DEMA 2008: Show Organizers Hope Attendance Bodes Well for Industry

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Al Hornsby and Tom Ingram

The dive industry is taking proactive action to mitigate any fallout from the recent string of unprecedented grim economic news, Al Hornsby, Dive Equipment and Manufacturing Association (DEMA) board of directors president, told DeeperBlue.com in an exclusive interview today.

“One of the things that’s happening despite everything that’s going on and certainly one of the fears that we had as the show organizer . . . was what was going to happen to exhibitor attendance and certainly the trade buyer attendance,” Hornsby said. “And very interestingly . . . we’re a bigger show than last year.”

The show this year in Las Vegas is “bigger by 50-100 booths, within that range,” he added.

Tom Ingram, DEMA’s executive director, told DB that when the show doors opened this morning, more than 10,400 people had registered to attend.

“There was a little bit of a delay . . . in people making up their minds, but we ended up with actually a much better completion than normal . . . for the number of people who initially made a deposit who actually are here and then with the attendees themselves,” Hornsby said, adding that “we had a mob of at-the-door sign-ups.”

“I think people who were waiting, just waiting to see” how the economy would pan out, he said. “Sometimes when you’re going into a tough time, the beginning of a tough time, and I think people are faced with, you know, are we going to give up, or are we going to do everything we can right now? And I think they’re here doing everything they can to find a way through whatever’s coming, because we don’t really know – this one is a weird one – we don’t really know what it is.”

Hornsby said there were a higher percentage of buyers on the show floor than normal, “and that’s who we want to reach.”

DEMA’s “Be A Diver” campaign – originally intended to last this year and next – will likely live on, according to Hornsby.

“The advertising we’re doing, that’s a bigger effort than DEMA or probably anybody (in the dive industry) has ever done in terms of trying to reach the public, and that program continues through next year, and we’re figuring out the ways now to have that just be an ongoing program to fund every year,” he said.

While “Be A Diver” was originally a two-year program by design, “what we’re realizing now is that we are seeing we’re getting some effect, we’re getting a response from the public, we just need to build our budgets so we can set aside that money . . . half a million (dollars) is a good target we’re seeing just from here on, it just becomes a part of what we do,” he said.

Another tactic DEMA will use in 2009 will be to set aside 25 percent of the association’s $600,000 advertising budget – about $125,000 to $150,000 – for DEMA members to use to augment their own ad buys, according to Hornsby.

“Groups of retailers, their manufactures who may want to support their training organization, whatever amount of money that they can put together themselves for a local advertising campaign, let’s say you get 10 retailers to do $1000 apiece, and then a training organization chips in $5000, and one of their manufacturers chips in $5000, so now they’re at $20,000, DEMA will match it with $20,000,” he said.

“So within that fund we have, we can double the amount of local advertising that the retailers can be doing around the country,” Hornsby added. “And we’ll use up to all that’s in the fund, but it’s a fair amount, and . . . we’re getting a very good response – we introduced it to a large group of retailers the other night that represent most of the metro areas in the U.S.; those guys are all going to go home and try to be coordinators to get their retailers in their areas going, contacting their training organizations, their manufacturers, if we can cause this campaign to happen in 10 or 15 or 20 cities across the U.S. next year, suddenly we’ve really extended the media reach that this sport has.”