Smart Moves for Trade Shows 2023/2024

Fabtech 2023 kicks off the season with one of the earliest major tradeshows for manufacturers. This 45,000-attendee show alternates cities each year and offers B2B technology companies an early preview of what works and what doesn’t in time for their booth planning for major 1Q 2024 shows like CES and Photonics West.

It also offers an early read on the economic sentiments, as metal contract manufacturers share many of the same industries and customers as optics and photonics, medical devices, and nanotechnology. 


Seen and Heard

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This year marked a noticeable increase in pre-sold equipment on the floor. Capital equipment like laser cutting and welding and robotic welding and polishing systems are sensitive, large, and expensive to ship to the show. They also typically have long sales cycles and lead times. Sold new models delivered post-show suggest smart sales efforts and careful planning. Double kudos to those who took the opportunity to create visibility for their customer. This ‘case study in a sold sticker’ is one extra step that adds value to both companies.

Rising interest rates have hit advanced manufacturers hard—reducing access to capital, cutting their profit margins, and impacting their ability to scale. (They need to sell enough volume to justify the purchase; they can’t sell something they can’t yet deliver.)

Mitsubishi Lasers hit this head-on by putting their financing division at the head of their booth. Creative finance and leasing options will make all the difference to companies in the next few years. 

What was top of mind for attendees in our Positioning for Volatile Times and Culture and Brand workshops
•    Preparing their business for the challenges they expect in 2024
•    Changing internal mindset; getting people aligned and excited about change
•    Staff engagement—“It’s a revolving door of employees”
•    Lengthening deal cycles—and shorter delivery timeline expectations
•    Lead times for equipment to support growth
•    Customer expectations—particularly 2019 pricing when costs are up as much as 30%

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Hits and Misses in Tradeshow Trends

Recent years have shown a real trend toward solid-walled booths. Some have taken it to an extreme with two, even three solid walls—a considerable use of real estate that actually seems to keep people out. Exclusionary without being enticing or intriguing—it’s a miss.

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What to do instead? Multi-floor and glass conference rooms, and in one practical case, a shipping container-turned-conference room, all seemed to support high traffic, high engagement demos. 

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With a heavy automation presence, this show had ample cross-marketing opportunities between robot manufacturers, software, application solutions, and integrators. Universal Robots, which appears to be leading the market as a platform technology, used its tradeshow booth to highlight its partner ecosystem for compelling, application-specific demos. 


Eye-catching and absolutely relevant to the audience, this partner collaboration was a great use of floor space as they introduced their latest platform product. 

On the fun side, a hit was a robot serving beer (Yaskawa's collaborative robot bartender). A miss - foosball tables. No one was interested in playing; they were a waste of space. 


Speaking of Product Launches

This company drew a big crowd by timing its product launch for a big reveal and live unveiling. With an on-floor demo, they can livestream for those not in attendance. In the past year, we’ve come to expect ½ to 2/3 of engagement from conference-related activities to take place online, so don’t leave out your at-home prospects! 



What’s New for Attendees

The intent for both exhibitors and attendees has changed. It’s not the mall—there’s far less wandering with casual interest and more intent. Attendees arrive with a schedule of meetings, booth conversations with specific questions, and classes for continuing education.

Consider those sessions, keynote, and panel discussions as a way to add back in a sense of discovery of ideas and technologies not yet on your radar. Go to a networking lunch and ask interesting questions. Join a roundtable industry discussion. 

And, since it’s one of our oldest and most popular blog posts of all time, what to wear to a tradeshow? We are carry-on-only people, and the backpack in our original post is still going strong. One thing has changed: sneakers appear to be here to stay. Regardless of gender or job title, sneakers are the fashion footwear of choice. Corporate-branded sneakers are really popular with booth staff as well.

With continuing remote and hybrid work, don’t miss the chance to spend time with and collaborate with your internal team at the conference. Many will book a half-day strategic planning session to capitalize on travel expenses.

That’s the roundup! We will add trends and ‘wins’ as the tradeshow season progresses.

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