I would if I could

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I can't imagine a worse day to open a capital equipment trade show. FABTECH 2008, making its first appearance west of the Mississippi in Las Vegas (the gambling capital of the Western Hemisphere), would not have been a first choice for many exhibitors. Nevertheless here we were walking into the Convention Center as TV monitors showing CNN's frantic announcers trumpeting the news that the market had hit an 800 point loss and the world economies were in danger of meltdown. Talk about an emotional letdown before the show had even opened.

As I reported in a video segment on the ILS Web page, the Monday morning sentiment and talk of the show floor were focused on Wall Street and the changing numbers, all downward.

However by mid-morning it became apparent that the first day's attendance was going to be very good at 12,000+, and of more importance, the attendees were in a buying mood. By mid-afternoon reports were coming in about record booth visits and inquiries and even better, solid qualified inquires, topping those that exhibitors had received just a few weeks ago at IMTS. One solid-state laser marking supplier received more leads in one day than during the five days of IMTS.

By the end of the day, every exhibitor ILS interviewed had glowing comments on the success of the show and how it had exceeded their expectations. At the local watering holes that night, the talk was all about the opening day successes and the question of the evening was: would that euphoria be present on day two or had the show been the beneficiary of a weekend crowd that made the show its reason for being in Las Vegas.

Day two turned out to be more of the same but at a reduced attendee level. The two-day total of 17,000+ visitors had exhibitors ready to sign up for the return to Vegas three years hence.

Many of us "experts" spent a great deal of time scratching our heads trying to determine why the industrial laser market could be in such a positive mood given the terrible global economic news that was saturating all the media outlets.

ILS personally spoke to numbers of suppliers who cited specific examples of selling opportunities in somewhat obscure market sectors that remain healthy for capital equipment sales. If this had been a random sampling we would have tossed it aside as an aberration but we received these comments from a significant number of the exhibitors we met and interviewed. Clearly the message we picked up at IMTS a month ago (and reported in the October My View)—diversity in laser applications leading to niche markets of prosperity even in a generally down economy—was real. Here at FABTECH we were talking to the big companies, who together were showing more than 15 major systems selling in the $500,000+ range on the show floor.

As we toured the exhibits we were struck by the crowds of visitors who were seriously questioning sales people for details and in many of these we saw serious negotiations being held. FABTECH was clearly a buying show. One major supplier told us he booked 10 system orders at the show and others had posted "sold to" signs on their equipment.

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ILS has learned to judge a show's success by the expressions on the faces of exhibitor personnel leaving the show at the end of each day. At FABTECH it was all smiles every day.

David A. Belforte
belforte@pennwell.com

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