It's an 'Up-selling' World, So Get Creative "With this seller's market [in convention center space], there's been a spate of up-selling," says Douglas L. Ducate, president and CEO of Chicago-based Center for Exhibition Industry Research. "To quote Dave Evans when he was at Westin Hotels: 'The mark of a good salesman isn't what you book, it's what you move.'"

Ducate, whose organization is in the midst of a first-ever census of annual exhibitions held in the U.S. and Canada, has plenty of evidence of up-selling by facilities--the practice of displacing smaller, less profitable events with bigger pieces of business in order to maximize revenue.

The International Association for Exhibition Management's own surveys are finding that, even though new construction and facility expansion projects are in high gear, available space is tops on the list of show organizers' concerns, according to Steven Hacker, president of IAEM. "As we all know, there is a tremendous expansion under way in the U.S.," he says. In 2000, there will be about 56 million square feet of exhibition space in the U.S. By the end of 2004, it will be about 80 million square feet, an increase of nearly 30 percent.

Then why space trouble for small and midsize shows? "Virtually all shows, no matter what size, theoretically face this situation," says Hacker, "and that's one reason why the largest of shows are making multi-year deals. That's one way to secure the space that you need."

That tactic may be out of the realm of practicality for smaller shows, but one important piece of advice Hacker gives to small and midsize show organizers: Know your worth. "We have to remember that the demand for space at most venues comes in different forms, and each carries different priorities," he explains. "It may be that four or five different events are vying for the same space, or portions of it, so it's important that organizers have an accurate view of the value of their events. They have to ask themselves: What is the total economic impact of my event on the destination?"

As the problem grows, show organizers are getting more creative in their solutions. Hacker tells of one IAEM member who unexpectedly lost exhibition space, was able to relocate the event in a vacant supermarket, "and it worked out okay."

Alternative venues, such as armories, high schools, and airport hangars, will be part of the CEIR exhibition census, says Ducate. Before exhibition and trade show organizers dismiss the notion, Hacker adds that in other countries, exhibitions are often successfully held in public parking garages, vacant lots, and empty retail stores. "The same can take place here," he says.

Other creative space solutions: * If possible, co-locate with a complementary show or ask the show if they'll "marry" your event with another.

* Try to book in as the first show in a facility's expansion before the venue starts its sales efforts.

* Get the ear of higher-ups: Talk to a VP or the facility manager.