Walking the aisles of last month’s ASHRAE Show in Dallas, I heard comments from a number of people who were disappointed that most of the major equipment manufacturers weren’t exhibitors this year.

The proliferation of trade shows has a negative effect on the industry.

Even though this was an “off-year” show, I must admit to being a little disappointed myself until I remembered that we have been urging manufacturers for some time to stay away from trade shows if they are so concerned about the high cost of attending so many of them. The proliferation of trade shows has a negative effect on the industry because it ultimately drives up the cost of moving product from manufacturer to distributor to contractor.

Adopting an off-year/on-year schedule, as the ASHRAE Show has done, is a step in the right direction. The North American Expo organizers, including the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors, have taken a similar approach with NEX.

But even this format has its drawbacks. Minus the big equipment guys, the off-year ASHRAE Shows start to look a lot like the on-year events. The organizers of last month’s show claim it was the fifth largest of any ASHRAE Show ever.

And even when they don’t exhibit, manufacturers usually send people to off-year shows to see what everybody else is doing or to meet with customers. Some manufacturers contend that the price of a booth is not nearly the largest expense of attending a trade show. The bills for plane tickets, hotel rooms, meals, bar tabs and hospitality suites all add up.

The gold standard of plumbing and heating trade shows, Germany’s ISH, takes the off-year/on-year concept one step better by not having an off-year event at all. The Germans make the off-year a true off-year. In so doing, they raise the prestige of their event and build anticipation for the next one.

Another way to reduce the number of trade shows is to consolidate some of them. In this context, consolidation makes sense. The NEX organizers have been trying to combine their event with the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show for a few years now, but the merger appears to be a long way off.

We believe that the most effective way to bring these events together is for manufacturers to stay home. Only then will show sponsors get serious about merging their events.

At least one major plumbing manufacturer has announced that it is taking a pass on next month’s K/BIS in Chicago because it wants to make a “bold statement” to the industry.

More manufacturers will have to take bold actions to reduce the number of redundant and wasteful trade shows.