The Prisoner’s Dilemma of Textile Trade Shows

Techtextil North America wrapped up last week in Atlanta, GA.  It was the largest textile show I’ve ever been to in the US.  Technical textiles are a big industry; some $126 Bn in 2011 sales according to IFAI. The industry is large and participants are always searching for new markets, applications and technologies to improve their business’s performance.  Demand for new information and education is strong.

Setting up for Techtextil 2012 in Atlanta, GA.

Unfortunately the supply of new information and education opportunities; in the form of trade shows is equally strong.  Too strong.  There are many, many trade shows.  Far too many for any one group to possibly attend them all, and unfortunately, this problem causes a downward spiral.  The quality of the shows suffer, as the industry doesn’t have enough new material to supply them all with new and unique data.  This leads some shows to put forward sub-par information, further degrading the quality of what they are putting forward.  However, since the shows are individually unsatisfying, it forces those in the industry to continue to go to new shows trying to interpret what they are hearing.

In the area where I spend the most of my time; nonwovens and filtration, in the US alone we have INDA (disclaimer that I am on INDA’s Board of Directors), TAPPI and AFS.  That is before we get to more equipment focused organizations or groups like NAMS which focus on membranes – and there isn’t enough space here to cover all of the outstanding university programs with their own proliferation of education opportunities.  Each of these individual groups has multiple sub-groups, and from these sub-groups spring trade shows and conferences galore.  I realize these groups have their own areas of focus; INDA on industry and trade issues; TAPPI with its focus on individual professional development and AFS and NAMS with their focus on the technical challenges and advances in filtration and separation.

Trade shows and conferences are how these groups make money; which is where we get to the Prisoner’s Dilemma problem.  The industry should have fewer shows and conferences.  These groups need to consolidate.  This proliferation of events, while good for the individual organizations, hurts the industry and makes the cost of staying in front of technical issues too high for individual firms.  (Perhaps this makes this exploitation of the industry a Tragedy of the Commons.)

Individually, each of these shows and conferences make sense.  Collectively they are impossible to navigate from a tech scouting, selling, strategy, or marketing standpoint.

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