Brian T. Majeski
Editor, Music Trades
NAMM has shifted the dates of its Anaheim trade show to June 3-5, 2022 from the long running January time slot, bowing to COVID realities. With international travel still in doubt and the Delta variant in the ascendency, prudence dictated postponing the event for another six months and combining it with the Nashville Summer Show. The hope is that by next June, the pandemic will have subsided, life will have become more “normal,” and the music industry will convene again after nearly two years of isolation.
A NAMM show next June could serve a unique and valuable service by providing some clarity in a market that has been clouded by an unexpected surge in demand for home use products as well as disruptions in the supply chain. However, a NAMM show on the scale of events in the recent past is unlikely.
In just about every industry, trade shows have been under pressure long before COVID, as exhibitors ask, “are they the best use of finite marketing dollars?” These questions have taken on a special urgency in the music products industry where trade show expenditures have long represented an outsized share of total marketing budgets. The NAMM show has seemed impervious to cost concerns, given that pre-COVID, they expanded every year. However, lesser shows have not been so fortunate. The past decade has seen the cancellation of music shows in Canada, Australia, Brazil, France, the U.K., and Italy as well as a dramatically downsized Frankfurt Musik Messe.
The global consolidation of the retail distribution network has placed additional pressure on trade shows. In the US, four retailers now account for half the business, and the situation is similar in the European Union, Canada, and most other developed markets. It was one thing to pony up for a trade show blow out when you were trying to get the attention of thousands of retailers. However, is the same level of expenditure necessary to reach a handful of key accounts?
For retailers, a trade show is still the most efficient way to see new products, forge relationships, and gauge the marketplace. Yet, in recent years, the rise of e-commerce has made the events far less collegial. The comradery of the past, with retailers in distant markets happily sharing promotional ideas and marketing strategies has given way to a more guarded stance. No one is willing to offer up their online search or Google keyword strategies now that every retailer is a potential competitor. In spite of these headwinds, there is still much to commend a NAMM show next June.
For much of the past decade, supply and demand for music products were closely aligned. Retailers and suppliers alike kept their inventories lean knowing that orders could be fulfilled on a timely basis and that demand was stable. COVID completely destabilized the market. Demand for guitars, keyboards, recording gear, and other home use products unexpectedly surged, while sales of live sound products and instruments destined for school programs cratered. Simultaneously, factory shut downs, followed by social distancing protocols, and logistical delays hobbled production worldwide. 18 months later, retailers are still scrambling to restock depleted inventories but remain unsure about the durability of the COVID demand surge. On the supply side, manufacturers confront swollen order books but are skeptical about how many of the back orders are actually deliverable. Three days of face-to-face contact in Anaheim may be the single best way to answer these million dollar questions. Zoom meetings, texts, and Instagram posts have their place, but nothing provides clarity like an in-person meeting.
Trade shows serve a few other useful functions. As more than one manufacturer has said, “if it weren’t for the deadline of a tradeshow, no new products would ever be completed.” They also remain the single more effective launching pad for new ventures. A multitude of the industry’s top suppliers trace their success to the trade show buzz their products enjoyed.
Trade shows have ebbed and flowed since NAMM staged its first event in Atlantic City in 1907. That year a gathering of piano retailers invited a handful of piano manufacturers to display their instruments at a beachside resort. NAMM shows were drastically curtailed during the Great Depression in the 1930s, and cancelled altogether during World War II, when the government restricted the production of all civilian products to aid the war effort. For much of the past 114 years, they were exceedingly modest affairs that bore little relation to the million square foot extravaganzas in the Anaheim Convention Center. Instead of multi-story pavilions, performance stages, and expansive product displays, they involved a few products set out on a table in a hotel room, an open bar, and little else.
Over the years, the scale of the show has been determined by the industry suppliers asking the question, “How much benefit do we get from a NAMM show, and how much should we spend?” Much has changed since the first show, but that hard nosed assessment has remained constant and will determine the shape of the show in June. That said, we think that the benefits of better understanding a shifting market, generating some much-needed excitement, and the opportunity to make new and potentially valuable connections warrants an appropriately scaled presence.
We welcome your comments. email Brian Majeski at email@example.com
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