International Builders' Show Creates Groupon-Style Promotion to Drive Traffic to Exhibitors

By Mitra Sorrells January 17, 2011, 2:33 PM EST

Photo: Benjamin Michel for BizBash

NAHB International Builders' Show
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It's the primary purpose of nearly all trade shows: connecting exhibitors with buyers. The International Builders’ Show, which took place Wednesday to Saturday at the Orange County Convention Center, tried a new tactic to meet that goal—a series of Groupon-esque promotions offered online beginning in December. The National Association of Home Builders, which has been producing the show since 1944, developed the idea to provide value to both attendees and exhibitors in an industry that has been pummeled by the economic crisis.

“We thought, ‘What can we do to engage our attendees and then to drive traffic to the booths?’” said the association’s senior vice president of exhibition marketing and sales, Mark Pursell. For the promotion, known as Power Deals, the association solicited offers from its 950 exhibitors. Organizers chose 10 to send out to registered and potential attendees beginning in December. Every few days, an offer would go out via email, but each one was only available for 24 hours. To take advantage of it, interested buyers had to register for the show, submit contact information online, and then print a voucher to redeem at the exhibitor’s booth on the trade show floor.

“Anything you can do to make someone find your booth is a good thing,” said Rick Kapres, director of sales for Versatex, which offered a deal of 50 percent off a new product. The association will also provide the 10 participating exhibitors with the names and contact information of everyone who responded to the deals, whether they came to the booth to claim the offer or not.

“So the good news for the [participating] exhibitors is, they’ve already locked in some very good leads before they ever got to the show,” said Pursell. “And we used it to promote registration for the show, because the only way you could take advantage of the deals was if you were registered.”

Even with the Power Deals promotions, attendance at this year’s show was down about 10,000 from last year's show in Las Vegas, with a preliminary estimate of 45,000 attendees. When the show was in Orlando from 2005 to 2008, attendance averaged more than 101,000. The dramatic decrease in recent years is a reflection of what has happened to the housing industry nationwide. According to Pursell, there were two million housing starts in 2007 and just 590,000 in 2010.

Despite the decline, the International Builders’ Show is still quite large, filling nearly 500,000 square feet of the convention center. To make it more user-friendly for attendees, organizers created four targeted areas in the categories of 50-plus housing, multifamily housing, custom building, and remodeling. Known as “Centrals,” these areas served as a home base for attendees interested in one of these four topics, and they included dedicated meeting space for targeted education and networking. Pursell said these areas are also a hit with sponsors who want to reach buyers in these specific industries.

The first night of the show, Masco Corporation sponsored a “tweet-up” for attendees who follow the show at About 100 people attended the gathering at Taverna Opa in Pointe Orlando. Pursell said they are continually looking for new ways to use social media and to engage the younger members of the association.

In addition to the trade show, the schedule also included more than 200 education sessions.

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