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Comdex outgrows industry

Like a multiplying amoeba, Comdex is exceeding the trade show industry's growth rate by significant margins.

Like a multiplying amoeba, Softbank's fall Comdex show is exceeding the trade show industry's growth rate by significant margins.

Comdex attendance is expected to grow 4.3 percent over last year, while the number of exhibitors--the main vein for revenues--is anticipated to rise 6.5 percent, said Bill Sell, show director of Comdex Fall and Spring. The fall show in Las Vegas, Nevada, wraps up today.

That's significantly higher than growth in the overall computer trade show industry, which expects to see attendance rise more than 4 percent but exhibitors to grow by just 2 percent, according to Darlene Gudea, publisher and editor of Tradeshow Week, a Los Angeles-based industry publication.

Still, those numbers far outpace those of 1995. Last year, attendance growth grew at an anemic 0.6 percent over the previous year, which had a stellar rise of 10.4 percent. And growth in exhibitors grew 1 percent in 1995, compared with 5.3 percent of a year earlier.

"I think there will be a slight comeback this year because of new technology. Internet and intranet shows and computer graphics and personal communication shows are growing dramatically," Gudea said. The number of computer trade shows is expected to grow 3.2 percent to 284 in 1997, she added.

Comdex, acquired by Softbank in April of last year for $864 million and operated as a subsidiary, has seen tremendous growth since its 1978 inception. "It's the fastest-growing trade show in the history of the industry," Gudea said.

Indeed. Comdex, which started nearly two decades ago with 25,000 net square feet of floor space and 7,000 attendees, this year is expected to take up 1.4 million net square feet of space and bring in 215,000 attendees.

Then there's the rest of the world. Softbank has grown Comdex from seven shows in four countries to now 38 shows in 14 countries. South Africa and Germany will get pinned on the Comdex map next year as part of the company's plans to add 15 new shows to their roster through 1998.

Softbank, which operates more than a dozen subsidiaries, counts Comdex among its top three in revenue generators.

The fall Comdex is expected to see its profits rise five percent to ten percent over last year, Sell said. Exhibitor revenue accounts for 60 percent to 65 percent of Comdex's overall intake, while funds generated from advertisements and marketing account for the remainder.

"Our parent company has a hands-off approach with us," Sell said. "That seems to be an indication that they're happy with the way we're doing things."