Sunday, February 23, 2020

Los Angeles pen show recap

This was going to be a more extensive writeup, but I managed to delete most of what I had written while trying to add photos via my phone. The photos you can see on Instagram. These notes will be short and to the point.

The good news about the LA show is the venue. The old site in Manhattan Beach, for all its benefits and history, was no longer an option. The new location offers plenty of food and shopping options within easy walking distance. Most importantly, there was lots of space in the exhibition ballroom. The table layout allowed for much wider aisles, keeping public-day congestion under control.

The bad news about the LA show is theft. There were two five-figure losses involving entire trays being taken, along with many more single losses. One of the big losses was on Sunday, but the other was on Thursday. The show is clearly being targeted, and it is a virtual certainty that the thieves are working in teams. Modern Montblancs seem to be their target of choice. As far as I know, no pens were taken from closed cases, and the biggest thefts were from tables piled high with inventory and difficult to watch closely.

In any event, this has become a problem that cannot be ignored. It is by no means limited to this particular show or indeed even to shows in the USA, but the recent losses have been so severe that we may finally be at a turning point. Where we go from here will be up to exhibitors and show organizers. Video recording of the exhibition area would be a likely first step. One of my colleagues recently set up at a jewelry show, and the cost to dealers for video monitoring was just $25 per booth. There are plenty of companies that provide such services to trade shows. Show organizers should also contract for rental of locking display cases. I would suggest that cases be made mandatory for exhibitors displaying merchandise over a certain value, or at least heavy pressure be applied for their use. From my own experience, if some dealers have their pens in cases and other have them out in the open, sales will go overwhelmingly to the dealers not using cases. To keep everyone safe while keeping the sales playing field level, it will be vitally important that everyone -- or at least, nearly everyone -- uses display cases in a consistent manner.

Video recording may not be all that effective if the local police force does not pursue property crimes aggressively. Unfortunately, that seems to be the trend in many urban areas in the USA. Some dealers have been wondering about the practicability of using RFID tags as theft detectors. From what I can see this could be a possibility, but would require show attendees leaving the trading area to go through a single exit door equipped with a scanner. Some of the necessary equipment could surely be rented; much would have to be purchased by the individual dealers, though, at a cost of thousands of dollars for off the shelf systems. The other measure to be looked into would be hiring undercover detectives, as opposed to the uniformed security guards used to date. Clearly, the latter haven't had a sufficient deterrent effect. Perhaps we would have better luck with specialists who can spot thieves without the thieves spotting them.

The other bad news about this year's LA show was weekend trader attendance. Saturday was pretty much dead, in terms of both traffic and sales. It's hard to pin down the cause, but surely the show's problems over the past few years have taken their toll. Two years ago the hotel was an active construction site, subjecting guests to closed facilities, concrete dust, noise, and multiple health and safety code violations. The year after, the exhibition space was moved downstairs to a room that was badly laid out and dangerously overcrowded (and thief-ridden). No surprise that former regulars might have decided to stay home after such experiences, waiting to see if the new venue worked out.  The big question now is if they will come back next year -- and that I cannot pretend to foresee.

Finally, there is the question of admissions structure. Once upon a time it made sense to have only two admissions options: a weekend trader pass, or a cheap Sunday-only admission ticket for the general public. When virtually all the trader-to-trader action is done on Thursday and Friday, however, Saturday becomes a wasted day. Why not offer a third option for Saturday admission, priced somewhere between the $65 of the weekend pass and the $8 of the Sunday ticket? Charge $15 or $20, call it "preview day" or "early admission".


Yuan said...

Or, do what SF does and charge a public admission rate that lets people in later in the day on Saturday? These days having the right nib grinders to queue up for will drive people to buy the fill trading passes anyway.

Tom Westerich said...

Thanks dear David, that is a good summary with lots of good ideas to solve the problem.
We will sure not attend any bigger show without some protection.
And an even more reduced inventory on display.
Cut to half the pens on display after loosing a 149 and a 139 in Cologne.
Result? less theft and more sales.
LA in particular - you are right, we did NOT want to come back at all after the show inside a construction site, with NO help at all (not even an interest in our problems) from the organizer. We may be not the only exhibitors having decided to do so.