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PMA’s Attendance Just Shy Of 16,000

In our piece yesterday, PMA Analysis — Does Houston Merit A Permanent Place In The PMA Rotation, we mentioned that it is customary for PMA to experience a drop in attendance of around 2,000 people whenever the show leaves California. If you want to be a positive thinker, you could say the show typically picks up 2,000 people every time it goes to California.

We also pointed out that the 2,000 extra attendees are typically small growers, many not involved in marketing and that, although their presence helps serve an educational purpose for the industry in raising the sophistication level of growers on marketing subjects, they are also a distraction on the trade show floor for most exhibitors who need produce buyers to sell to.

The piece led to numerous letters about the Houston venue, including one from Peter Dessak, Vice President of Six L’s, that we dealt with here.

It also led to a lot of letters claiming that attendance was way down. Letters such as this one here:

As of today (Thursday), PMA shows total Fresh Summit registrants at 10,265. Down more than the 2000 indicated in the Pundit review of yesterday.

We appreciate letters pointing out possible inaccuracies, but it is clear that this person — and a lot of other people with the same information — are dealing with incomplete statistics. Sometimes the advance registration number gets leaked and tossed around the trade, sometimes the number just for certain categories of attendees gets out and is whispered throughout the industry.

Remember that so many attendees are tied into exhibiting companies that it is almost impossible to have such dramatic fluctuations.

In the end, the final count was just shy of 16,000. If you want precision, 15,879. That means it was the 2nd most successful PMA — in terms of attendance — ever held outside of California. Only Orlando in 2003, which had 16,300 attendees, beat the numbers in Houston.

Confirming our explanation about small California growers, the key buyer category was almost exactly the same in Houston as in San Diego last year — with San Diego besting Houston by only 29 buying attendees. This is no difference at all considering that the categories people report themselves in leave a great deal of discretion to the individual. The actual buyer number in Houston was 3,352 and in San Diego it was 3,381.

When a show reaches PMA’s size, it is often the case that attendees won’t have time to visit every booth, so marketing before and at the show makes a major difference. In the old days, exhibitors could show up at a show and expect the show operator to have attracted all the attendees needed. Today, exhibitors are more the partner with show operators in attracting key buyers to the show and, then, exhibitors have to justify to attendees that their booth is worth a stop.

This was a very successful show considering the difficulties the Houston venue created. We shouldn’t underestimate how difficult it is to move a show of that size from New Orleans to Houston without many years of notice. The city of Houston and the PMA staff deserve a lot of kudos.

The long term challenge for PMA is not increasing the size of the show — with the growth of international pavilions and floral, we can easily sketch out a scenario for PMA to grow the exhibit floor by a third. What will be difficult is increasing the number of buyers so as to maintain a constant ratio of buyers per square foot of exhibit space.

In addition, the newly compressed schedule makes it more difficult to schedule meetings and events at times when PMA is not having an event or the floor is not open — this means that, even with expanded show hours, it will be harder to keep buyers on the floor, at workshops and at networking events.

Yet, these difficulties should be kept in perspective. Back in 1949 when PMA was founded, if anyone had the temerity to suggest PMA would one day have a convention that would fill a convention center and attract 16,000 people; that person would have been dragged away to the funny farm.

Now we have the luxury to dispute whether the ratio is quite right between buyers and exhibitors. For the industry this is an achievement that boggles the mind.

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