Are trade shows still up to date? A comment by John Penhallow

Within our interview series to the question how relevant trade shows are in today’s digital life John Penhallow, editor for NarrowWebTech for several years with many years experience within the label industry, is giving his answer to the question “Are trade shows still up to date?”

John Penhallow


 Are trade shows still up to date?

 Are trade shows necessary? London set the trend, in 1851, with the “Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations”. It lasted eighteen weeks, and over six million visitors came to see the wonders of the Industrial Revolution. Germany, France and other countries followed suit. In 1935, one of the last pre-war exhibitions was held in a purpose-built exhibition centre in Brussels. As technology developed, trade exhibitions became more specialised. The Wright Brothers set up the first Air Show in 1910, and the first major international print show, drupa, got off the ground in 1951. The first ever label show was held in England in the early 1980s. In the last quarter of the 20th century and through into the first decade of this one, trade exhibitions of all shapes and sizes flourished. The financial crisis of 2007-2009 put a brake on growth, but since then trade shows should be booming again. Some are. But in many cases, they’re not. In the print and packaging sector, drupa has seen visitor numbers fall from 428,000 in 2000 to 260,000 last year, a drop of nearly 40%! The most successful packaging show in Europe is Interpack, but here again visitor numbers at the 2017 show were down, if only by 3%, on the previous edition. Against that, smaller, more specialised shows like Pharmapack are doing well. As for Labelexpo, industry experts and journalists (including this one) have for at least twenty years been predicting an end to growth of this global brand, of which Labelexpo Europe is the flagship.

Visitors at drupa vs visitors at Labelexpo Europe – A contrasting development (Source: Tarsus /

Business, beer or both?

Why do people attend trade shows? Hobnobbing with colleagues, competitors and suppliers is still a key motivation, despite Internet, Facebook and Co. After all, you still cannot have a drink with someone on Skype. The other reason is often because you want to see machinery. Few companies would risk buying a press, or a major piece of equipment, without having seen it work. What better place than a trade show to compare and contrast the performances of competing brands? Add to this the ease (at least in Europe) of mostly visa-free travel, on motorways, fast trains or low-cost airlines.

So the question remains, why are certain shows losing visitors? In some cases, the location is at least partly to blame. Visitors have preconceived ideas, and shows located in the English Midlands or Northern France have an image problem. There is also the very mundane problem of accommodation. Anyone who has tried to get a hotel room in Dusseldorf during a major show will know all about that. Exhibition centres have not always moved with the times. The Brussels Parc des Expositions offered the latest in monumental architecture when it was built in 1935, but without many of the amenities needed in 2017 (it has just this year been refurbished). Some trade shows are clearly necessary. And Brussels, with its good communications, good accommodation and – last but by no means least – good food, has contributed to Labelexpo Europe’s success over the years.

Please find the whole interview series in this post!

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