For those of us who work in high-tech, Comdex (also known as “Geek Week”) was the largest trade show in the industry. It was arguably the largest trade show in the world at its peak. The name stood for “Computer Dealer Exhibition” and it was held in Las Vegas from 1979 to 2003. Originally, it was a very focused show that catered to computer manufacturers, dealers, resellers and consultants. It was the main place to launch products, announce business deals, meet with partners, press, analysts and most importantly – throw parties. Even though it was tagged “Geek Week”, the parties were legendary. Large companies spared no expense in entertaining their customers and partners.
Why was it so successful? Marketing 101 – there was a need. Companies needed a platform to promote their new products to the press and analysts. They needed a way to meet with 20 or 30 partners in one week rather than making 20 or 30 business trips. They needed a way to show their products to prospects – at its peak Comdex had over 250,000 attendees. Companies needed a place to celebrate – Comdex was it.
So, why did it falter and fail? There are many theories about the fall of Comdex. Some point to a dilution of focus. I have to admit, being a Comdex veteran, I realized they lost their focus when Mercedes had a 50’ x 50’ booth. Why would a luxury automaker have a reason to be at a Computer Dealer Exhibition? This was clearly a tipping point for the show. Some people believe it was the greed of the show. It became exceptionally expensive to attend Comdex. The powers of supply and demand came into effect and the show management felt they could charge a premium. Other smaller, more focused shows became more cost-effective and returned higher return-on-investment for the vendors. Others feel it was Las Vegas itself who made it difficult to continue the show. The fact was, 250,000 people were filling the hotel rooms, but they were not gambling. Las Vegas makes money when people gamble, and Geek Week proved to be a slow week in Vegas.
In my opinion, I point to the fact that the market need went away. Launching products at Comdex became ineffective because everyone in the industry was issuing press releases the same week. Companies started avoiding press/analyst meetings during Comdex because of the noise level. The ability to meet partners became ineffective because by the end of the week, you couldn’t remember who you met with. Finally, the Internet eliminated the need to show your products to prospects. The fall of Comdex and the decline of trade shows in general correlates directly with the increase of company websites. During its peak, it was one of the few ways for prospects to gather data about a company and it’s products/services. Today, you get the same effect by visiting a website.
Trade shows and conferences are struggling across the board because the need to meet face-to-face is becoming less of an issue. Websites, webcasts, video conferencing and other virtual tools are meeting this requirement. Comdex is now a distant memory and many other trade shows are disappearing as well. What is your opinion? Is there a place for trade shows, or have they become obsolete? Did you attend Comdex? Please share your favorite Comdex story.
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