By Brian Van Bower
Five years back, columnist Brian Van Bower wrote passionately about the opportunities he found in attending trade shows. At that time, the industry was doing very, very well, and it’s likely his plea had a tough time finding receptive ears. Is it possible that the trials and tribulations of recent years have added a certain depth, urgency and value to his call to action?
‘For years now,’ he started, ‘I’ve listened to people gripe about trade shows – how dull they are and why attending them is such a colossal waste of time. It’s gotten to a point where it’s almost fashionable to take these shots, and I hear them not just about the pool shows with which I’m vastly familiar, but also about the landscape shows of which I’ve attended just a few.’ He went on to say:
‘I’ve never given up on [shows] entirely, but I know a great many people who have, and who quit going long ago in favor of spending the time and money in other ways. I understand those feelings, believe me, but staying away is not what I would urge anyone to do. In fact, my aim here is to urge the non-attenders to reconsider their position and give these events a long, serious look.’
‘I think [my] ultimate reason for attending is to use these events as an opportunity to rekindle my enthusiasm for the work I do. In a word, trade show attendance is, to me, all about renewal.’
‘One way I’ve sustained my interest and enthusiasm in trade shows has been through attending events that are new to me. There’s no rule saying that anyone must hit the same events every year, and I’d argue that it’s good to mix it up. That can mean attending different events within the industry (and goodness knows there are plenty to choose from), or it can mean stepping off the reservation and visiting an event that’s related to but not necessarily focused on watershaping.’
‘Earlier this year, I attended the American Homebuilders Association show – a mind-blowing experience. This event draws hundreds of thousands of people to a show floor with thousands of exhibitors offering every imaginable product that goes into homes, including a great many products that are of either direct or indirect value to watershapers.’
‘There are all sorts of shows that fall into the category of “indirectly useful,” no matter whether the focus is landscape architecture, architecture, waterparks, concrete technology or surface materials. There are huge expositions as well as small education-focused conferences, and my point here is that you can’t judge them adequately unless and until you show up.’
‘At this point, all I can do is urge you to get involved: Attend a show this year, whatever it may be, and make a point of communicating your needs and desires to show officials. Let them know what you’d like to see and use whatever leverage you have as the shows’ customers to get organizers to listen to what you have to say.’
‘It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and complain about how dead a show has become or how lackluster the educational programming is, but I’ve always found direct engagement to be a better way to get what I need, so I’ve gotten involved in a big way.’
Is our suspicion correct? Have tough times increased the value of trade shows or changed the way you approach them? To share your thoughts, see below.
Brian Van Bower runs Aquatic Consultants, a design firm based in Miami, Fla., and is a co-founder of the Genesis 3 Design Group. He can be reached at