Why I Blew Off Lightfair 2021

I won’t bother with Lightfair 2021 for several reasons. With only 233 exhibitors, it is smaller than LEDucation will be in the spring (usually tops 275 exhibitors). To put this in perspective, this is less than 1/3 a typical LF show of the past, covering less than 1/4 of the floor space. This will make it the smallest version of this show since 1983, when it was called LightWorld.

Looking at the exhibitor list exposes it for what it is. A bit of an over-marketed regional show for an odd collection of exhibitors – at best. This is not a national caliber showcase of the industry.

Why Lightfair insisted on pushing ahead with the show is not a mystery. The organizers and bodies involved likely need the income from the cancelation of 2020. To this end, they have forced many mid-level exhibitors into coming by threatening to forfeit deposits paid on top of pressure of points lost for 2022 space reservations – so there are those who caved to pressure and will be present, reluctantly, with abbreviated displays and minimal staffing.

Not LF2021

None of the reasons for Lightfair and its organizers to press on with this show is a reason to attend. I do not attend events to show of support for producers that could not care less about me as an individual – this is not a religion, it is business. Further, it is an expensive show to attend in both time lost and costs involved. In recognition of that, I believe those putting on such events have an obligation to produce a show worth that investment. This year’s presentation fails that test – for me at least.

I do get the usual push for attending to be “there” to see things in hand, and meet people, etc… However, that assumes there is product there I need to see in person, and I question how effective the “meeting people” part will be with the ongoing COVID mess, mask and vaccination mandates, general concerns about travel and large gatherings (outside those who attend infamous political fan events). For New Yorkers, I wonder how relevant this is, when LEDucation is just a few months off and more intimately focused, not to mention distanced from COVID (hopefully) by then. Based on this, I will venture that attendance will be as thin as the exhibitor list. Further, due to the small number of exhibitors, and the odd mix of brands present, I cannot see attendees staying for more than a day before returning home, so meeting people will be somewhat hit and miss as they briefly come and go.

The one bright spot is that the 35 (34 if you subtract the one marketing course on leveraging Lightfair for business) mostly predictable, and a few unnecessary, presentations are likely to be very lightly attended, so the odds of having a meaningful dialog with topic presenters is very good. Unfortunately the schedule of presentation overlaps, and the track divisions, means it is difficult to attend more than 6-8 of the 34 for any single attendee (so much for the socializing thing) even if one stays for three days.

I have attended every national lighting show from Light World 3 to Lightfair events, from 1982 until somewhere around 2014, a couple years after I wrote an article on the over-saturation of shows in 2012 in SSL Observed, June 2012 . I have seen some pretty amazing shows over the years, and the explosion of the regional events (like the LEDucation event, which is a star IMHO) and their effectiveness. My attendance at Lightfair has been on and off since, with the last in 2019.

Looking at Lightfair 2021 as it stands, I have to wonder what they were thinking from a marketing perspective. It appears more an act of desperation and frustration than legitimate effort to produce a product worthy of the expense attendees will pay for it. To follow this long delayed October date with a coming Vegas show in June, makes one wonder – Is it time for a re-think about forcing a single National Show to happen every single year? Perhaps the example of the massive Light+Build event is a better model.

In any case, I do wish those who are attending and exhibiting my best. I am certain that I won’t be missed. If you get bored and need to reach out, I will be here, working.

Author: kwillmorth

I am an artist in lighted objects and product designer.

6 thoughts on “Why I Blew Off Lightfair 2021”

  1. As per normal… you nailed it. I am also not attending for the same reasons. LightFair is mismanaged, greedy, easterly biased, etc.
    I could go on, but why.

    Talk soon.

  2. I’ve attended every LFI from inception. It isn’t as much of a product show for me; it’s an opportunity to meet people; talk about their plans for growth, the future of the industry, new technology and the changes in the business that have been on hyper speed for several years. This LFI will be smaller and more intimate… so my meetings will be fewer, and more intimate, with more time and less distractions of scores of people walking by and interrupting. If you’d like to say hi.. I’ll be at LFI… working and enjoying the camaraderie of long tenured industry experts.

  3. I guess you both missed my article in Designing Lighting about the role of LightFair in our industry. The short version is that LightFair is a trade show, educational event, networking and celebrating event, and getting your money’s worth (whoever you are) in supporting the IES and IALD. From the profits, 66.7% go to the industry associations that provide important standards development and government interface on the industry behalf, without representing one aspect of our industry (e.g. manufacturers) above all others. There was a time, before the Internet as we know it today, when the best educational material was presented at LightFair because it was quality educational, vetted free from commercialization. Moreover, the connections Ted discussed are worth every minute of your time invested in being at LightFair. We are on the precipice of losing this invaluable asset.

    1. The internet is not going away, and now has a vast and growing collection of lighting information, from white papers and blogs, to CEU’s, on-line pubs, and videos – from numerous sources. Manufacturers do on-line presentations, committees hold meetings virtually, and products are launched on-line immediately to begin capitalization and sales to recover investments. The days of Lightfair being information central with exclusive content, are over. The way we all communicate with one another has also changed, as has the sense of community, which is now broader, more regular, often more topical, and multi-faceted, than just one national show on a fixed schedule. We are here communicating on this topic… not waiting to meet up in NYC – for example. So Lightfair is no longer the social center of the industry it once was. Meanwhile, I saw folks at Vegas that did not bother to stop and even say hello, but I’ve had ongoing dialog with prior to and since. While the educational material is acceptable, it is hardly vetted to be free from commercialization, as the interests of the presenters is often promoting their companies marketing campaign or exclusive technology, or some other populist topic being pushed to expand markets. These are not Ted Talks level presentations, they are commercial presentations. Independent and contrarian thinkers rarely make it to the podium, while “experts” from the marketing departments of the major exhibitors are favored. Awards are not based on an industry survey, they are based on selecting from exhibitors allowed to submit, who choose to contribute. The costs of exhibiting and attending are now so high, that small organizations are no longer on display (and those who do are in the back, due to the show driven marketing using the points system B.S.), and small design organizations are no longer attending. They are networking through other channels,. showing at regional and local events, and putting their effort in target marketing more than ever – something a big national show is not great at. I’ve been part of Lightfair and events like it from the perspective of specifier, marketer, manufacturer, exhibitor, media, paid and unpaid attendee, and one time as a presenter. I know its costs from many perspectives, and base my questioning of its value as a return on investment on that composite vantage point. But, I also recognize that I am often considered and outlier – I can live with that. My core point is that it all comes down to value delivered for the investment of attending for all. When that is ignored, and we push the “it’s about being part of the community” to rationalize spending thousands to attend, it’s lost the plot. In today’s universe of tough business climate and everyone with their hands out for money everywhere, it has to deliver business value beyond the intangible. Just putting on a trade show is simply not enough any longer.

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