Too Many Audio Shows? Stephen Davis, AXPONA

A Response from Stephen Davis, AXPONA

"Too many shows?" This is an interesting observation that I can address from several perspectives. As a past brick and mortar retailer, distributor and consultant with over 35 years' experience in this industry, you can imagine I've seen my share of shows. I've attended CES since the early 1980s and worked in the industry since the middle 1970s.

Past companies I've helped develop have displayed at CES, CEDIA, RMAF, Montreal and the Stereophile Shows of past.

I've also attended shows in Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Canada and all around the US. As a distributor our company occupied seven rooms one year at CES and knows all too well the challenges presented at shows.

One of the biggest pitfalls of shows is the lack of financial return as compared to the expense of the event. The goal of AXPONA is to produce a cost effect, meaningful and exciting event that delivers sales and opportunities for manufacturers and dealers while maintaining this cost effective approach. We lend our expertise in any way possible to help each exhibitor achieve the very best results. Below is a letter from a Chicago dealer returning to AXPONA 2014. Quintessence Audio displayed in 2 rooms at AXPONA 2013.

Hello Steve,

Yes absolutely want to reserve the 4 rooms for next years AXPONA.

The response has easily exceeded my expectations. We have experienced new traffic and sales that can only be attributed to the exposure that we received at this years Expo.

We have reinforced our relationship with previous customers that saw us at AXPONA.

I can say without hesitation that we have seen a big bump in sales across the board, in a season that usually sees a slow down. Thank you again for bringing this show to Chicago and I can't wait to trump our display this year with an even more exciting AXPONA 2014.

Best Regards,
Mick Survance, Quintessence Audio

The real question or discussion here should not be too many shows, instead why not "What is the right number and type of show for the U.S market"?

One thing we notice in this article is that it also includes shows other than those in the US. Being a US-based company, trying to promote our exhibitors and entertain our attendees; I feel this needs separate consideration. Although many of the same brands may appear at these events they are marketed to a different group of dealers through companies (distributors) that primarily operate only in their respective countries. They draw a different cross section of attendee and few from the US. Again, I think this should not be mixed into the question that I believe is "What is the right number and type of show for the US market"?

Again I go to cost effectiveness as the major consideration necessary for solid participation. Secondly, I believe that it is imperative that the show is well supported by local dealers. This lowers the cost to the manufacturers, when working with their local dealers, and increases product visibility well beyond the actual event.

AXPONA was the first company to offer a new event in the US upon the disappearance of the Stereophile Show in 2007. We will produce our sixth event next April in Chicago. With the success of this year's event, also in Chicago, AXPONA has found one of its permanent homes in this great city. With the support of over 30 dealers and 400+ manufacturers, and still growing, AXPONA believes there are not too many audio shows like ours. In addition to the regular three days of exhibits AXPONA 2014 will offer a new innovation to promote product awareness between the displaying manufacturers and dealers. As a past retailer, and distributor, what I see as one of the real problems with today's shows is that there is simply no time for interaction, and business, between the suppliers and the dealers. With the addition of the Manufacturer/Dealer Meeting and Banquet, it will offer a one-to-one interface that will greatly improve the awareness of product availability. It will also give access to quality dealers, from not only the Chicago market, but also all around the US. About half of the dealers displaying at AXPONA are from other cities and states, as well as those local to Chicago.

From John Atkinson's article: But as Robert Deutsch pointed out, if you add to the cost of the exhibit space the costs of shipping, transportation, hotel rooms, meals, and staff, participating in shows is an expensive endeavor. "The benefits," he wrote, "in terms of additional business, while real, are difficult to measure."

This statement could be true in some cases but as it pertains to local dealers these costs can be minimal. Most local merchants generally commute, don't necessarily have to purchase meals, use product from their stores, or in conjunction with the` manufacturers and in most cases this product stays with the dealer after the event. They also work with staff already on the payroll. AXPONA offers very inexpensive logistics for local carriage, which includes drayage. Many exhibitors bring the equipment themselves. I believe a high quality and well-organized show offers the most cost effective marketing available for today's dealers and manufacturers.

A Comment On The Numbers
"By contrast, the modern shows are smaller, regional events. Looking at the spring shows, the Chicago AXPONA was the largest, with 86 rooms and 264 exhibiting brands..." write John Atkinson.

