ACCM Post-Mortem: A Last Hurrah?
Actually, that headline might have been more appropriate 12 months ago when the Annual Conference for Catalog & Multichannel Merchants had at least a little life left in it. This year’s ACCM, held two weeks ago in New Orleans, was the 23rd consecutive one I’ve attended. And like many of the sad few who showed up to this year’s, it left me longing for the good ole days.
By now, it’s no secret how poorly attended this year’s event was. It’s easy to blame it on the economy, but there are some further-reaching dynamics at work here. Because Catalog Success, as well as our forthcoming repositioned All About ROI (click here to learn more), focuses on providing ways to improve your business, I don’t ordinarily care, or bother, to discuss industry events themselves.
But the National Catalog Conference-cum-Annual Catalog Conference-cum-that whole long title above has always been near and dear to me, even though I haven’t been a part of the company that co-sponsors it for nearly five years now. So in dissecting what went down in New Orleans, let me begin with the positives; then I’ll get into the reality of the situation.
1. The seminars: Since I’ve always spent more time attending the seminars, I’ll say that this year’s were as informative as ever. For years, attendees have told me that this event always has the best and most informative sessions, and this year’s sessions, while not necessarily the greatest, were still solid.
There were some exceptions. Some vendors were given more prominent positions and were a lot more self-serving and promotional than I’ve seen at an ACCM before. Fortunately, there were plenty more sessions that included more marketers and very useful information.
Attendancewise, some sessions drew quite well. But others drew less than a dozen people. Even worse, a few of the “Ask the Doctor Medical Center” consultants on hand to review catalogs and Web sites in the exhibit hall told me that very few attendees came up for their free critiques.
2. The exhibit hall: With a booth count just south of 120, it sure seems a long ways from this event’s record-breaking year of 2000 in San Francisco when there were 685 booths set up at the Moscone Center. It was even a far cry from last year’s count of 195 booths at that biosphere known as the Gaylord Palms in Orlando, Fla.
As for booth traffic, exhibitors I spoke with not only kvetched about the lack of traffic, but also about the few who visited them, because most attendees were just window shopping. Several vendors told me, in fact, that they don’t expect to take part in the conference next year.
It was a similar scenario to March’s National Conference on Operations & Fulfillment in Las Vegas, where the booth count dropped from 138 last year to 113 this year. But while the vendors at NCOF were almost equally grouchy, they did note that those who visited them were there to do business.
3. The city and facility: A number of years ago, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) attempted to hold one of its annual conferences in San Antonio. This turned out to be a bit of a disaster, since unless you’re coming from New York or Chicago, direct flights are hard to come by. While a whole lot easier to get to than San Antonio, New Orleans isn’t as easy to book a low cost flight to as, say, Chicago, San Francisco or Orlando.
That’s to take nothing away from the mere fact that it was a tremendous gesture to bring the event to this still-ailing and still-magical city. But the designated conference hotels, which all cost in the mid-$200s per night and up, weren't quite in walking distance of the convention center, even though there were some less expensive (but clean) hotels just a couple of blocks from the event.
4. The conference organization: Both the DMA and its partner Penton have endured extensive layoffs in recent months, and at times this became apparent at the conference. Employees lacking the past experience and know-how of this event did their best, but at times their inexperience and overall lack of manpower showed. All things considered, however, the event came off as well as could be expected.
5. The state of the business: Having done “my thing” at the conference as I’ve always done — picking as many brains as I could — I was both enlightened and disheartened with the types of people on hand. Gone were many of the smaller players in the catalog business. But there were some notable additions, such as representatives from Best Buy and Yahoo, along with stalwarts J.C. Penney and L.L.Bean.
As for where the business is headed, that all depends on how you define “the business” going forward. We’ve been preaching this throughout much of this year: There really is no longer a catalog business, per se. The companies (i.e., survivors) that were founded on catalog marketing need to focus more heavily on integrating their sales channels and letting their customers be their bosses.
We’ll never return to the good ole days of the catalog business, but as you know, during tough times like these, opportunities are out there to be had. And as we get through these transition years, we can emerge with a redefined business model and head for new good ole days.