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I Wasn't Expecting it to Turn Out This Way...

Truth: When I was anticipating writing this commentary on the Specialty Advertising Association of California (SAAC) Expo, I wasn't sure what I would write. While I love trade shows, I did not think anything meaningful would come from this Southern California Regional Show that has been declining in past years. I was wrong.

SAAC is my Regional Association. I've seen its glory days. We had perhaps one of the most vibrant regional trade shows in the industry. In past years, the organization, like many associations, has been challenged in a variety of ways. The SAAC Show, like other trade shows, has had its challenges.

When the decision was made to move the show from Long Beach, CA, which is a great convention location, to San Diego, I was puzzled. San Diego is an awesome city, and the convention center is beautiful. In moving the show there, however, we would lose some of the drive-in Los Angeles audience that makes up a significant number of distributors. It's also a bit pricey to stay in the Downtown/Gas Lamp District area and I felt that could hurt attendance. It seemed the move was risky.

As this change was happening, the SAAC Executive Director departed, leaving a small Board of Directors to work through this transition. Thankfully, our national trade association the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) stepped in to help. They do know how to put on a good trade show. SAAC put together an active Board of people who cared and could make things happen. Jennifer Bingham working out of the PPAI offices became our Executive Director. The SAAC Show became the SAAC Expo; I assume keeping in line with Expo East and the PPAI Expo branding.

PPAI President and CEO, Paul Bellantone, CAE, Dana Geiger, Regional Relations Manager, and SAAC Executive Director, Jennifer Bingham along with SAAC leadership, took on Los Angeles traffic for a few days making personal connections within our membership. This boots-on-the- ground tour concluded with the 2019 Board Installation Dinner and was a great way to kick off the NEW season of SAAC.

At the dinner, Paul spoke of the importance of having a robust Regional Association in the Southern California market. He astutely noted that it's also vital to the health of our national association to have a strong regional presence. Paul shares a bit on the new management relationship in this short video.

The SAAC Expo was going to happen in San Diego, and we all were wondering how it would go. Well, now we know. It went pretty well. Expectations were realistic considering the change of locations and current trade show environment.

It was a privilege for me to facilitate a Supplier Spotlight session at the Expo. I am passionate about suppliers having the opportunity to share more about their company, and this was right up my alley. The format encouraged a company to share something that went beyond what they sell. Learning about a company's culture and values can stimulate sales. The trade show floor is about seeing products, but sessions like this enable attendees to discover something that may create a meaningful business relationship with a supplier.

What makes a good trade show for suppliers and distributors?

People and relationships drive good business. Trade shows like the SAAC Expo provide learning and relationship-building opportunities. The networking mixer SAAC hosted was packed, and people enjoyed connecting.

The best experiences at a trade show can often be away from the trade show floor. I pondered that as I was hanging out at the rooftop lounge at the Hard Rock Hotel. Matt Wagner from Fields Manufacturing and Ryan Meulemans from Imagen Brands were there, and we had quite an engaging conversation.

These two guys are smart and passionate about the industry. They love traveling and building relationships. It was a contrast to my perception that many are tired and may not have a passion for the industry they once did. I now have a deeper appreciation of those who are driving sales for their companies.

There is exciting, fresh energy coming into the industry. That is evidenced by what's happening through PPAI'S SPARK and invigorating conferences like skucon/skucamp. But I also see the industry from the burnt-out perspective. Some reps in booths are phoning it in, and marketing efforts are dated, lacking creativity.

Online, one supplier, who was a past SAAC Show exhibitor asked what suppliers thought about attendance at the SAAC Expo, wondering if the traffic and interactions were worth the investment? That's a great question. The suppliers I talked to realized that the aisles would not be packed with attendees but were happy with the quality of those who came and the business opportunities that were there.

Suppliers who invest in attending a trade show thinking business will drop from the sky must realize that's not going to happen. In today's marketplace, effectively being able to tell a brand story, if there is one to share, is critical. It has been said many times; the market is changing. Those who can change with it will be in the best position to succeed.

It's always a pleasure to interview Paul Bellantone, who despite recovering from painful shoulder surgery, was there being the champion for our industry that he is. You can watch this video here.

I wasn't expecting it to write this type of commentary on the SAAC Expo, but I'm so glad I could. Kudos to the SAAC Board of Directors and PPAI who worked together for the benefit of the industry and the significant Southern California marketplace that SAAC serves.

© 2019 Jeff Solomon, MAS


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