The Problem with LIGHTFAIR is….

May 30, 2019 [addtoany]

The very respectable Electrical Wholesaling published an article entitled Five Trends Spotted at LIGHTFAIR 2019. The 5th trend was that “Philadelphia has become a popular venue for lighting and electrical industry events.”  The writer, Jim Lucy, concluded, “…my congratulations go out to the folks at Lightfair. They definitely put on another good show.”

As we celebrate 30 years of LIGHTFAIR, I am not so sure.

We heard many problems and concerns. There were two exceptions. Employees at former conglomerate who was recently sold, told us they scanned more badges on the first day than all of last year. On Wednesday of the show, their employees were clearly pleased, but scanning of badges may not be the best metric. A second big box exhibitor said they had a great show. Every other large company we spoke with complained loudly of problems. After the show, a long time exhibitor ran me down on the street to tell me how terrible the event was, specifically with attendance and the quality of the attendees.

The problem with LIGHTFAIR is . . . the location.   One NYC rep told me he reached out to every lighting designer that he calls on and not one was attending LIGHTFAIR.  He explained, “Why would they come, they just went to LEDucation a few months ago.”

LFI Las Vegas 2020 update: GE/Current 20 x 20 booth

The problem with LIGHTFAIR is. . . the Chinese vendors showing what appear to be identical products, or almost identical products. They used to be segregated to a corner of the show and now they are dispersed throughout the exhibit hall. Three or four companies go in together and split the cost of a booth, so now they appear large and successful. You don’t see a lot of off-shore exhibitors at LEDucation.

LFI Las Vegas 2020 update: Philips/Signify 20 x 20 booth

The problem with LIGHTFAIR is. . . some companies get suites and encourage attendees to leave the showroom floor. They get the benefit of LIGHTFAIR by paying a fraction of the cost.  More and more reputable companies employ this model.

LFI Las Vegas 2020 update: OSRAM 10 x 10 booth

The problem with LIGHTFAIR is. . .the exorbitant cost. Big booths are in the $350,000 to $500,000 range and a small 10 x 20 booth will run $25,000 to $30,000. There aren’t enough new products to justify these costs and LFI is a huge distraction from the day-to-day business.  LEDucation is extremely cost-effective with  most companies spending $3500 to $5000.

LFI Las Vegas 2020 update: Nichia 10 x 10 booth

The problem with LIGHTFAR is. . . show management. The show management company, AMC, was sold last year and the long-time show director, Rochelle Richardson, left.

LFI Las Vegas 2020 update: Eaton 10 x 10 booth

The problem with LIGHTFAIR is. . . the union. We heard many stories that union labor was horrendous not allowing exhibitor staff to do even mild tasks.  One large exhibitor cited the absurdity in that they simply sat a driver on a union-made shelf—no wiring and no mounting—the employee just placed it on the shelf. The union guy made them remove the driver and he then slowly placed it back on the shelf. Two long-time exhibitors said it was the worst labor situation they have ever experienced at any LIGHTFAIR ever.   We spoke to Freeman who assured us there were no labor issues and everyone was happy. The Freeman guy explained that ever since the carpenters union was kicked out of the convention center a few years earlier, the union problems were solved. LIGHTFAIR has signed a contract with Philadelphia through 2028 and maybe the union sees little reason to cooperate.

The location, the off-shore exhibitors, the suites, the exorbitant costs, and union labor are all legitimate concerns. The show management is not, because nothing has changed; there were no structural differences in the show. Good people come and go in any business, and the new director, Dan Darby, seems very capable.

Maybe the problem with LIGHTFAIR isn’t with LIGHTFAIR, maybe it is with us.

What if this is this is the new normal? Perhaps our industry is no longer profitable enough to support a world-class show every year?   I submit that LIGHTFAIR did their part but our industry is no longer impressed.   With so many marketing tools available at little or no cost, the giant trade shows are less critical to manufacturers. Ditto the lighting designers and the reps. While it is easy to point the finger at our hosts,  we should work closer and solve some of the problems facing our industry.

Maybe Jim Lucy was right.