Exhibitors React

As the first in a three-part series, TMO has gauged the reactions of the exhibitors at the Macworld Boston show. Have they been busy? Are they conveying their message and connecting with potential customers? What could be improved? And of course, how does Appleis absence affect the quality of the show?

Keeping Busy

We spoke to nearly a dozen of the 79 vendors, and all but two said they had been busy, with their booths filled to capacity and all their representatives busy speaking to visitors. The other two vendors said they had moderate traffic. "Iim talking myself hoarse," a pleased Mike Kobb, Senior Software Engineer for Roku, told TMO.

The Belkin booth was enjoying heavy traffic, particularly from attendees interested in the companyis audio/visual cabling and connectivity products. Also, "the iPod folks are coming in strong," noted Michael Downey, the companyis National Account Manager.

Big Show/Small Show

But for most vendors the bigger issue is the size of the show. With only 79 vendors and a predicted attendance of 10,000, this show is the smallest Macworld on the east coast in years. Macworld New York maxed out in 2001 with over 64,000 attendees, and the last Macworld in Boston saw some 50,000 visitors in 1997.

As a result, many exhibitors feel they are not in contact with as many potential customers. In some cases, the visitors already appear to know everything about the booth they are visiting. Kevin Shields, Director of Product Marketing for TechTracker, pointed out that with a smaller show "You donit get as much drop-in." He even recognized some visitors from previous Macworld shows. Apparently this Macworld is attracting the Mac in-crowd.

On the other hand, there are benefits to a less frantic convention atmosphere. Jennifer Dyer, Marketing Manager of Prosoft Engineering, pointed out that at a smaller show "people spend more time" at each booth. As a result, she said she did not feel under pressure from aimless, disinterested swag seekers as she has at past shows.

So in this regard, the exhibitor reaction was mixed. While disappointed in the size of the show, they almost universally said they felt they were successfully connecting with attendees and delivering their message to potential customers, though one exhibitor said she was having only moderate success.

The Apple Effect

If you believe the mainstream media, the only story coming out of Macworld Boston is the exhibitor that chose not to show: Apple Computer. While it appears that Macworld Boston is shaping up to be an active, worthwhile show, Appleis absence certainly has a ripple effect.

All but two of the exhibitors we questioned said they believed Appleis absence hurt the show. One exhibitor said Appleis absence didnit hurt the show at all, while Mr. Kobb of Roku was more measured than most. "I donit know," he said, when asked about the impact of Appleis decision. "To the extent that Apple brings people" to Macworld, their absence is a problem. Still, it means there is "one less high profile exhibitor" with which to compete.

Most exhibitors, though, were curt in expressing their disappointment. "They should have been here," said Tim Furnas, VP of Sales and Marketing at R-Quest Technologies. The Interactive Marketing Manager at Berklee Media, Milan Kovacev, was upbeat: "We have a strong relationship with Apple," and the platform, he asserted. But Mr. Kovacev also admitted that without Apple in attendance, Berklee probably would not have exhibited had the show not been in Boston, where the company is based.

What Could Improve?

As expected, exhibitors had some suggestions for how to improve the show.

Mr. Furnas of R-Quest took issue with the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center itself. IDG, he said, should "choose venues that allow people to get here easier," citing the lack of a functioning subway stop and poor parking options.

Mr. Shields of TechTracker wanted to see exhibitors grouped into "tracks" of similar interest so attendees could find exhibitors of interest more easily, but he allowed that with such a small show the divisions might be unnecessary.

Mr. Kovacev of Berklee Media was irritated by what he considered to be IDGis lame promotion of the exhibitors. "The exhibitor directory is not clear," and "the exhibitoris list is three levels down" on the Web site for the show.

The biggest complaint, though, was the expense of exhibiting at the show, a perpetual complaint at all Macworld Expos. "The only thing we werenit really happy about," said Ms. Dryer of Prosoft, "was the cost." She said that as a result of the exhibiting expense, coupled with the cost of travel from the San Francisco region, Prosoft probably would not exhibit at the show again next year. Tracie Herbert of Sophos Partner Program, a silver sponsor of the show, echoed these sentiments, hinting that IDG was pushing the envelope.

However, in spite of reduced attendance, Appleis absence, and a new venue, exhibitors seemed largely content with the show. All but Ms. Dyer said they expected to return next year.

Stay tuned for reactions from the attendees in the next part of this series.