With the concerns about the economic challenges that our country is facing, I think that nearly everyone that I talked with before the show had some concern about it. Retailers asked if vendors would be there; vendors asked if retailers would be there - and, if people were there, what kind of atmosphere would we be in?
I have seen the attendance number for the show - and was blown away by it. This did not seem to be a year to break an attendance record!
What that number could not show was the enthusiasm that was present. Concerns about the future were there - and for some concerns about present circumstances were there, too. The prevailing comment that I heard, other than the size of the crowds, was that it was an energizing, electric atmosphere, that the industry was coming together to support each other and to reach our customers during a tough time.
Some specifcs that stand out:
During the Retailer Idea Exchange, I took a very unscientific "raised-hands" poll about how store sales were trending. The response was that about 10% of the stores in attendance were down, 10% were flat and the rest, about 80% were up. While many of the 80% that were up admitted that they were not up as much as in years past, they were still up. A great sign of a healthy retail community.
I spent a lot of time on Friday and Saturday of the show in and around the Educational Seminars. Attendance, which is usually quite good, seemed to me to be better than usual. the questions that I and the other presenters received, seemed to be more specific and pointed than in years past. I took this as a good sign that people were honing in on specific items that they wanted to address, that they were using the show and its resources to solve problems.
Many people told me that they saw a lot of order writing on the floor, potentially more than in recent years. Some of us grizzeled Expo West veterans remember when order writing was a major part of the show for retailers and exhibitors alike. (I think that this was my 17th time at this show.) I recall getting pages of show deals faxed or mailed to me. (E-mail wasn't around back then!) They were for great deals, available only at the show. When my team and I arrived at the show, we had a large stack of orders to place! Seeing Expo attendees bring this part of the show back was great!
The last thing that stuck out to me that I will mention in this post is the obviousness of the sense of community that we pride ourselves on. It seemed to me that people went out of the way to share a handshake or a hug - which is always a nice part of a show. But this year there seemed to be more time for a quick and sincere word of asking how you were. Some of it, for sure, was asking how your business was doing, but the focus of it was asking how "you" were doing. True Community!
I think that this Expo West is what we, as an industry and as individuals, needed!