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LAS VEGAS-Todd Smith finds himself making more formal appointments at the Trade Exposition at ICSC conventions these days than he did when he first started attending the ICSC events about 15 years ago. Smith is the president of Tempe, AZ-based SitesUSA, which develops software and services used by developers, retailers and brokers for a variety of site selection purposes. He says he’s not alone when it comes to setting formal appointments at what was once almost entirely a “drop-into-the-booth” type of gathering.

“We still have a fair amount of walk-in traffic, but we do our best to contact people and make as many appointments as possible,” comments Smith, who has attended ICSC events both a broker and as a vendor over the years. Through the years, he says, the trade show has evolved so that it is linked more to deal-making than it once was.

Demand for a setting in which to conduct formal appointments has grown to the point that the ICSC this year for the first time is offering trade show suites, says ICSC spokesperson Patrice Duker. She explains that although the Leasing Mall has always offered suites, “Because there has been such a need for space, we’ve actually expanded the trade into the second floor of the convention center this year” to offer the suites, which are smaller versions of the Leasing Mall venues.

“We’ve noticed over the past few years is that the exhibitors are approaching the show more like the Leasing Mall folks,” Duker says. “They are setting more formal appointments, which creates a structure that both our members and the exhibitors seem to like. It is a different feel from a trade show.” The change of approach has coincided with the steadily growing popularity of the Trade Exposition, which has been sold out every year now for the past several years. “Everyone’s focus seems to be more on deals, regardless of whether they are owners, developers, vendors or municipalities,” Duker says.

With the shift to a more structured show, however, exhibitors find they need to avoid going overboard on formality so that they leave some flexibility in their schedules. “I still see a fair amount of over-booking that results in missed appointments,” says Smith of SitesUSA. “The value of setting up meetings is great, but it’s also important to allow some time for meeting people in the booth.”

Chris Hauser of Ontario, Canada-based Hauser Industries Inc. concurs. Hauser’s firm manufactures seating for venues ranging from large scale food courts and institutional facilities to smaller industrial installations and food service operations. He observes that companies may also be setting more appointments because they are trying to become more efficient and more cost effective.

Many companies “are not sending the same number of people that they used to, probably as a means of cutting costs,” Hauser says. But booking too many formal appointments away from the trade show booth can backfire, he suggests. “If you’re not careful, you can set yourself up for not being at your booth when you need to be,” he says.

Hauser and Smith both say they try to strike a balance of formal appointments and informal meetings, making sure to schedule the appointments so that they don’t conflict with other events and commitments at the convention.

“We typically find that if we set appointments at our own booth, where we don’t have as much control over our time, those are the ones that are missed,” Smith says. He says show veterans are less likely to overbook themselves than newcomers, who sometimes fail to realize how big the event is and how much time will be required to get from one place to another.

That’s a change from Smith’s early days at the event, when the convention center was smaller. The event is now three days instead of all week, Smith points out, a change that probably means people are trying to squeeze as much as possible into the three days. But it’s a change he welcomes. “When the show ran all week, people were entirely spent by Friday morning,” he says. Three days is a more tolerable length of time for the show, he says, because “People can only take so much of this kind of intensity.”

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