If you’re thinking about showcasing your product at a trade show, here’s a tip: make sure the trade show is a real one. Even if there are no red flags, do your research. Aram Orchanian found this out the hard way when he decided to sign up for a booth for his Boston-based wedding photography company. He saw The Boston 411 Bridal and Home Show being promoted on Facebook, supposedly scheduled for March 5-7 at the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center, and decided to enter.
He spoke to the show’s manager, Jenny Edwards, who told him that for $910, he could have a 10×10 booth next to the Tiffany & Co., the jeweler, and it sounded too good to be true. Unfortunately, it was. About a week before the show was scheduled to start and after he’d spent $2,000 on promotional giveaways and hired staff for the show, a representative from the convention center told him the show was a scam. He said he was genuinely shocked.
Over 100 vendors had purchased booths, spending anywhere from $500 to $3,000 and a number of people purchased $15 tickets to the fake show. Detective Steve Blair of the Boston PD says he has no idea how many people were affected, but told Trade Show Week his email inbox is full of complaints.
James E. Rooney, the executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, said a saleswoman at the center became suspicious when she saw on the show’s website that they were selling everything form electrical services to hotel rooms, things that would normally be handled by the venue. Edwards had never made a payment to the venue and when a contract was mailed to her, it was returned because she gave a fake address. Staff at the Hynes immediately pulled the show off their calendar. Rooney contacted the Boston Police Commissioner.
This sort of scam has happened before. In 2007, California-based company, Natl. Expo Group, sold space to exhibitors for a number of fake trade shows such as Natl. College Day, Natl. Home Expo USA, Natl. Real Estate and Finance Expo and Natl. Computer Expo, at venues all along the West Coast. They even recruited salespeople on Monster.com, promising $40,000 salaries plus commissions. Those salespeople began to complain to the media when they weren’t being paid. A suspect was named but she was never caught.
With these incidents in mind, many members of the trade show industry are not sure how they can protect themselves in the future. Rooney says looking back at the Bridal Show, there were a number of signs that something was wrong, from excuses to late payments, to the fact that Edwards never visited the Convention Center.
Steve Hacker, the president of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events did give Trade Show Week a few tips on how people who want to exhibit in trade shows can protect themselves. He says you should call the venue to make sure it’s legit. Also, find out if and where the show has been held before and contact business references. Many in the industry say you should be overly cautious about first-time shows. And just because a show is placed on a venue’s calendar, doesn’t mean they’ve even paid for the space yet.
As for consumers buying tickets, many in the industry worry that incidents like this could deter people from purchasing trade show tickets in the future. The Boston 411 Bridal and Home Show is currently under investigation but no arrests have been made. Unfortunately, this means consumers and exhibitors alike are out whatever money they’ve put into the show