AXPONA also had 30 booth displays with over 70 tables. The number of brands present was easily 400(+), as many of the exhibitors did not take advantage of listing their products. For example, AAudio Imports listed his company name but no product listings even though he displayed a sizable number of brands at his exhibit.

With current commitments for 2014 we expect to reach 120–150 exhibit rooms, 40—50 booth displays covering over 100 tables and as many as 500–600 manufacturers. Many of our exhibitors are coming from other countries including those in Europe, Asia, Japan and others. North American companies do make up the largest volume of exhibit space at AXPONA events.

I believe this qualifies AXPONA as a national, and even an international event, not necessarily a regional one.

In conclusion
My response is that the cream always rises to the top and the answer to the question "Too Many Audio Shows?" will be reflected by this old adage.

AXPONA exists to help our industry grow and prosper. As the owner of AXPONA my entire working life has never been anything but high quality audio and the pleasure that comes from seeing someone react to a great piece of music on a great system, myself included.

What makes a great show and is needed for longevity (in our opinion)

1: Location–near a good international hub airport and ease of transport to the hosting facility
2: Location–near public transportation and good parking (for exhibitors and attendees)
3: Quality exhibit space that fits the need of exhibitors, not just exhibit space for sale
4: Well-organized logistics at a reasonable price
5: Timely correspondence with exhibitors and always maintain good communication
6: Reasonable rates for sleeping rooms
7: Reasonable rates for exhibit space
8: A large contingency of press covering the event.
9: A serious amount of local awareness built through the proper type of media and advertising.
10: With the above-mentioned items in mind, combined with the right city, marketing partners and sponsors, shows can flourish and be very important for the future of Audio and Music.

Thank you for allowing AXPONA to share some thoughts on the current state of Audio Shows. Although it appears there may be "Too Many Audio Shows" I do believe some are of major benefit to the industry in a very difficult time. I hope our event is among those helping in some meaningful way.

See you at AXPONA 2014 —The Westin O'Hare, April 23–27.—Stephen Davis, Audio Expo North America LLC/AXPONA

John Atkinson's picture

Responses to this essay from almost all the organizers of the shows mentioned will be posted shortly, in the order in which I received them.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

sommovigo's picture

Hi John!

So - on this subject. I think the growing interest in regional shows is healthy for the industry, but it is a slog for sure. However, no one is obligated to support every single one of them. But it's not all that much when you look at teh schedule for home shows throughout the year in the USA. You've got folks that are trying to hit all these shows with their widgets because that's how they're putting bread on the table. Check out this schedule for just one of the Home Show organizers:

How many Magic Bullet blenders does one have to sell in order to fully monetize every one of these? ;-)

With that in mind we also have to acknowledge that a fair chunk of the market is developing in direct sales, especially when it comes to headphone concerns, and that these regional shows will do more to help promote brand and sell product than more traditional marketing investments might. Nothing beats face-to-face, and these shows are an excellent way to create the kind of social setting that makes it easy and fun to meet the people behind the products - as well as meet the people behind the opinions!

As these shows prolifrate, they will continue to bridge the gap between traditional retail and direct-sale brands, effectively creating a 3-day pop-up storefront for any brand interested in plying their trade directly to the consumer. And while I'd like to see them spaced more evenly throughout the year, I think that regional shows are HiFi's best chance to create relevance among those who might be interested in what it is that we do - but who might not be familiar with it, or might be intimidated by the kinds of prices they see published within any of the myriad HiFi publications from around the world.

Let's face it ... while there are a significant number of people who might think that spending $30,000.00 on a kitchen upgrade is reasonable, there are at least as many who think that spending $3,000.00 on a pair of loudspeakers is outrageous. The enthusiasm that we indulge in may be both specialized and intimidating, however regional shows offer a fairly close look and listen, and might provide the otherwise-intimidated person an opportunity to judge these things on their own merit ... and not just based on a picture and a price in a magazine.

