CMP Series

Co-Location Picks Up Speed

Four case studies about co-locating two or more shows.

Houses and kitchens. Dairy and food processing. Sport fishing and fly fishing. Optics and lasers. Take a look at just about any industry or profession, and you’ll likely find some form of co-location activity, as groups search for ways to grow, rejuvenate, or rebuild their meetings, conventions, and events, often in marketplaces that still haven’t recovered fully from the recession.

“There’s always a surge in co-locations in an uncertain economy, especially in vertical, narrowly focused business niches,” said Francis J. Friedman, veteran industry analyst and president of Time & Place Strategies, a business-consulting firm in New York City. “The economy is a big reason for the uptick in the co-location strategy, but there are other factors driving co-location, including structural changes in some industries and an oversupply of events in some markets.”

According to Friedman, co-locations are rarely permanent. “The benefits to both organizations fall out of balance eventually,” he said, “or the organizational politics get too difficult.” And any co-location that isn’t built around mutual attendee benefit will fail. “We are all in the attendee-building business,” Friedman said. “Our job is to deliver qualified attendees, and that’s the only way that works over the long term to grow an event, whether it’s co-located or not.”

Here are four case studies of associations that recently chose to co-locate their meetings, with an emphasis on their motivations, tactics, and lessons learned.



The economic crash of 2008 devastated the home-building industry, causing massive job losses as residential construction plummeted 75 percent. Although the market has gradually regained strength, with full recovery projected by next year, the industry has changed, becoming much more focused on building resiliency by joining forces.

One example: Design & Construction Week, the first co-location of the International Builders Show, presented by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), and the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show, presented by the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA). Held at the Las Vegas Convention Center this past Feb. 4-6, the mega-event encompassed 650,000 square feet of exhibit space and drew 75,000 builders, remodelers, and suppliers. “During the housing boom, no one needed to think about partnerships, but all of that changed when the economic asteroid hit and we had to rebuild,” said Mark Pursell, NAHB’s senior vice president of exposition marketing and sales. “With Design & Construction Week, our associations have created an umbrella platform for residential construction, stepping beyond our separate niches.”

What made the co-location work was an overlap of interest for the two shows: Kitchen and bath products and design are integral parts of home building. “On the other hand, there wasn’t a big overlap of audiences or exhibitors, so we knew that we would not be cannibalizing each other’s events,” Pursell said. “It’s a value proposition that works for both organizations, which is fundamental to any successful co-location.”

It’s a value proposition that works for both organizations, which is fundamental to any successful co-location.

Design & Construction Week attendees each were issued a single badge that allowed them to enter separate but connected exposition halls for the co-located shows. Integrated signage and floor designs created a smooth visual experience, and a downloadable show-planner app presented floor plans for both events. “You’ve got to give people the planning tools to navigate something this big,” Pursell said. “It’s like going to the Smithsonian, where you have to figure out ahead of time how you are going to spend your time.”

The two organizations had their own separate educational sessions, governance and business meetings, and special events, and finding enough space to accommodate both groups was one of the biggest operational challenges. NAHB had more than 400 programs, while NKBA had about half that number. Meeting space at nearby hotels helped solve the problem. “Both organizations put a lot of good thinking into the framework of how to get the co-location done,” Pursell said. “It’s essential to build this kind of guide/planning tool together, working out contingencies and the nitty-gritty details ahead of time.”

NAHB and NKBA have signed a contract for annual co-locations through 2016. And next year’s Design & Construction Week will connect with another new industry co-location, The International Surface Event, which will bring together three shows involving flooring, stone, and tile professionals, and is expected to draw 25,000 attendees to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center. Shuttle buses will run between Mandalay Bay and the Las Vegas Convention Center, creating yet another level of synergy for the residential-construction industry.


dairy_showFor many years, the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) partnered with the American Meat Institute to produce the World Wide Food Expo, a biennial event in Chicago drawing some 20,000 registrants. Then IDFAleadership decided that the dairy industry needed its own show, and launched a stand-alone event in 2010. But attendance at that show never topped 4,000.

“The quality of attendance was great, but not the quantity,” said Robin E. Cornelison, CEM, IDFA’s trade-show director. This past Nov. 3-6, the association returned to the biennial co-location format, pairing its Dairy Show with PROCESS EXPO, a much larger, horizontal show, with dairy being one of its five industry sectors, produced by the Food Processing Suppliers Association (FPSA). The co-located programs occupied 315,000 net square feet at Chicago’s McCormick Place and drew a combined registration of 19,000. Both IDFA and FPSA declared the partnership a success and announced plans to co-locate again in 2015.

“The co-location has enhanced and expanded the Dairy Show without sacrificing the dairy focus that is so important to all of our stakeholders,” said Connie Tipton, IDFA’s president and CEO. “We saw our buyer attendance jump 50 percent, and our exhibit space increase 20 percent.” FPSA also reported “exceptional growth in exhibit sales and registered attendance.”

