Comdex: Don't blame the weather

Despite mild Chicago winter weather, the tech industry gives the trade show a cold shoulder. After all, the show had to compete with Welders Show2002 across the conference hall.

CHICAGO--Comdex Chicago 2002 was slower than in years past, and this year you can't even blame the weather.

The harsh Chicago winter was reasonably mild this year, but the tech industry seemed to be giving the show the cold shoulder.

The trade-show industry has been experiencing a lull because of the sluggish economy, particularly after the tragedies of Sept. 11. And while the annual Comdex Chicago trade show has never been as big a stage as the fall Comdex show in Las Vegas, the crowd was particularly sparse this year.

Organizers of the show, Key3Media, were expecting attendance to be in the 20,000 to 30,000 range, which is far off the estimated 60,000 people that came to the show last year. A final tally is expected from the company next week.

The media and analysts were also in absentia this year, something that was particularly noticeable at the keynote speeches on the first day.

Keynote speeches tend to be a big draw as company executives usually take the opportunity of being center stage to make big announcements. Show organizers set aside a section close to the stage for the media and analysts. This section is generally packed, but this year on the official first day of the show the media and analyst section was sparsely attended, despite speeches from three tech executives.

About 200 companies did show up, and there was a smattering of big names, such as IBM, Computer Associates and Research In Motion, but most of the show floor was dominated by smaller businesses with diminutive booths that were a stark contrast to the makeshift villages that are usually set up to accommodate the crowds.

This year, Comdex Chicago was not only playing second fiddle to Key3Media's other technology conference, fall Comdex, it was sharing the conference complex with a welding show, Welders Show2002, which was going on at the same time and was in the hall directly across from Comdex Chicago.

Attendance at Welders Show2002 seemed more brisk than Comdex Chicago, but show organizers MAX International would not give out their attendance numbers.

One way to measure a show's effect is through the impressions of cab drivers that spend the day driving attendees to the show. One driver, who was well aware of Welders Show2002, wasn't even aware there was a computer trade show going on at the same time.

In addition to the welding contingent, companies you wouldn't typically expect at a technology show were also here, including Mercedes Benz and the U.S. Postal Service.

"This is our first time at Comdex Chicago, and we've had tremendous success with fall Comdex in terms of generating leads, so we decided to showcase our services here," said Julie Rowland, events program coordinator for the U.S. Postal Service.

Rowland went on to say that while the U.S. Postal Service wasn't announcing any new services, Comdex Chicago provided a good opportunity to meet directly with potential customers.

Mercedes Benz was also at the show attracting potential customers. The automaker brought 16 cars to Comdex Chicago and was allowing attendees to sign up for test drives.

The long line of people for the Mercedes ride was a testament to the popularity of the promotion.

"Comdex has always been a place where buyers and sellers can meet, and what we try to do is improve their relationship," Key3Media spokesman Eric Grodziski said.