In the Rough

The owner of the massive PGA Merchandise Show may soon decide to move the event to autumn in the wake of losing two huge exhibitors. Confidential "concept papers" obtained by the trade publication Golfweek indicate that Reed Exhibition Companies is pondering the elimination of a related smaller show, PGA Fall Expo, in order to move the merchandise show into that slot.

Doug Ducate, president of Chicago-based Center for Exhibition Industry Research, notes that even shows serving booming markets such as golf are not immune to difficulties if conditions in the industry begin to shift faster than show management responds to them. But he adds, "It's hard for show management to consider change when a show is riding a wave of success. You don't want to stop your momentum, unless there is solid evidence of a need."

Shortly after the January 2002 PGA event, club manufacturer Ping announced that it would no longer exhibit at the show. And in early May, Acushnet, makers of Titleist and Cobra clubs and FootJoy golf shoes, publicized its decision to leave the show. "We don't sell anything there, yet we spend $2.5 million attending," says Acushnet CEO Wally Uhlien. "The show gave us little more than public relations and goodwill value."

Besides Ping and Acushnet, other exhibitors have raised concerns that autumn is the time when buyers look to stock their inventory for the upcoming season. And although moving an entrenched, premier show would be a radical alteration, the fear is that Ping and Acushnet will create a domino effect of defections among large companies, leaving the show without enough marquee names to keep attendance above 50,000 -- a figure which justifies attendance by the hundreds of smaller exhibitors who often spend the majority of their marketing budget for a presence at the show.

Perhaps contributing to the Ping and Acushnet defections is the fact that their exhibits had become increasingly elaborate over time. "These firms may have been reluctant to scale down their exhibits, so they thought it would be better for their brands to have no presence than a diminished one," says Ducate. "It could be a short-term decision, rather than part of a long-term marketing strategy. We're seeing such decisions across all industries lately. I think you may see those exhibitors back at the show in the future, when expectations on them are lower."

Despite this notion, Reed is considering alternatives to a date change, including a two-day, invitation-only event in the fall that brings together the top 25 manufacturers with the top 150 buyers. "Whatever we do will be a risk," says Christopher McCabe, PGA Merchandise Show manager. "But the biggest risk is to do nothing."