One-on-One with Tamara Christian
November 1st, 2003

By Cathy Szmurlo Nov-Dec 2003

Since July, National Trade Productions (NTP) has been managing a variety of promotional activities and planning some exciting events for Coverings, the annual exhibition and conference for the ceramic tile and natural stone industries and the largest show of its kind in the U.S. This year’s event is set for March 23-26, 2004, at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. More than 26,000 architects, contractors, designers, merchandisers, and specifiers are expected to visit more than 1,100 exhibits during the four-day event.

TileDealer magazine sat down with Tamara Christian, president of NTP, to talk about the role her company will play in the success of Coverings:

TileDealer: Why is this show so important to tile and stone dealers?

Christian: It’s the largest gathering in the U.S. for tile and stone dealers. I believe the attendance is the highest it’s ever been. As someone who sells tile and stone everyday, you need to be there to see the latest developments. This show will provide the best in networking opportunities.

TileDealer: What experience does NTP bring to managing a show like Coverings?

Christian: NTP produces, manages and markets about 15 events per year for a variety of industries, including the federal government. We do a show for plumbing engineers, which is the closest thing we do to the ceramic tile industry. I’ve been with NTP for eleven years; the last three as president.

TileDealer: What would you say to those who are unsure about the change and how it will affect their company?

Christian: I’d say the change in management companies shouldn’t affect the show at all for exhibitors and attendees. They can be assured that we are a very experienced company. Of the 200 largest shows in the United States (called the Trade Show 200), NTP produces four. Our company has extensive experience managing shows in many industries. For example, for one show we doubled the international attendance. We also increased exhibitors by 41 percent. For another event, we increased conference attendance by 80 percent.

TileDealer: What is the advantage with using a firm like yours to handle an important show like Coverings?

Christian: It is very common for an association to have a professional management firm. We really know how to manage shows because we do fifteen a year as opposed to one a year. We may find a particular vendor we like. For instance, we know a registration company that provides terrific service. We have enough experience with that company to consider using them for Coverings. We also are able to get better pricing for the customer. Vendors really want to work with us because we can bring them more business.

TileDealer: How will these relationships benefit an exhibitor at Coverings?

Christian: We can negotiate very well (with vendors). The cost of material handling for this show will be reduced by about 26 percent. For instance, last year a 10 by 10 booth cost $450. Now it will be $335.

TileDealer: What was involved in the process of choosing a new management company for Coverings?

Christian: The five associations that own Coverings decided to look at other [management] options They put together a search committee that came up with a list of 15 companies. With these companies, they did interviews over the phone, did reference checks and asked each of us to send materials. The list was then pared down to seven and the search committee went to the offices of all seven companies.

The committee was very serious. They certainly did their due diligence. They were with us for about three hours.

Then the list went from seven companies to two. The entire board of directors came to visit the two companies. We presented our ideas to the entire board and they called us back.

TileDealer: In your opinion, what did NTP do to land Coverings?

Christian: We have energy, excitement and enthusiasm. This is a tremendous show; a visually stimulating show and an exciting industry.

It’s also a challenging show. There is a lot of weight (physical materials) involved. A demolition crew has to come in after the show and work. We also have to have a refuge crew come in and remove things.

NTP has a real understanding of issues like these. We did a lot of research before the selection process.

We also have our own marketing agency. We presented six creative concepts and six possible themes to show the committee how interested we were.

TileDealer: Are there any challenges involved in transitioning between show management companies?

Christian: With any decision to switch management companies, you do have a transition. There is a learning curve. But I feel really good about it. The board (of governors for Coverings) has been incredible. We asked a lot of questions to get up to speed on the show. Now, I will call someone in the industry to get an opinion and anyone I’ve called has been so excited. They give us as much time as we need.

It’s an amazing community that’s been extremely supportive of the show. I’ve never seen anything like it.

I’ve had a lot of pro-active e-mails sent to me, asking if there is anything we need.

People have asked to come to our offices to meet with us.

TileDealer: How is the timetable for Coverings compared to other shows you’ve done?

Christian: The timetable is the same for Coverings as it is for any large show with a lot of exhibitors. We just have to be staffed up for it about two months before the show. We’re expecting about 1,100 international and domestic exhibitors. Right now, the show is sold out, except for some smaller booths here or there.

TileDealer: What techniques do you use to ensure a successful show?

Christian: We use very, very targeted marketing. The idea is to be able to communicate differently and use different messages for different audiences. We also track everything we do – what really worked and what didn’t work. We have fifteen people that are only working on the Coverings show, ten of them have been in the trade show industry for more than ten years each.

TileDealer: How will NTP promote the show to potential attendees?

Christian: • We’ll be increasing magazine advertising penetration by about 30 percent from last year. Some publications will have different targeted ads.

• We’re conducting focus group research, which is new.

• We’re producing a very hard-hitting direct mail campaign, targeted to different audiences. We plan to double the direct mail by mailing to new magazine and association lists.

• A personalized and hard-hitting campaign called the Top Buyer Program will target key personnel from the top 200 distributors and retailers.

• We’re using mailing lists to reach people through Internet marketing programs.

• We’re also reaching out to the community to get their thoughts and ideas.

To specifically promote the show to tile buyers, we’re having the conference program brochure bound into Floor Covering Weekly Magazine and sent to targeted retail subscribers. We’re also working closely with CTDA to develop promotional plans including advertising in this magazine.

TileDealer: Will there be some exciting, new additions to the show?

Christian: We’re definitely working on enhanced graphics for the show. There will be some exciting events on the show floor. We’re also changing the awards and adding more entertainment items to the event.

We’re looking at having a super keynote speaker – a high impact person such as (comedian) Tim Allen. The idea is to have one keynote speaker instead of three. We’re also looking at having a leading business thinker like Stephen Covey as a speaker.

There is now a conference advisory committee for the conference program, which the show has not had in the past. We are trying to have fewer (conference) sessions. We think the sessions have been good but there have been too many to choose from. We want to narrow them down a little.

There will also be a specific program for architects in which they can get CPUs.

TileDealer: What show additions will be important to CTDA attendees?

Christian: We’re developing a Dealer Day, which will include on-site networking events specifically for retail and home center buyers. During one concentrated day of the show, there will be a lot more targeted education, where buyers can talk directly to their peers about their own business challenges and solutions. A special lunch and evening event will be included, possibly at Disney’s Pleasure Island.

TileDealer: Where do you see the best possibilities for growth with this show?

Christian: In terms of attendance, I think there is room for growth in all the market segments, with more contractors, retailers, distributors, dealers, architects, designers and facilities managers attending in the future. There are still manufacturers we can attract like hardware and carpet companies.

We’re beginning to look at new venues as a response to audience interest. We’re definitely locked into Orlando for 2005 but we’re currently evaluating other venues for future shows.


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