DEMA President: Despite Economy, Show (and Dive Industry) Survive

The Dive Equipment and Marketing Association’s annual conference may have been buffeted by the recent economic whirlwind, but it hasn’t been toppled, at least after looking at the bustling show floor at the Orlando Convention Center and talking to DEMA President Al Hornsby today.

In an exclusive interview with DeeperBlue.com this morning only moments after the ribbon was cut to officially open the convention floor to attendees, Hornsby said: “I think there’s a recognition that, going forward, the DEMA Show’s going to need to evolve to meet changing times and a changing economy.”

In his president’s message included in the official show guide, Hornsby wrote that “DEMA Show and the DEMA organization itself have faced the same challenges as the rest of the industry this year, with public fears expressed of a 2009 show that might not be big enough to run and the financial challenges to the organization that would result. Yet, without ignoring the clear fact that DEMA and the show face a very real, near-term challenge – they must evolve to a new model that wills serve and sustain in the changing market we face ahead of us (and the process has already begun) – here we are.

“We are somewhat smaller than the expanding shows we have enjoyed over the past few years, but a well-exhibited, internationally represented show, nonetheless,” he continued. And while a number of individual booth footprints may have been reduced in size, “with few exceptions, we are all here. Motivated by many different needs, convictions and concerns, we have joined together, with retailers determined and needing to glean every possible advantage to take into 2010; with exhibitors needing to take every opportunity to they can to present their products to the show’s concentrated audience.”

Hornsby told DeeperBlue.com this morning that this year’s DEMA Show was about 150 booths smaller than last year’s, with an attendee count “about the same as it was a couple years ago” when the convention was also held in Orlando.

Tom Ingram, DEMA’s executive director, told DeeperBlue.com at last year’s DEMA Show that when the show doors opened on the first day, more than 10,400 people had registered to attend.

This morning, Hornsby told DeeperBlue.com that the organization was expecting a fairly large number of attendees to register at the door instead of doing it in advance.

“Remember, coming into this show, people were having to book — especially the big companies — book their booth in October of last year when we were facing a worldwide [economic] calamity and didn’t know” how it would turn out, he said, adding: “I think certainly that business came through better this year than it appeared; I think the indications are that it’s a somewhat improving worldwide economy, so I think last year, pre-booth selection was at the worst possible time, and I think already we’re seeing with some of the major manufacturers and so forth, I think it’s going to be pretty good, actually, so we’ve got everybody coming back, it looks like at this point.”

For next year’s show in Las Vegas, DEMA this week announced a pilot “Magnet Exhibitor” program somewhat akin to anchor stores in a shopping mall, where interested member exhibitors could buy spaces of 800 net square feet or more in predetermined areas on the show floor and in return be given discounts of 65 percent to 85 percent of the retail price depending on the spaces’ locations, according to a DEMA statement.

“Changing the flow of traffic allows all attendees to see everything DEMA Show has to offer, and it provides exhibitors with a greater opportunity for ‘face time’ with potential and current customers,” Ingram said in the statement. “By creating ‘zones’ on the show floor in which ‘Magnet Exhibitors’ select space, attendee traffic is directed throughout the show floor while moving from zone to zone, maximizing the exposure received by all exhibitors, and increasing attendee networking and buying opportunities.” — John Liang

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