Each organization used its own housing and registration company — not by design, but because each had contracts in place with vendors before deciding on the co-location. And because software used by each registration company wasn’t compatible with the other organization’s floor-management program, one unintended consequence was that attendees had to download separate apps for each expo. As the two associations focus on next year’s co-location, Cornelison said, “we will work out back-of the-house headaches like these to create the smoothest possible experience for attendees.”

One tough decision for IDFA: To avoid any potential problems with one group of attendees paying more than another, IDFA decided to match the registration fee for the Dairy Show with PRO -CESS EXPO’S fee – a $200 reduction, from $225 to $25 per attendee. But the revenue that IDFA lost on registrations was balanced against the financial advantages of being able to bring a larger audience to more exhibitors than in the past, Cornelison said.

At the next co-location, IDFA’s registration fees will be tiered, with attendees paying more to attend in-depth, off-the-show-floor educational sessions that the association is adding to its programming. “You really have to be very realistic and specific about what your financial goals are in co-locating,” Cornelison said. “It’s not always a cut-and-dried calculation, and you have to keep the bigger picture in mind, the larger goals of the association.”


After a trip to Montana to fly-fish together, executives at the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) and the American Fly Fishing Trade Association (AFFTA) decided to co-locate their annual events. “Well, it wasn’t as simple as that,” Kenneth G. Andres, ASA’s trade-show director, said with a laugh. But the trip does illustrate the bond between the leadership of the associations, “and establishing trust with your partner is a crucial foundation for co-locations,” Andres said. “Our two groups have a great combination of trust and synergy, where co-locating expands opportunities for both while strengthening the fishing industry as a whole.”

The associations held their first co-location — ASA’s International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades (ICAST) and AFFTA’s International Fly Tackle Dealer Show (IFTD) – at the Las Vegas Convention Center on July 10-12, 2013. Combined registration, including exhibitors, was about 9,000, with AFFTA accounting for about 12 percent. “We saw growth in our numbers, and so did AFFTA,” Andres said. “And we rejuvenated interest and relevancy for the fishing industry.” The alliance will continue this year with a co-located event at Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center, where the total size of the two shows is expected to grow from 130,000 net square feet to 145,000 net square feet.


To maintain a strong fly-fishing component, AFFTA will continue to have its own show hall, although all show materials and design again will be blended to create a unified look and experience. There will be one registration fee and one registration area for attendees, as was the case in Las Vegas last year. Having separate fees and registration areas for co-locations can lead to problems, Andres said, including attendees “gaming” the system and registering at the least expensive rate.

Education is strategic to building attendance for both ASA and AFFTA, Andres said, and among the new sessions this year will be tutorials that give retailers, many of whom sell only conventional fishing gear, an understanding of fly fishing and its equipment, with the goal of expanding the market for fly fishing, a more esoteric niche of the fishing industry. “Trade shows, the good ones, provide cost-effective solutions, and the same is true of good co-locations,” Andres said. “We’re providing a place where attendees can see all industry products in one place. That’s a win-win for everybody.”


When the U.S. federal government announced new restrictions on conference travel by government employees/agencies in 2012, the effects were felt by many technical, scientific, and professional associations. One of them is SPIE, an international society for optics and photonics, with a membership that includes professionals in academia and business as well as government.

Even before the new travel restrictions were imposed, SPIE had moved its Defense, Security + Sensing (DSS) 2012 conference from Orlando to Baltimore to make the show more affordable and cost-effective for the many government agencies in the Washington, D.C., area, according to Andrew Brown, SPIE’s senior director of global business development. In a further effort, SPIE invited the Directed Energy Professional Society (DEPS) to co-locate its annual Advanced High-Power Lasers (AHPL) meeting with DSS 2014 at the Baltimore Convention Center on May 5-9.

DEPS focuses on high-energy technologies such as lasers for national defense and security applications — a subset of areas covered by SPIE DSS. The two groups hope that a multi-focused conference experience will bring more participation from government agencies while also exposing their individual constituencies to a broader audience. “It’s a good fit and opportunity for both organizations,” said Mark W. Neice, DEPS’s executive director.

The collegial relationship between our two associations really helped make this co-location come together smoothly.

Still, Neice said, it’s important for DEPS to maintain its brand identity at the co-location, so there will be a separate area of the expo hall for its exhibitors, as well as separate receptions for the two groups. DEPS’s programs will be open only to a restricted group of attendees with appropriate security clearance, compared to SPIE’s more open participation. Color-coded badges will be required to attend those DEPS sessions. “The collegial relationship between our two associations really helped make this co-location come together smoothly,” Neice said.

As to whether the co-location will continue, a lot depends on whether restrictions on conference travel for government agencies persist. “These restrictions are clearly creating a negative effect on the professional development of the government’s technical and scientific workforce,” Neice said. “Co-location can help, but we need a bigger fix.”

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Regina McGee

Convene Contributing Editor Regina McGee is a writer and editor based in Massachusetts.