier this week Interbike, the largest cycling tradeshow, and Nielsen Expositions, the company that manages it, announced they would test the concept of a consumer day by opening its tradeshow floor to “consumer guests” in 2013.

The new program, called “Interbike by Invitation,” will “showcase the industry to some of its most loyal enthusiast customers” by opening the last day of the three-day tradeshow to selected consumers. So what exactly does “selected” mean?

Could your most engaged members and exhibitors become an even better recruiting tool than before?

Consumers will only be allowed access if they are invited by bike retailers, who will receive a limited number of invitations based on geographic location after they register for the show. In addition, there will be a $50 cost for every consumer who attends Interbike, which either the retailer can cover or pass on to their invitees. Exhibitors will also receive a certain number of passes based on the size of their booths.

In an article on, Interbike Show Manager Pat Hus said, “We want to build and strengthen the relationship between dealers and their best customers.” However, in another article about the initiative on, Hus admits there’s some concern from within the industry. He says retailers are worried consumers will see new products before they’re available and that they will lose some face time with suppliers. To combat this, show hours will be extended on all three days, retail seminars will be moved to an earlier day, consumers will not be allowed to purchase products on the show floor, and fines will be levied against exhibitors who try to sell products.

Putting these legitimate concerns aside for a minute, this “consumer day” model got me thinking about how associations could leverage a similar practice not only at their tradeshows but also at other education events.

When you think about it, Interbike’s invitation-only setup is pretty genius: Local retailers, who are already engaged in the industry and registered for the show, will be handing out VIP passes to consumers, who will likely have so much enthusiasm for cycling that they’re willing to pay the $50 fee in addition to travel and other related expenses in many circumstances.

And when you put additional consumers on the show floor (Hus estimates 5,000 to 7,000 at Interbike), it could mean not only additional revenue for any show organizer (associations included), but it also presents a huge opportunity for exhibitors and retailers. Exhibitors can gain knowledge that will help them create better products in the future, and retailers can strengthen their customer relationships (and future sales) by having the power to give them exclusive access to the tradeshow.

And while the consumer day model doesn’t directly translate to most associations, imagine if an association went out to a group of its most engaged or active members or exhibitors (e.g., the first 100 who registered for its annual meeting, those who chair councils and committees, etc.) and allowed them to invite one or two nonmember guests to attend part of a tradeshow or program for free or even at a significant discount.  Could your most engaged members and exhibitors become an even better recruiting tool than before?

Curious to hear from those who have tried something like this or who are considering it. What are the pluses and minuses involved? Please share in the comments.

(Ryan McVay/Lifesize/Thinkstock)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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