How's the Catalog Show? Opinions Vary

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CHICAGO -- Randi Weisenthal didn't mince words when asked about the Annual Catalog Conference and Exposition that concludes today.


"The traffic at the booth is the worst I've ever seen," said Weisenthal, a vice president at Walter Karl, Pearl River, NY. "A few list management and list brokerage companies have stopped exhibiting in the last few years and it hasn't hurt business. They've asked clients if it's OK, and the response has been, 'Yeah, it's OK.' "


Weisenthal suggested adding new cities to the Catalog Conference mix, perhaps San Diego or Las Vegas. She also criticized the location of McCormick Place, site of this year's show, which is outside Chicago's downtown Loop area.


"The cab lines were ridiculous [when going] out to dinner," she said.


Still, Walter Karl senior vice president/list management Fran Golub said the company will exhibit next year when the Catalog Conference and DM Days New York take place the same week on opposite coasts.


"We're going to still have a suite for meetings," she said. "We'll have a scaled-down presence with our sister company, Catalog Vision. It will be a major cost savings."


The number of companies exhibiting this year was 211, with 385 booths occupied, compared with 263 companies and 498 booths last year.


"We don't release numbers," Direct Marketing Association spokeswoman Amy Blankenship said when asked about the event's overall attendance.


Jill Endres, a sales executive with Call_Solutions, Waukesha, WI, is attending her sixth Catalog Conference.


"On a scale of 1 to 10, it's a 4," she said. "There's no traffic. Traffic is half as much as catalog shows I've been to. We do have some qualifying leads, but there's not enough of them. I have an inch worth of cards. I should have at least three inches. On Tuesday, the show should have closed at 5 p.m. [instead of 6:30 p.m.]. At 6 and 6:30, it was a God-damn ghost town out of Wyoming!


"It is not the economy," she said. "I've heard a lot of attendees were burned last year."


Not everyone was displeased.


Charles W. Smith Jr., director of business development at AmeriTel, Montgomery, AL, praised the layout of the hall and said he obtained "very good, quality leads." However, he conservatively estimated that floor traffic was down 30 percent from last year. He said his company would attend next year.


"Businesses that normally would send people are cutting back on things such as trade shows and marketing in general," he said. "A lot of the catalog companies are maybe cutting back internally due to the slow economy. When the economy improves, the show will definitely be a great show to attend.


"If you're serious about catalog outsourcing, you need to be here."


James F. Treis, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Arandell Corp., Menomonee Falls, WI, described the event as "pretty good. You need to be ready to pounce when the market does come back. We're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel."


Tom Mack, sales manager at Adrea Rubin Management Inc., New York, said more mailers were walking the floor compared with last year.


"They are looking for new ideas and are not satisfied with the status quo regarding the list recommendations they are getting from their brokers and the business they are doing on their list management revenue," he said. "It appears that a decent number of start-ups are walking around, which is nice news for us. Some are forging ahead despite the economy.


"The show has met lowered expectations. Traffic has been dwindling at most of the major shows in recent years. We get enough contacts to make it worth coming here."


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