Two years ago, Packexpo.com was used almost exclusively for registration and information sharing about the association's trade shows. Today the site, launched as a for-profit joint venture between the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute, Arlington, Va., and the for-profit Cendex Corp., is fully e-commerce enabled with a purchasing exchange and virtual exhibits. PMMI represents 483 member manufacturers and it sponsors one of the largest trade shows in the country. PMMI President Charles D. Yuska shares with Association Meetings his view of the importance of being early adopters of new technology.

Why did Packexpo.com move from a brochure-type site to a full e-commerce vehicle?

Packexpo.com has evolved with the market. We had to keep up or risk becoming irrelevant. This is especially important on the commerce side of things. Being part of the sales equation, such as producing a trade show or managing an online auction, makes you an important piece of the puzzle.

What is the key difference between your online site and the live show?

It's clear that a virtual trade show can do 90 to 95 percent of what a live show does, and by that I mean post information, products, contact information; request quotes, product specifications, etc. But the remaining 5 to 10 percent--being in front of your customer or meeting one-on-one with the engineering team--is critical, and right now the Internet can't really measure up to live, face-to-face meetings. To see the reaction to the tough question, to negotiate with the principals, to really test the product in action--these are important elements of the buying process, especially in the packaging industry.

What are your fears and hopes about the Internet and trade shows?

I think the biggest thing to fear is perhaps a decrease in traffic or attendance at our shows. In the past in the packaging industry, companies would send their entire buying team, which might consist of up to 200 senior- and junior-level executives. With the increased use of the Internet as a research platform, junior level executives may get left off of the attendance list and cause a decrease in attendance, which is a measure of the success of any trade show. My hope is that we can create even more synergies between the two sales mediums. Why not have live hookups via the Internet and the trade show floor? You could set up meetings via the Internet, live from the floor, with buying teams as far away as Hong Kong.

What can other trade associations learn from PMMI's virtual evolution?

I think PMMI is a case study in being early adopters of new technology. Our industry must continually invest in new technology or risk losing status with members and exhibitors and therefore risk their future as well. We knew Internet enterprises were going to cannibalize our shows, so we did it to ourselves rather than allow other companies the opportunity....I've been in the industry for 27 years, and I don't think anyone could have seen [these changes] coming. I'm proud of our efforts to respond to new opportunities. It will be an interesting few years as the industry continues to address the challenges and opportunities that the Internet provides. *

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