Want More Sales? Get to the Convention Center

    945 532 Jeff White

    Growing up, my parents would often load us into the car on Saturday mornings for a day of adventure. Or so I thought. Often, our “adventure” began at the local convention center. We’d park, seemingly miles away from the sprawling building, and spend half the day walking up and down aisles filled with all sorts of things. Depending on the weekend, the center might host a car show, a home or cooking event, or a pet expo. It seemed that every weekend brought a new and interesting exhibit to the convention center that my parents just couldn’t resist.

    Looking back, what was even more interesting about these exhibits was that they usually resulted in something new for our home. It might be a hand-crafted bench for the entryway, a more powerful blender, or a set of monogrammed beach towels. Each week’s event promised something different – a great deal or one-of-a-kind offering that simply couldn’t be found anywhere else. While I don’t often drag my own kids to the local convention center, the cycle has repeated in my own household. In fact, we’re the proud owners of a hot tub purchased at the Hot Tub and Swim Spa Blowout Expo, circa 2015.

    Connecting Events & Retail Stores

    I thought this relationship between event attendance and purchase activity might be worth exploring. What could we learn about the people who attended these events? Where do event attendees go once they’ve left the building? We took a closer look at consumer visits to our local convention center, Dulles Expo Center, in northern Virginia. The center is a 130,000-square foot facility that hosts a new, themed event almost every weekend. We then choose three recent weekend events hosted at the Dulles Expo Center to examine in more detail:

    1. August 27th – International Gem and Jewelry Show
    2. September 9th –  National Capital Cat Show
    3. September 23rd – Capital Home Show

    While all events took place at the same location, each featured a totally different theme and – of course – exhibitors, products and services. We analyzed consumer attendances at each event, and where they shopped for a period of two weeks post-event. What we discovered was fascinating:

    Key Takeaways

    Despite the identical location, each show attracted a very different set of consumers. Audience data (A) gives us good insight into the attendees predominantly observed at each event. The International Gem and Jewelry Show, for example, attracted what we call ‘Luxury Lifestylers’. These consumers are regularly observed at upscale stores, restaurants and other venues that suggest they enjoy the finer things in life. The National Capital Cat Show and Capital Home Show, in contrast, attracted ‘Pet Lovers’ and ‘Home Buyers’, respectively.

    Audience data also gives conference centers, like the Dulles Expo Center, improved understanding of the consumers who attend each show. By targeting future ad campaigns to ‘Luxury Lifestylers’, ‘Home Buyers’, or another audience of choice, convention centers can easily reach interested consumers with information about similar, upcoming events. By examining the audiences observed at events of interest, retailers can also better gauge whether an event is a good fit for their brand, product or service offering.

    Post-event, consumers who attended the event were subsequently observed at stores in the related retail category (B). For example, following the Capital Cat Show, event attendees were seen at various ‘Discount Pet Stores’. While the ‘Pet Lovers’ who attended the Capital Cat Show are already more likely than the average consumer to visit pet stores and related venues, the lift in post-event visits indicates that event attendance spurred additional store visits. Event attendance both signals overall interest in the category, and suggests that the consumer is in-market for related products or services.

    Underscoring this point, key retailers in each category saw a post-event uptick in visits among event attendees. To illustrate, attendees at the Capital Home Show were later observed at Lowe’s, a leading home improvement chain. Post-event visits to retail stores in a related category suggest that event attendees later made purchases related to their event attendance. These retail purchases may have been contemplated – but not completed – at the event, or intended to complement an earlier tradeshow purchase. (From my own experience, one of the first things I bought following our convention center hot tub buy was a weatherproof cover.)

    Bringing It All Together

    Event attendance signals not just consumer interest, but category engagement and propensity to make one or more near-term purchases in the category. This is relevant to both retailers, seeking to drive increased product or service sales, and event organizers, aiming to draw the best exhibitors and more consumers to their events. 

    Retailers can use attendance data from relevant events to quickly reach engaged consumers with ads and offers. A jewelry store, for example, can reach the same ‘Luxury Lifestylers’ observed at the International Gem and Jewelry Show by targeting their advertising campaign to that exact audience. A retailer might present their offerings as alternatives to exhibitor goods, or encourage post-event store visits with a pitch for auxiliary products or services. Event attendance data can also be used by retailers to easily identify the events that attract their target consumers and are well-suited to their respective brands.

    Our data shows that event attendees are in-market for category purchases – before, during and after the event in question. As more retailers compete for consumer dollars, both physical and online stores should consider opportunities to integrate their retail presence with local events. Traditional and online retail stores might consider a ‘pop-up’ type presence at key events to better engage with their target consumers and to encourage future store visits.

    For convention centers, event attendance data can be used to better understand event attendees. This makes it possible for event organizers to reengage previous years’ attendees and reach other like-minded consumers with information about upcoming shows. Organizers can also use event attendance data to attract better exhibitors: Imagine showing prospective vendors an event prospectus that includes information about the categories, stores, restaurants and events frequented by show attendees. By bringing the right mix of vendors and buyers to their events, convention centers can ensure a great experience for both exhibitors and consumers.

    Plus, where else can you find an ever-changing, warehouse-sized store that showcases an endless array of products from large and small businesses across the country? After all, a visit to the convention center is kind of an adventure.