FABTECH didn't disappoint; exhibitors went in with modest expectations for success and the show delivered. FABTECH didn't disappoint; exhibitors went in with modest expectations for success and the show delivered. Although the total number of exhibitors was down from the show goal, due in most part to the severe recession in the fabricated metal products industry, the show organizers were able to arrange the North and South halls at Chicago's McCormick Place so that there were no obvious gaps in the floor plan; wider aisles and discrete curtain placement worked.
We were able to meet with more than two-thirds of the 80 plus laser related exhibitors, and we shot video at a dozen or more of these. You will be able to see these videos on the ILS Website.
Among the large system suppliers (mostly laser sheet metal cutting systems) we found consensus that 2009 will go down in history as the worst year for equipment sales with average supplier company revenues decreased in excess of 35% for the latest reporting period.
However, setting aside the euphoria that trade shows engender, we found common agreement that the worst of the financial problems are over and that activity is picking up, sales are being made, and prospects for the early weeks of 2010 are looking brighter. When pressed for an estimate of how much and when it will happen--like good marketing people the world over--the proverbial six-month horizon leaves them wiggle room if they have guessed wrong.
A typical response to our queries was a nominal 10-12% growth over the worst quarter of the fiscal or calendar year. In the words of my colleague Tom Hausken of Strategies Unlimited, "There will be growth."
Most company managers project a bumpy six months with no major blips that will push sales up because the inventory of "new" used equipment has to be worked off and credit availability has to ease.
Daniel Gross, a writer I respect, in his latest column in Slate predicts a faster-than-expected recovery in employment could happen, and if he is right then that bump may already be out here waiting to explode.
The market prospects for small laser system suppliers, mainly laser markers, looked brighter at this year's FABTECH, as their market sectors have not felt the depth of the recession because they are not tied exclusively to heavy manufacturing; they are serving the medical, scientific, and military markets, in addition to industrial. Recovery seems to be happening faster with them as their more diverse manufacturing markets have not felt the pain that the industrial has. Many of the companies serving these markets are having a good year, in one or two cases an excellent year.
The suppliers of related products and consumables expressed positive feelings for the show and the visitors they met. Many of those surveyed serve more than the industrial market and this has helped them weather the storm that has hit their OEM customers in other market sectors.
There were lots of potential buyers attending the show (visitor total at 25,000, Monday and Tuesday both halls experienced heavy traffic), which gave exhibitors the impression that the worst was behind them and that 2010 will be brighter. We were told by many exhibitors that leads generated were plentiful and of high quality. Several of these mentioned sales made at the show.
Our judgment; FABTECH exhibitor goals were met and a willing and potentially growing selling market has developed. On the whole this year's show will be judged a success.