Where Are All The VARs?
The size of industry trade shows has been shrinking. Unfortunately, so have the attendance figures for VARs and integrators.
Industry trade shows have undergone a transformation. Just a few years ago, huge shows seemed to be the norm. However, many of the larger shows have been struggling in recent years, and it looks like COMDEX may be the latest casualty. But over the last few years smaller and more focused trade shows have sprung up. In the storage industry we now have SAN (storage area network) Conference, Storage World Conference (SWC), and Storage Networking World, just to name a few.
Rather than invading giant exhibit halls like McCormick Place (Chicago) or the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center (New York), these smaller shows are being held in more intimate hotel settings. And rather than shouting over the noise level in exhibit halls, attendees can now interact in settings that are more relaxed and conducive to conversation.
A Lack Of VAR Value?
While the major trade shows always seemed to have more vendors and end user attendees than resellers and integrators, it seems the few VARs that did attend these shows are now content to skip them altogether. There are several possible explanations for this. The first is certainly perceived benefits. Everyone knows the job of a reseller is to sell. Time spent roaming the halls at trade shows is time spent away from potential customers. While vendors attract potential clients to their booths at shows, that is certainly not the case for a VAR walking the floor. Bill Bedford of Raidtec (Alpharetta, GA) told me many of his VARs did not attend a recent trade show because it was held in August. August is when many government customers are approaching fiscal year-end and have budgeted dollars to spend. If the decision for a VAR comes down to making sales or attending a show, the show will lose every time.
Another reason may be that alternatives currently exist. Many vendors and distributors now host shows for VARs that target specific geographic regions. These shows get VARs up to speed on new products and technologies, but also move from one region to the next, thereby cutting down on lost selling time due to travel. VAR-exclusive shows like Gartner's by-invitation-only VARVision also do a better job of catering to resellers than the larger shows which have more of an end user focus. And don't forget the Internet. New product and technology information is now just a few keystrokes away. Why spend thousands of dollars flying across the country when you can get the same information in the comfort of your office?
Are The Shows To Blame?
Unfortunately, a lot of the blame lies with the shows themselves. Many shows have simply not catered to the VAR segment of the market. Listening to a vendor explain how a product will make an IT administrator's job easier might be of value to end users, but it is seldom beneficial to VARs. But most importantly, as the storage industry grew, so did interoperability problems. For years, many storage shows simply were a bonding experience for vendors wanting to ensure the interoperability of their products. Now that those problems have been solved, vendors are looking around and discovering the resellers have decided to stay home.
Hopefully this scenario is changing. Vendors have moved beyond interoperability testing and are now focused on pushing interoperable solutions through the channel. Many shows now seem to be offering more content (courses and workshops) geared toward the channel. At Business Solutions, we are doing our part as well. As a media sponsor of SWC, the magazine's editors are working with show producers to develop more channel-friendly content. SWC is scheduled for May 5 to 8, 2003, in Anaheim, CA. In addition, we will be presenting three storage integrator awards at the SWC (be sure to visit www.storageworldconference.com to nominate yourself for one). While vendors and end users will always make up the majority of attendees at these shows, I think everyone will benefit from getting more storage integrators involved as well.