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"We are somewhat unique in that our organization does not allow vendors, or consultants to become members" -Lewis Shomer

Lewis Shomer, Executive Director, Society of Independent Show Organizers speaks to M Q Syed on his maiden visit to India and his exploration on the country

TFT : Welcome to India, the 3rd largest economy of the world? Is this your first visit to the country?
Lewis Shomer : Yes this is my first trip to India and obviously I am very excited, unfortunately I do not have enough time to spend to see as much of the country as I would like.

TFT : From a mere 12 organisers to 150 organisers, 2700 exhibitions and an overall $122B impact on the global economy what made the SISO going and growing?
Lewis Shomer : Actually, we are now at 175 members and SISO only accepts members that are Organizers. We are somewhat unique in that our organization does not allow vendors, or consultants to become members. We do however treat vendors with the greatest respect as partners and certainly as sponsors of our events. So many of the venues, CVB’s, GSC’s and our other suppliers are an integral part of SISO and our meetings, but they are not members. What made SDISO grow so quickly is the fact that it is a very unique organization as our conferences are for the C-Level responsibility of their company. 60% are owner/operated so lots of entrepreneurs. The other significant reason for our growth is that 7 years ago, we saw an opportunity to recruit new members from around the globe, as our members were looking to expand beyond their borders and international organizers were looking to expand in the US. We made an alliance with UFI and that has been the template for our alliances with many other associations where organizers can look to SISO for networking with all the right people and picking up strategic thinking across the universe. We now have alliances in India, Mexico, South America, China, Singapore and Shanghai.

TFT : How do you see the synergies between IEIA and SISO and do you plan to forge any aliance the Indian Association in near future ?
Lewis Shomer : We have indeed recognized the importance of organizers in India and the investment several of our members have made there so it seemed natural for us to make an alliance with IEIA. Of course the difference between the two associations is that only organizers can be members of SISO whereas IEIA has memberships that include other vendors.

TFT : What is your take on asian exhibition market ? what do you think are the main challenges in the region stopping sustainable growth ?
Lewis Shomer : We are very bullish on the Asian market, although China seems to be a challenge for organizers that are considered “foreign”. Most of our North American members that look outside the US look to Canada and Mexico then Asia and then the middles east. Russia has had its problems with the currency and we are just not familiar enough with Turkey to consider that these are opportunities for expansion so China, Thailand, Singapore and India make the most sense. India for the obvious growth potential as well as the very large population.

TFT : Do you see the e-commerce boom in the developed countries a possible threat for Face to Face marketing in near future ?
Lewis Shomer : 10 years ago, the show organizers were deeply concerned about the internet and virtual shows becoming competitive, however that has not really happened. The internet on the other hand has helped to change the way we do business and to change the motivation of attendees. In the past, exhibitions were the distribution arm of new product announcements and education. Now attendees can see products and get all the information they need by looking at the manufacturers web site. It allows the manufacturer the freedom to launch products in any cycle of the business year without having to wait for the annual show, so the attendee is much more informed about the products. Attendees therefore come to actually see, feel and touch the products, as they can’t do that electronically. They are also there to make and preserve relationships with their vendors as they can see many of their vendors in one place at one time. The attendee experience has also changed due to social media and we as organizers are constantly adapting our digital presence and offerings to accommodate the technology and the use of technology. We are also experiencing a different age group that both exhibits at our shows and attends our shows and that is a work in progress as we try to define what Millennia’s and gen X Y and Z are and how they view shows and the experience of a show. That’s probably our biggest challenge today. I don’t see any of this e commerce as a threat, but as an extension complimentary to the actual Face 2 Face meeting, however as stated above the challenge for us as organizers is to look at this challenge as opportunity and harness it to make our shows and Brands better for our customers.