National Defense Industrial Association - Increasing Show Floor Revenues

Background
The National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) in Arlington, VA is America's leading defense industry association promoting national security. Its members include more than 1,100 corporations and 36,000 individuals from academia, government, the military services, small businesses, prime contractors, and the international community. NDIA sponsors more than 140 technical and policy symposia and convention programs each year. Approximately 80 events include exhibits or tradeshows, which range in scope from small tabletop affairs to the largest defense industry exposition in the United States and Canada (the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference, or I/ITSEC). The I/ITSEC tradeshow averages between 400-500 exhibitors filling a show floor of nearly 140,000 square feet.f

Automating administrative functions is central to NDIA's long-term plan for organizational growth and increased profitability. Registrations went online in 1998, however exhibit sales remained a labor-intense process that typically involved multiple faxes and phone calls. Floor plans were updated manually, and the details of every sale had to be double-checked. Miscommunication and errors on a few occasions resulted in double bookings.

It was also a slow process. Exhibitors often waited weeks or months in order to see who else had purchased space before they made a final decision, so the total sales period for a large show could run six months or more. Once an exhibitor was ready to make a booth selection, completing a sale could take up to five days of back-and-forth phone calls, faxes, etc. The cash flow reflected both the pace of the sales decision and the slow manual process of confirming and collecting payment for each sale.

Challenge
NDIA needed an e-commerce solution that would allow exhibitors to purchase booths quickly, with little or no staff interaction. Because it would be used for both small "mom-and-pop" shows as well as major trade events, it would have to be extremely simple to use but capable of processing a large number of transactions instantly and accurately — with no possibility of duplicate booth sales. In order to monitor and manage sales on the back-end, NDIA staff would need continual access to up-to-date sales information and reports. The system would have to integrate with NDIA's current association management and event management systems.

Solution
A complete, customizable online exposition package, a2zShow includes everything NDIA needs to market and manage events: real-time floor plan and booth sales management, conference and speaker management, complete financials, personalized attendee and exhibitor tools, integration with in-house accounting, CRM and CAD systems, and more. It is built on the same operating platform (.NET) as NDIA's existing systems, which facilitated integration.

NDIA began slowly, trying out the exhibit sales and management segments of the software on two smaller show in late 2004. Vendors simply logged in to the site, viewed a floor plan that showed all current exhibitors and available space, selected a booth, and paid via credit card. The entire process took as little as five minutes, and the floor plan was updated instantly as soon as the sale was completed. Automated confirmations and the ability to have exhibitors manage their own information through the a2zShow interface ensured that virtually no staff interaction was needed to complete the sale or input data for brochures, show programs, etc.

Some additional marketing was required initially to make sure that potential exhibitors knew about the online option, but sales went smoothly, and staff was able to monitor the process quickly using a2zShow's instant management reports. Based on the success of the test events, NDIA put its largest show, I/ITSEC, online in May 2005 and sold more than $2 million in exhibit space within the first two days — error free. The only "complaint" noted was that sales were happening so fast that exhibitors who procrastinated were unable to get the booths they wanted.

NDIA plans to have all of its tradeshows and exhibits migrated to online sales by December 2005.

Results

  • 400% increase in net sales (for I/ITSEC) within the first 48 hours online.
  • Dramatic increase in cash flow — 50% of booths sold online resulting in an earlier collection process for deposits and more interest accrued.
  • Approximately 80% reduction in per-transaction time (from 30 minutes to 5), with per transaction costs reduced accordingly.
  • Reduced booth sales errors — due to real-time updates of the online floor plan, and system architecture that prevents duplicate booth sales.
  • Increased sales — staff now has time to focus on exhibitor base expansion for current and future shows.
  • Increased productivity — one exhibit manager now oversees nearly double the number of shows and still has time for additional sales and promotion.
  • Nearly 50% reduction in accounts receivables collections.
  • Reduced paper files — no need to keep physical contracts on hand due to use of electronic signatures.
  • Better, faster information — management reports that used to take hours to run are now available in minutes.
  • Increased accuracy of information — exhibitors input their own data, so information is more reliable, and no staff time is required for manual entry or proofing.

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