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Lighting Commentary

BDNY, ICFF, LightFair, KBIS, IBS and the Evolving Trade Show World

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The first time I attended BDNY I found it a waste of time. It was small and there was very little of value to draw me back. I never went again. Jump ahead to a post-pandemic world and one of my favorite shows, the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) combined with BDNY in 2021 to put on a better-than-expected presentation. The subsequent solo ICFF, earlier this year, was a bit of a letdown which led me to wonder if BDNY had become a more valuable asset. I decided to attend the solo BDNY and while not as powerful as the combined 2021 effort, it was worth the trip.

A similar thing occurred at the first LightFair I attended. A few years later, Energy Efficiency and LED jumped into the public conscience and the industry enjoyed a decade of relevant, informative and engaging shows. Now, with LED aging into “old news” the value of the show is shrinking.

My first KBIS was a revelation. I learned so much and experienced so many things, I could not wait for the next year. Unfortunately, the value has been reduced every year since. Whole categories of goods disappeared, major manufacturers dropped out and new products and ideas were eliminated for fear of being “knocked-off” by budget-priced competitors and trolling attendees with newfangled phone-cameras.

By contrast, the European shows have somehow been able to maintain their value. Shows are bigger and longer, spaces are not a collection of boilerplate “popup” displays that all look the same. New ideas have been shown consistently and the staff has remained at a high professional level (Suits and dresses [remember them?] are worn, a very minimal amount of faces are buried in mobile phones.) They remain attend-worthy and younger professionals as well as old vets are very much present, unlike the boomer-centric shows of America.

This is the perfect time to toss the whole concept in the air and allow the pieces to land in a newly configured way. I am aware that many groups derive much of their financial base from the shows they sponsor and are reluctant to change. Change, nonetheless will be required, because attendance is and will continue to dwindle. As the great actor, Yaphet Kotto says in the 1975 movie, “Sharks’ Treasure,” “Fifty percent of nothin’ is nothing, man!” They can continue to own all of a shrinking extant, or less of a growing alternative.

As the world attempts to recapture two years of lost trade shows, some major rethinking must be undertaken. When the International Builder’s Show (IBS) combined with the Kitchen & Bath Show (KBIS) they bought themselves an additional decade of relevance. I’m sure, even they are starting to consider where they head now. Huge pockets of their relevant industries are still missing from the combination. Are there other shows that can be corralled to present an even bigger bang? LightFair is moving to a biennial schedule, similar to many major European shows. This should make it more of an “event” and grab a few more people. That might help for a few years. It is time for BDNY, ICFF and perhaps a handful of other smaller shows (the un-resurrected ADHDS, NY Now?) to coalesce and present a show that creative professionals can really use. Continuing to deliver halfhearted efforts will result in a continuation of attendees forgoing them completely.

I know I have written about the need for trade show change before. I have no “dog in this fight” other than twenty-five years of experience. For years, I was paid to attend these shows and relate the observations. As I see less and less to report, attendance becomes less and less important. It is harder and harder for me to recommend attendance. Deep down inside, I want them to be better with continued relevance. The vibe in a room filled with creative people cannot be replicated online. Even with poor results, I still feel somewhat more energized when I return to work.

Perhaps, we are destine to watch these shows melt. The deck is stacked. The internet, online catalogs, online visual influencers, a “stay-at-home” pandemic, work from home employment and a new generation of workers with slight face-to-face socialization skills may be too overwhelming for this old-school concept to survive. We baby-boomers have only a few years or relevance left. If that is the case, I wonder what is next. I suspect we’ll all need to stay tuned.

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