- by Barney Davey
The New York Shows Are Not a Mortal Lock, They Could Collapse. Could the New York and Atlanta expos crumble and go away? Yes, without question. They are already vulnerable to that happening. The sad history of tradeshows in the art and picture framing business over the past decade has shown a decline in fortunes for them.
The return of the Decor Expo show to run concurrent with ArtExpo New York show in 2009 is good news. It never made sense for the shows to be split. For nearly 30 years, various iterations of Decor Expo, e.g., Galeria and Frame-o-rama, ran concurrent with ArtExpo.
For most of that history, the Decor sponsored shows were in competition with ArtExpo as it was not until this decade that both came under the same ownership. There were some years when the animosity and tension between the competing shows grew to the point of great contention. Nevertheless, the two shows together created a greater domestic and international urgency to attend than either could ever muster alone, even in the good old days.
Splitting ArtExpo and Decor Expo New York Created Lost Opportunity and Synergy
Sure, show organizers had their reasons for making the change to shut down the Decor Expo New York show, which mostly were wholesale defections by major exhibitors in the show, but whatever caused the decision, it turned out to be a disastrous mistake. Letting things get to the point of exhibitor revolt put a hurt on both shows at the very time the industry could least afford to have either be dinged by such decisions.
In hindsight, one has to ask what adjustments and alternatives could have been made to the New York shows, particularly Decor Expo, that might have headed off the slew of long time important exhibitors deciding to sit out New York. Sending the Decor Expo show packing to a second tier city such as Baltimore further exacerbated the situation. I posted a prediction six months prior to the first Baltimore show that it would be a bust. Unfortunately, I was right.
A Voice in the Wilderness
After the Spring 2008 ArtExpo show, I published a blog post titled, ArtExpo New York, The Show Must Go On. That is because I firmly believe that despite missteps in how the shows have been managed, there is no viable alternative to ArtExpo New York. Let it crash and burn and you have an already ailing industry with a huge gaping marketing hole that would wreak untold havoc on artists, publishers, galleries and all other allied interests to the market.
Now with the once preeminent Decor Expo Atlanta show badly faltering in this precipitous economic climate and amidst a whirlwind of major changes affecting the industry, a successful show in New York — one that can sustain itself long enough to hold its dates during this most trying of times for businesses of all sorts — is imperative and crucial to the financial well being of the industry.
The New York Shows Are Not a Mortal Lock, They Could Collapse
Could the New York and Atlanta expos crumble and go away? Yes, without question. They are already vulnerable to that happening. The sad history of tradeshows in the art and picture framing business over the past decade has shown a decline in fortunes for them. We are now at the point where no show is sacred and anything can happen. This is not an industry phenomenon, it is endemic throughout businesses of all stripes, just look at the financial or automotive sectors, for example.
The nature of distribution of the products on display at these shows is radically changing and as a result causing all exhibitors to question how much they are willing to invest in these expensive traditional marketing behemoths. With the hassle and cost of travel and the increase in the costs of shipping, the shows are more heavily scrutinized for potential ROI (Return on Investment) than during any previous time.
We can take a step back and ponder what the industry would be like without Artexpo New York and it doesn't conjure a pretty image. But, it ought to be something on the table for a couple of reasons. One, it is a possibility. And two, should it come about, those who would be most negatively affected should have an alternative plan ready to go, or at least contemplated and well thought through what to do.
I'll add a third point. If anyone reading this is distraught over the potential loss of the New York venues to the industry, then he or she should be doing whatever is possible to avert such a dire situation. That means exhibiting if at all possible, and actively helping to the market the show. It means buyers, dealers and galleries need to come and support the show by being active buyers when they arrive. It means management ought to be looking at the long range when it comes to making decisions. Short term decisions in difficult times nearly always have less than desirable outcomes on the fortunes of the entities managed in such a way.
Decor Expo Back in New York Is a Welcome Relief
Show management is gingerly bringing back Decor Expo for a scaled back two-day trade only event. I give them credit for putting the shows back together as they should be. It is too bad such a move wasn't forcefully contemplated or acted upon to avoid the Baltimore fiasco. Obviously, I have been gone from active participation in the shows and magazines for some time, but I can say that when the first attempts to put ArtExpo and Decor Expo together in the Javits Center was discussed, it was determined by checking records that the Decor Expo show brought in more room nights than ArtExpo. This was at a time when the shows were separately owned
Room nights are the coin of the realm when it comes to getting favorable dates and venues. So, allowing the shows to be split weakened both shows along with taking some of show management's bargaining clout away in the process. In retrospect, it is very hard to understand how this could have happened. What were they thinking?
We Can't Just Root for a Rally, We Need to Participate to Help Ensure One
Time and opportunity were lost in that decision to split the shows. In the intervening years, the global economy has slipped into a recession, if not on the brink of depression and that makes making up lost ground a nearly insurmountable task. Still, for the sake of the industry, we must all pull together to make the best of what is available to us.
Let's hope 2009 brings a respite from the decline of the exhibitor base to ArtExpo and a healthy turnout from the Decor Expo pool. That could set the stage for better things to come in the second decade of this quickly aging new 21st Century. Without vigorous participation in the shows over the next couple of years, it might be the answer to the question posed in the title above was no. I don't want to see that happen and bet you don't either. This is a time to rally and do what you can.