After 71 years as a staple in the New York market, the Incentive Show is closing its doors. The closure is being attributed to a gradual decline in the quantity and quality of attendees, which over the years eroded exhibitor enthusiasm for the show. The costs to operate the event also played a role in the demise of a show that brought major brands like Blockbuster, Harry & David, Coach and Bath & Body Works to work the floors at Jacob Javits Center, handing out everything from two-ounce bottles of cucumber melon body lotion to Moose Munch chocolate bars.
Over the past year or so, there had been several discussions about the health of the event and whether, or how, it should be repositioned. VNU Business Media, which owns and operates the event, had decided to move the 2007 show to the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers in Manhattan. VNU’s Exposition Group, which has produced the show for several years, said the move was meant to make the show more centrally located for attendees and exhibitors. Last week, however, VNU announced its decision to cancel the event completely.
“It’s just not cost effective to do it,” Michelle Schiano, marketing director, for VNU’ Business Media’s travel and performance group, said this week. Show director Donna Oldenburg, could not be reached for comment. The phone number for her company, Oldenburg Incentive Solutions, has been disconnected. Information about the 2007 Incentive Show is still on the Internet.
The shuttering of the show creates a void for incentive marketers. To answer their concerns, Schiano said VNU would likely host one-on-one meetings with incentive buyers and sellers, but nothing on scale with the trade show.
News of the Incentive’s Show closing came as little surprise to some, including Nicholas Caillens, co-founder and managing director of Giftybox. Caillens attended the show for the last two years to promote his New York City-based company, which links themed guidebooks and “experience passes” as corporate incentives and consumers gifts. He said he received an e-mail shortly after the 2006 Incentive Show concluded in May announcing the new Sheraton location, but no further communication about the show closing.
“I’m not surprised,” Caillens said of the show’s closing. “We liked the format of the show, but the attendance was not as good.”
He added that while the Incentive Show opened some doors for the company, it didn’t draw the type of clients Giftybox was searching for.
“That was definitely a disappointment for us,” Caillens said. “I’m sad to see the only one in the New York area close. We have a soft spot for New York.”
Exhibit space had dropped in recent years to less than half to what it had been in the 1980s, drawing less than 200 exhibitors in both 2005 and 2006, said Karen Renk, executive director of the Incentive Marketing Association. Attendance had steadily declined as well over the last 10 years, with 4,000 to 5,000 people last year.
“As the attendee base became less, exhibitors were saying, ‘I’m seeing fewer people and I’m not seeing the people I want to see,’” Renk said. “That coupled with the fact that it is expensive to do business in New York started to tip the scale. When you have exhibitors losing confidence, then attendees lose confidence in the show.”
The Incentive Show was an example of how the trade show model was no longer compelling enough to bring people out of their offices to the show, Renk said. “That’s the challenge our marketplace faces,” she said.
“The [closing] will have a negative impact,” she added. “New York is an extremely important market for our customer base. Certainly, East Coast distributors need a show to help them motivate their customers to think of the incentive marketplace. This is an important venue for us.”
While the show’s closing will likely have little impact on Giftybox, Caillens said, he would return if the Incentive Show makes a comeback in the near future. In the meantime, Giftybox executives are researching other trade shows to attend, including the Promotional Products Association International show in Las Vegas. (Giftybox was an exhibitor at the Motivation Show in September).
“We never rely on one show alone,” Caillens said.
While 2007 may be without an Incentive Show, the future is not all bleak.
“I’m confident by 2008, we will have a venue in New York,” Renk said. “We know we have an outstanding message and product. We just need to package it a way that is compelling.”