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Catalog Show Reflects Continued Downsizing of Dot-Coms

The 19th Annual Catalog Conference & Exhibition that gets under way today in Chicago will reflect the downsizing trend that has affected the event in recent years.

This year's event, which will be at McCormick Place, will include 205 companies in 390 booth spaces. Last year's event featured 263 companies exhibiting in 492 booths.

“Companies are still looking carefully at where they are going,” said Amy Blankenship, director of the Direct Marketing Association's Shop-At-Home Information Center. “But if a company is in the catalog industry, this is the place they need to be.”

By and large the companies that are not exhibiting this year are the ones that are no longer in business.

“That includes for the most part the dot-coms that have been a big part of the conference in recent years,” Blankenship said. “Other companies have had budget cuts, and a few printers and paper companies are not exhibiting this year.”

Conference organizers put last year's attendance at 4,165 – 2,881 registrants and 1,284 exhibitors – though the show is not audited by a third party to verify attendance. Two years ago, the show drew more than 5,000. Also, this year's event won't suffer the criticism last year's event experienced as the exhibition floor at Boston's Hynes Convention Center was split onto two levels.

Lilliane LeBel, director of marketing services at Millard Group Inc., Peterborough, NH, will be attending the conference for the fifth time.

“The facility is good,” she said. “The only drawback is that [McCormick Place] is away from the center of town, [but it] is on one level. We're hoping for this show to pick up in the sense that the rest of the economy is picking up.”

For LeBel, success in Chicago will depend on the quality of leads generated.

“We're always pretty upbeat in going to shows, and this is an important event for us and the industry,” LeBel said.

Keynote speakers include Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos (Tuesday) and Cynthia Fields, former president/CEO of Victoria's Secret Catalogue (Wednesday). Fields also will attend a concurrent session on merchandising after her keynote. Donn Rappaport, president of American List Counsel, will moderate today's keynote panel discussion and luncheon.

Blankenship said many attendees will be interested in hearing Bezos' story.

“This is a company that has made the Internet work as a channel, and that is something catalogers are looking at very closely,” she said. “We thought it would be important to hear from someone who has built a brand online. They are becoming more multi-channel, just as the catalog industry is.”

Blankenship said there will be more catalogers speaking on the panels than in the past and, therefore, fewer suppliers.

“It's based on feedback from participants,” she said. “We don't want our conferences to be sales pitches. We want them to be educational.”

Alan Rimm-Kaufman, vice president of marketing at Crutchfield Corp., Charlottesville, VA, is going to the event for the second time.

“The general attendance is not as important as setting up the right meetings with the right people,” he said. “I think it will be a focused show and not a huge show.”

Rimm-Kaufman also will be at the conference to relaunch Crutchfield's list files, which moved to Mokrynski & Associates on June 3.

“We are repositioning our lists,” he said. “We will be having meetings regarding list management as well as meetings on the brokerage and business development side.”

Karen Goldfarb, vice president of new business development at MKTG Services Inc., New York, said she likes a smaller, more targeted show.

“Every year we've had great success with our leads. We make it a point to target where the opportunities are,” she said. “I already have my appointments booked with no hours in the day left. I'd rather have 1,000 people interested in talking to me than 20,000 who are just roaming around.”

Next year's catalog conference will be June 1-3 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

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