Developing an Industry Exhibitor’s Bureau

Developing an Industry Exhibitors’  Bureau
By Gene Muchanski, Executive Director
Dive Industry Foundation
July 5, 2017


In our series Developing the Ideal Dive Show, we are breaking down the components that make a show successful for the attendees, speakers, exhibitors, vendors, advertisers, sponsors, volunteers, staff and show management.  The most important component are the attendees.  We design dive shows based on who attends the show, what they expect to see and do and who they want to meet.

We take into consideration whether the event is a trade show, a consumer show, or a combination of the two.  Consumer shows focus on exhibits and seminars equally.  Attendees pay to see both.  Shows that are designed around Industry Professionals, on the other hand, are classified as either Trade Shows or Professional Development Conferences.  According to Rhonda Abrams, in her book, Trade Show In A Day, “At a trade show or expo, the primary action takes place on the exhibit hall floor.  Attendees are there to visit booths, and all non-exhibit activities are secondary.  At a conference, the opposite is true.  Attendees are there to go to seminars and educational sessions, visiting the exhibition hall only during breaks in their daily schedules.”   Trade Show In A Day is a MUST read for any company thinking about maximizing their potential at a trade or consumer dive show. Face-to-face Marketing is an expensive investment and a large part of a company’s marketing budget, but if done correctly, can be the most cost effective way to increase sales, leads and brand recognition.

Exhibitors are therefore a very important part of any consumer dive show, trade show or professional development conference.    People come to shows to see what’s new in diving equipment, what’s new in training and what’s hot in exotic dive travel.  At dive trade shows, the main four groups exhibiting usually are Manufacturers (41%), Travel (35%), Non-Profit Organization (4%) and Training (3%).  At consumer dive shows, the same four groups have quite different percentages; Manufacturer (24-26%), Travel (40-50%), Non-profits (4-8%), and Training (2-3%).  The four largest groups exhibiting at consumer dive shows should be Dive Stores, Dive Boats, Dive Clubs and Dive Instructors.  Dive Stores currently account for only 5% – 6% of the exhibitors.  The percentage for Dive Boats and Dive Clubs combined is less than 1%.  For Professional Educators the percentage is zero.

With 36 years of experience attending, marketing, and exhibiting at dive, travel and watersports shows, I can honestly say that the local stores, boats, clubs and instructors have the most to gain by exhibiting at dive shows.  First of all, attendees are there to see dive gear, apparel, training and travel.  They want to buy stuff too.  Especially things that are $20 or less.   At seminars and workshops they want to increase their knowledge about the recreation, learn about new types of diving and diving equipment, and see exotic travel destinations.  The three most popular questions an attendee asks of an exhibitor are;  1. Do you teach diving classes?  2. Do you sell diving equipment?  3. Do you run dive trips? A Dive Store owner can answer yes to all three.

A major obstacle for local dive stores, boats, clubs and instructors is the cost of exhibiting in terms of time and money.  A typical 10’ x 10’ booth space at a consumer diver show runs between $750 and $1,400.  Add the cost for hotel, food, travel, freight and you are spending on average $3,000 per person per booth.  Another consideration is the time away from your business to exhibit and participate in the show.  Many dive stores are single owner / operators.  They would therefore have to shut the store down for one, two or three days to exhibit at a show.  Another argument is that a dive industry professional would lose the revenue from teaching an open water class session by giving up a weekend to exhibit at a show.  We will discuss ways to overcome these obstacles later in this article, but for now, let’s look at why dive shows work for industry professionals in a local dive community.

Establishing an Industry Exhibitors Bureau:  The only way to become a part of our Industry Exhibitors Bureau is to exhibit at one of the major dive, travel or watersports trade or consumer shows.  Notice that I did not say you must pay for a booth and get listed as an Exhibitor in one of the show guides. I said that you have to exhibit at one of the shows.

Major Dive Shows:  To stay focused on dive shows, both trade and consumer, we will cover only the major dive shows in the United States for now.  At a later time we can discuss surf, adventure travel, outdoor, boat and smaller dive shows.  A very important part of exhibiting on a world stage is the fine international shows currently being conducted.  We’ll discuss those at a later date also.

We rank Dive Shows by the number of attendees, the number and diversity of exhibitors, the number and quality of seminars and seminar speakers, the prominence and timeliness of the film show programs, the number and relevance of paid workshops and the number and attendance of meetings held by companies and organizations during the show.  The least important factor in the ranking of a dive show is the square footage of the building the event is held in.

In order of size and industry significance of exhibitors at the major dive shows are; DEMA Show, Scuba Show, Beneath the Sea, Our World Underwater, Scuba & H2O Adventure Show and the Lone Star State Dive & Travel Expo.  There are a number of other shows that have excellent seminars, film reviews or industry meetings and galas, but this article is focused only on Exhibitors.

How We Collect Data:  If Exhibitors are your target customers, you need to know who they are and where you can meet them face-to-face.  You’ll want to collect their full contact information, store the data in a usable and retrievable software program, and begin the task of establishing a business relationship with each and every vendor that meets your target customer parameters.

