The North American Expo, held Oct. 6-7 in Chicago, attracted significantly fewer attendees than anticipated. The final figures revealed there were 9,728 attendees as opposed to the 15,000 expected. NEX '98 drew more than 16,000 U.S. and Canadian visitors. Included in the 9,728 were 2,843 exhi-bitors; 2,702 contractors; 1,265 distributors; 1,167 manufacturers reps; 1,362 engineers, architects, builders and other specifiers; and 389 spouses and guests.

"We have been wondering why attendance was so low and thought it may be because both the Kitchen/Bath Industry Show and the National Hardware Show were in Chicago this year," said Inge Calderon, executive vice president of the American Supply Association, one of the NEX partners. "On the other hand, maybe people are just too busy to go to trade shows. I'm sure there were various factors involved."

Booth spaces were also down, with more than 950 reserved for NEX 2000 compared with 1,310 for the 1998 show.

"It's a nice little show, but it looks smaller than in past years," one exhibitor said at NEX, a comment that was echoed by others.

"This year's show does not appear to be as well supported by wholesalers and contractors as in the past," said Ila Lewis, executive vice president at Gerber Plumbing Fixtures Corp. "Conventions and trade shows represent a marvelous opportunity to meet and greet the people we deal with all year long by fax, phone and e-mail."

The difference between European and U.S. trade shows is that in Europe, attendance at trade shows is perceived as mandatory, said Tim Mullally, president and general manager at both Hansa America and KWC Faucets. "What is missing here is 100% of the plumbing contractors and wholesalers. The good guys take the time."

Twenty busloads of wholesalers and their contractor customers were brought to NEX on Oct. 6, according to ASA.

"The show has not met our expectations," said an exhibitor who asked not to be named. "We have a wonderful location, but there's not enough traffic. There's a lot of expense involved for the manufacturer to participate. We ask our reps to come to this."

Exhibitors and show sponsors may have a hard time justifying their investment in this year's show, said another exhibitor, who also requested anonymity.

"If you get more critical mass, emulating Germany's ISH show, you have a higher likelihood of delivering value," the exhibitor said. "We need to focus the money spent on trade shows. Maybe we should take the money we spend on a fancy booth and put it into the training programs."

Not everyone was negative about the show. Goss, a manufacturer of welding torch tools, is always at NEX, said Joe Salyer, regional sales manager.

"We also do welding, HVAC and roofing shows and an outside plant show for the telecommunications industry," he said. "NEX is a big show for us. We are here to support our reps and to meet with wholesalers."

This was Stadler-Viega's first NEX show, said David Garlow, national sales manager.

"We also attend ASHRAE and RPA," he said. "We expect to reach a significant number of new people at NEX."

PlumbingOnline was at NEX to visit with the manufacturers and distributors that are currently customers, as well as to increase its visibility among other potential clients, including wholesalers, manufacturers and contractors, said Todd Mann, vice president/BuildNet Portal Communities.

"We've been pleasantly surprised by the show," Mann said. "At a lot of shows you get a volume of people, but you have to question the quality and nature of those visitors. Here we have had fewer people, but from a quality standpoint it's been terrific. We're seeing the right level of folk. They seem fairly knowledgeable with what is going on in the e-commerce arena. We take our hats off to ASA for creating so much visibility."