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How One Association Virtually Augmented the Reality of their Trade Show

The good old days in trade shows. That was back when you put on the show and not only did everyone in the industry show up, they’d stay the entire week placing orders and seeing new equipment and old friends. One big party. That’s long before I got here; before the internet made it simple to find the latest technologies right there in the comfort of your office; before my attendees started wearing five different hats in their business, making it even harder to spend multiple days out of the office at a trade show;  and long before anyone thought to study how our attendees “consume” our trade show. That was then and this is now.

In 2016, our association, Food Processing Suppliers Association formed a show floor activities task force and convened a face-to-face meeting with our volunteer members to develop new activities for our 2017 show, PROCESS EXPO, that would provide even more reason to attend. That brainstorming session would generate a dozen activities we had never tried before, including one we would call the Virtual Reality Showroom.

Up until that point, we had not considered doing anything in virtual reality. After all, the food industry is typically a little more conservative than other industries. Nevertheless, members of the task force who had discussed the topic with clients assured us that there would be interest. In fact, they were already getting pressure from customers to provide VR versions of their equipment. Based on these discussions, we decided that the time was right.

After inquiries with multiple vendors yielded a wide range of interest and experience levels, we chose ANT Automation which was already experienced in creating virtual reality platforms for food equipment manufacturers. As part of our agreement, show management would pay for the development of the VR platform, keeping costs down for participating exhibitors who would only have to pay for the development of the VR versions of their equipment.

We initiated promotion of the Showroom to our exhibitors in January of 2017 with the goal of securing five exhibitors by April 1st which would provide ANT with more than enough time to convert the files ahead of the show. Looking back, we underestimated how much time our exhibitors would need to make this decision.  They had heard of virtual reality but most did not yet see it as something for our industry. We addressed this through direct mail, email, newsletter mentions, and extensive phone outreach to walk exhibitors through the potential benefits of the program. Ultimately, we would push the deadline back into June and end up with eight excited exhibitors.

Given the importance of the VR Showroom, we promoted it heavily to our attendees in our pre-show newsletters and onsite with a promotional video wall on the Grand Concourse and video loop in the registration area, extensive signage on the show floor, alerts in the eDaily and on the mobile app.

Ultimately, the VR Showroom would be judged an overwhelming success for all. Attendees ranked the Showroom among the most popular activities in post-show surveys and participating exhibitors received over 700 leads. Additionally, exhibitors from surrounding booths reported tremendous foot traffic throughout the show despite being located in the rear of the hall. As for show management, this program helped grow our customer attendance and kept them at the show longer than at our previous show, so it proved a big win for all.

Based on the success of our first foray into virtual reality, we expect the Showroom to grow significantly in our next show as members become more accepting of this new technology and customers become more interested in experiencing it.

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Andy Drennan is Senior Vice President of the Food Processing Suppliers Association, overseeing all PROCESS EXPO marketing, promotion and show operations. He has been with the Association for over 18 years and been involved in every aspect of member activities including international programs, membership, annual conference, trade show operations and marketing, exhibit sales and currently serves as staff liaison to the dairy and beverage councils.


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