Looking at show guides from last year’s dive shows will give you some information and get you off to a good start.  Not all show producers publish a listing of their exhibitors with all the contact information you’ll need.  An exhibitor listing in a show guide will tell you what company purchased the booth and some, but not all of their contact information.  Many of the show producers are starting to list only the company names of the exhibitors and their website address.  This is all the information a potential buyer needs to know when researching an exhibitor.  Putting an exhibitor’s email address in a show guide invites list farmers and unsolicited emails.

The best marketing vehicle to bring buyers and seller together is the simple business card.  See our article, “Marketing Tools 101 – The Simple Business Card.”  All Exhibitors should have their business cards on full display in their booth, for attendees.  This will allow an attendee to take a business card and contact the company representative at a later time if the booth traffic does not allow an immediate conversation.  The best way to complete your database of exhibitors is to go to the dive shows, get a business card from each exhibitor and begin your business relationship right there at the show.  What you’ll quickly find out, is that the show has many more exhibitors than what is in the show guide.  To find local dive stores, dive boats, dive clubs and dive instructors, you need to visit each booth and see all of the business cards on display.

Having your company representative display their business cards at the booth tells the attendees who was at the show.  Show guides might list the company marketing director or the person in charge of pre-show booth preparations.  Those people may have nothing to do with company products or sales.

Two good ways to store contact information is digitally and physically.  Our digital database of over 3,500 industry professionals is processed by Dymo Cardscan Software.  See for more information.   For a quick, non-computer overview, we keep the physical cards in clear business card binder pages from Office Depot.  The pages hold 10 business cards per page but 20 if you don’t need to see the backs of the cards.  At last count, we had 787 cards with complete contact information in our Exhibitors Bureau Database.

Who Exhibits At Dive & Travel Shows:  As we mentioned earlier, most of the exhibitors in the exhibit hall are travel companies, dive equipment manufacturers, training agencies and non-profit organizations.  These are normally nationally based companies with a fair marketing budget.  They have the need to advertise and the budget to do so.  What they normally lack is sufficient staff to work all the shows.  On the other hand, the industry professionals who have the greatest need to exhibit and the most to gain from the shows are the local dive stores, dive boats, dive clubs and dive instructors.  They have the time and the staff, although they may lack the budget to pay for a booth.  You may have already guessed where I’m heading with this.  The need for industry professionals to cooperate with your industry supply chain is absolutely essential for dive show success. 

Show producers are always looking for exhibitors to buy booth space. It doesn’t matter who is in that booth space, it only matters that’s it’s not empty and whoever is in it, has a program, product, or service that a typical attendee wants to see, hear, feel and buy.

The following is not a new idea.  It has been going on as long as I can remember.  That means close to 40 years of trade show exhibiting. The travel industry was the first to figure this out.  A Tourism Board or a Convention & Visitors Bureau would pay for booth space at a show.  They would then ask a number of their Resort Destinations to staff the booth for them.  This is not booth sharing.  One entity pays for the booth and decorates it with their logos.  Their clients staff the booth and sell their destinations to the attendees.  Everyone wins with this business mode; the show producer, the tourism board, the resort destination and the attendee.

Let’s take it one step further.  A Travel Wholesaler pays for a booth and decorates it with their logos.  A number of their clients staff the booth and sells heads on beds and butts on seats to the attendees.  Same WIN-WIN; the show producer, the travel wholesaler, the resort destination and the attendee.  How about a Resort Destination buying a booth with their Dive Center & Dive Operator pitching in to staff the booth.  Everyone wins again.  With small local shows why can’t a Dive Store buy a booth and have his local Dive Boat, Dive Instructor and Dive Travel Specialist help out?

It works for Dive Equipment Manufacturers as well.  I know.  I did it twice with a major manufacture.  The manufacturer paid for the booth and shipped their display and gear to the show.  Their Marketing Staff (Me) set up the booth.  The next day their local Sales Rep came in and scheduled his local Dealers to take turns staffing the booth.  This business model works.  Local businesses sell to local attendees.  Sales Reps and Marketing Directors get quality time with their Dealers.  National and International companies get branding recognition and increased sales from their Dealers.

This Business Model would work exceptionally well with Training Agencies because they are usually tied into local store, boats, clubs and Instructors.

Are you ready to grow your company and increase the effectiveness of your Marketing Department?  The Dive Industry Foundation is available to work with your Show Managers as their Exhibitor Concierge.  We are currently working with the Scuba & H2O Adventure Show in Tacoma, WA to implement many of our cost-cutting, revenue building strategies that make Local Dive and Adventure Travel Shows more meaningful and enjoyable for attendees, exhibitors and speakers alike.  Booth sales have been brisk and the show is promising to be a world-class event for the Greater Pacific Northwest United States and Southwest Canada.

For more information contact:  Gene Muchanski at


This entry was posted in Scuba & H2O Show, Trade Shows & Events. Bookmark the permalink.