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Big trade shows: is the security industry missing out?

NZ Security, Feb/Mar 2017

 

It’s been an interesting year for key security industry events. On the exhibition side, newcomer Facilities Integrate has returned for a second time while the NZSA-organised New Zealand Security Exhibition has teamed up with the fire industry expo, shedding its conference and awards element in favour of a separate regionally staged awards night.

It’s a challenging and increasingly contested space that’s posing hard questions to event organisers: How to attract attendees to Auckland? How to get the industry/non-industry mix right? Are conference/seminars working, or do attendees just want stalls and a forum for networking?

Perhaps more than in any previous year, 2016 witnessed a continued ‘piggybacking’ of the security industry onto the events of other complementary industries.

Facilities Integrate brings together building design, building management and security companies under the one roof, while this year’s Security and Fire Expo brought together those eponymous industries.

Interestingly, the 2016 New Zealand Defence Industry Association’s annual trade show, the NZDIA Annual Forum, also reached out to security industry, going by the rejigged title of “Defence, Security and Industry Forum”.

This trend has placed security exhibitors in front of bigger and broader audiences.

According to statistics provided by the NZSA, the 2016 security and fire exhibition attracted 230 delegates, 170 exhibitors and 152 walk-ins, for a total attendee count of 552. By contrast, the Association’s 2015 security-only exhibition boasted a total of only 162 attendees (40 delegates, 59 exhibitors and 63 walk-ins).

For those security companies who exhibited at last year’s Facilities Integrate, the two days of this event saw a total attendance figure of 2,485 (up from 2,117 in 2015). According to Hayley White of organiser North Port Events, “over a third [of exhibitors] generated between 20 and 100 sales leads at the show. Of these 18 per cent generated between $100,000 and $1 million.”

 

Quantity versus quality

While these numbers suggest that security exhibitors are benefitting from the increased exposure afforded by being a part of something bigger, the trend also raises a number of questions.

Despite North Port reporting that 40% of attendees listed ‘security’ as an interest, it is unclear how many of the visiting architects, building operators, electrical engineers, electrical service contractors, facility managers, installers, integrators, property developers and building system designers gave Facilities Integrate’s 21 security exhibitors more than a passing sideways glance.

 

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A number of attendees from the security industry commented that security exhibitors were dispersed throughout the site rather than situated together, which made them less visible among the 137 exhibitor stalls.

“We don’t section off specific industries, a big part of the show includes networking and learning about various new technologies,” commended Ms White, “The layout is designed to help attendees grow their entire supplier database and not necessarily one area only.”

And although teaming up with the fire protection industry resulted in improved exhibition figures for the NZSA last year, it is unclear just how many of their event’s 552 attendees were there for the security stalls as opposed to their numerically dominant fire counterparts.

 

Big questions need answers

For the NZSA, its 2016 exhibition attendance figures came at the cost of lower educational seminar attendance (21, down from 40 in 2015) and a decision not to host an associated conference due to apparent lack of interest.

Whether it was a case of lower-than-expected attendance numbers or just poor space planning, aisles separating the rows of stalls at the security and fire event seemed – for the most part – overly wide and eerily empty.

It’s reflective of a feeling that the conference and exhibition space is becoming more challenging.

“We are currently evaluating what we do next year for the exhibition so would be interested in any feedback on trends, etc. happening locally and worldwide,” stated NZSA CEO Gary Morrison. “It would seem that many are struggling to maintain attendance and exhibitor numbers.”

While security industries in other countries seem more than able to support security-specific trade shows – ASIAL 2016 in Melbourne was a sell-out – the size of the New Zealand market perhaps dictates that piggybacking with other industries on expos does make sense. It offers the potential for wider exposure and industry mingling, which is a good thing, but there are also potential downsides.

In joining up with others, does the industry lose the opportunity to really showcase, market and celebrate itself? Is there an opportunity cost in not providing a ‘one stop’ security trade show that casts a wide net within the industry and offers visitors the maximum range of options in the one place at the one time?

Ultimately, is the industry – and its representative organisations and big players in particular – doing enough to cooperate and galvanise to develop a compelling world-class security event?

Facilities Integrate will return on 2-3 November 2017. The perennial NZSA-organised event will also be back. In the meantime, there are several months to reflect on the model and – ultimately – to understand what it is the industry actually wants.

 

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