Living In The ‘Meat World’

November 5, 2012

handshakeI was talking with my colleague Andrew about the digital revolution and mentioned that I still like networking in person. I’ve got hundreds of LinkedIn contacts, Facebook friends and Twitter followers, but I really get a charge out of meeting and talking with people face to face.

“Oh, I get it,” Andrew said. “You like to live in the meat world.”

He’s right — I do. And I’m not the only one, as I pointed out in my weekly MinnPost column today. The trade show business is a $24 billion industry, and Eagan-based Skyline Exhibits is thriving as one of the largest suppliers of trade show booths and displays.

But other indicators make me question the future of meat. My wife just returned from a weekend at SOFA, a major trade show for the fine arts business (SOFA stands for Sculpture Objects Functional Art). She said the number of exhibitors was noticeably down. Even more worrisome: SOFA used to mount four annual exhibitions across the country, but it’s now been cut to one, in Chicago.

I’ve been attending the International Builders Show for several years with our client Marvin Windows and Doors. It’s the biggest trade show for the construction industry — attracting more than 100,000 attendees at its peak. In recent years, attendance hasn’t been much more than half that.

The tough economic times we’ve been through are no doubt a key reason for weakness in trade show attendance. Housing was hit harder than any other industry, and discretionary purchases of pricey craft pieces probably have taken a backseat for all but the most well-heeled buyers.

But as the world becomes more wired, it will only get easier for businesspeople to stay in the online world. And I think that will cede a big advantage to those of us who like to press the flesh.