Et Quelle's picture

Too many show is an imposibility. It might be burdensome to the workers but not attendees. To them, there is only 1 show!
But I love electronics, I would love working it too. Im in Nevada, I can see 2 cali shows and the one here which is small
due to CES. People with whatever budget might not go in for a private listening with salesmen 3:1. But thousands: hundreds
is more comfortable. The wife isn't as mad when you buy because it was part of the trip.

jgossman's picture

If at every show you notice it's the same people there, it's just industry showing off and selling to one another.  That's okay, look at the hot rod auto business.  From high end 30's American to high end Italian auto's, if you notice all you do is go to shows, it's industry looking for lots and lots of opportunities to sell to itself.  Because that's the only people with the money to afford what is essentially only marginally better (start the flame war..... NOW) than the mearly great but still affordable high end.  Why do you think there are shows every weekend showing off used and classic Ferrari's and Hot Rods every summer, but only a handful of new car shows showing of the latest midsized car tech from Ford or Honda.

Because even though you the audiophile may hate to admit it, the difference in great and sublime is a PRICE not worth COST.  Because the cost of going from GREAT to SUBLIME isn't worth the PRICE of a very nice house in the midwest.  And the to most people, what we consider mearly great, IS truely sublime.

It's really pretty simple.  Don't overthink it.  Start making better gear, more reliable, and easy to use, then charge a price that doesn't set off bullshit fllters.  You see the "little guy" is simple, not stupid.

Bill Leebens's picture

I understand JA's concerns, and those of the show organizers and exhibitors, as well. Having worked on all sides of Show Biz--with manufacturers, with the media, and as a show organizer-- I think the primary concern of all those involved is cost-effectiveness: simple bang-for-buck, ROI.  Such concern is understandable and warranted, but unfortunately is often reduced to unrealistic expectations of immediate sales, rather than steady, long-term development of the market and customer base.

There is a tendency, during a  down-market, to want to carefully sequester and protect one's own piece of the pie, whether it's miniscule or major. As public awareness of the audio industry has diminished, there has been a tendency for those in the industry to become increasingly guarded and wary of  forces perceived as threats to their share of the remaining market. Those "threats" in the past have included the internet and the iPod; two forces which present huge opportunities for the audio biz, if handled properly.

Similarly, too many shows? Rather than applaud the fact that the industry is experiencing public outreach unlike any seen in the past 30 years, the audio industry focuses on the strain on resources in personnel and capital.

I get it. Times are tough-- but rather than make them tougher with whining and internecine back-biting, can we please celebrate the new opportunities presented to us, and just freaking get ON with it?


DoggyDaddy's picture

To me one simple fact limits the usefulness of shows (and ok, I've only been to 1, as I'm a newbie).  It's that you can't listen to equipment at a show the way you would at home.  There's too much noise, too many people.  For generating brand awareness, fine, as well as networking w/ colleagues/competitors.  But it's no environment for listening musically.  For one thing - and this alone would make shows almost useless for actual auditioning - the equipment is usually played too loud.  There seems to be a sort of macho simplistic attitude: see how loud we are!  No one for whom the gear is a means to a musical end (as opposed to the end of showing off your fancy setup) would buy on the basis of a show demo, IMO.

AJ's picture

I doubt there are many (or any) retailers that have 50-100 rooms with 300+ brands of equipment.

As such, these shows are a unique opportunity for consumers to get to hear (not, read about, channel,  imagine, etc.) a much broader variety of products than one ever would in retail stores. The two are incomparable.

For a manufacturer like myself, it's an opportunity to present my product in what most would consider a tough environment, a hotel room. That tends to seperate the wheat from the chaff of sensible acoustic design (something quite often foreign to the "High End", where "bling" and "street cred" tends to rule).

Win win as I see it....and if it cost me an arm and a leg to exhibit, well, perhaps that's the price to pay in todays market.

DoggyDaddy, what is amazing, is how few people bring their own (reference) music, much less ask for a private audition with it, free from the crowds.



Soundfield Audio (USA)

spyder1's picture

I don't think there are too many audio shows. I believe that the existing audio shows can be schedualed with 1 to 2 months downtime in between shows. I believe the audio shows are a great way to inform the consumer about new and inovative products, and teach the next generation of Audiophiles, that their future looks amazing!

Pro-Audio-Tech's picture

The high end audio dealers / showrooms are becoming a thing of the past, so how is this equipment to be sold? If there weren't all these new shows how would people listen before they buy? I believe we need to support these shows or we will see this hobby become smaller than it already is! Remember smaller hobby = fewer advertisers, (-$).