National Defense Industrial Association successfully automates exhibit sales with a2zShow

The National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA), has fully automated exhibit sales for some 30 tradeshows using the online exhibit management system, a2zShow. After testing the system with smaller events, NDIA brought sales for its flagship event, the 400+ booth Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC), online in March 2005.

"For I/ITSEC it has significantly speeded up booth sales and relieved a lot of the administrative burden," says Bron Prokuski, vice president of business operations. "In the first week, we had $2 million in booth sales for I/TSEC—a timeframe where normally we would have sold only about half a million." Since booth space is paid for by credit card, the process also dramatically improves cash flow and reduces receivables for the organization.

Rather than a multiple phone call/fax process that could take up to five days to complete, a2zShow allows exhibitors to review the floor plan in real time, select a booth, and pay for it in as little as five minutes. "From a business perspective it’s much cleaner," says Thomas Nordby, assistant vice president of business operations. "Nobody needs to contact us to find out if a booth is available," because the floor plan is updated instantly as each booth is sold. "It’s a true, first come, first serve operation."

Asked whether going to an automated system has generated any complaints from exhibitors, Prokuski says: "Only that space is selling too quickly. It’s actually a good marketing tool for us, because it’s helped companies make decisions. You can see immediately how the exhibit floor is filling up. You know who’s coming. If you want to play in the game, you can’t bide your time."

a2zShow is "a very rich and powerful program in terms of the management reports it creates for tracking money, tracking customers, etc." Nordby adds, noting that the tracking capability is usually what attracts associations to the system. Online access also means that staff members have complete access to current information even when they’re on the road.

"It used to take me half a day to generate a weekly sales report," says Catherine Vilga, director of exhibits. "Now I can do it instantly." She also updates online show content quickly and easily using the system’s content management feature. Thanks to a2zShow, Vilga is able to manage and grow a larger number of shows. "Cost efficiency on its own doesn’t mean much without growth," she says.

Many exhibit managers are still fearful of automating the entire sales process, says Nordby. With 80 major conventions and more than 140 different events to manage each year, automation was the only way for NDIA to increase profitability and continue to grow. So they began looking for a scalable system that could complete a high number of transactions instantly and accurately with minimal human intervention.

"We did some research and found that the people at a2z really know the business of exhibit management," he says. "They built the program from the ground up and never lost track of what this business is about."

Dramatically reduced transaction costs, per transaction time cut by as much as 80%, improved cash flow and sales accuracy are just part of the profitable equation resulting from automation with a2zShow, says Prokuski. Now that the exhibit sales staff isn’t bogged down with administrative tasks, they’re already marketing to prospects for this year and next.

"Seventy to eighty-five percent of this association’s revenues come from tradeshows and other events, so this is part of a long-term plan to flesh out our e-commerce capabilities," he says.

"And, given a industry survey about a year ago that showed roughly 80% of all show organizers had already converted to online registration, I would expect many more show organizers will start launching self-serve online booth reservation programs like ours as a better way of doing business as well." Prokuski added, "As a CFO it makes great financial and business process sense, rather than handling it the ‘old way’."