I attended the INPEX 2017 show last week to exhibit the Card Caddy. Is it worth it for inventors to attend this show? Read on and find out. The “too long, didn’t read it” version: very well run show, but probably best for inventors with a product in very early stages of development.
INPEX bills itself as “America’s Largest Invention Show” and is on its 30th-something year. The show is associated with InventHelp , a company that provides services like patent applications, prototyping and marketing to indie inventors. I have not used InventHelp – they charge a flat fee of around $700 just to set you up in their system – I’m already past the patent and prototyping phase, so it wasn’t a good fit for me, but they seem legit. Although the INPEX show is run by InventHelp, I didn’t get an overwhelming feeling of pressure to join up – there were lots of InventHelp people at panels, etc, but only one person came by my booth to pitch their services.
INPEX is a really well run show. Lots of communication from the event staff beforehand and good information about what to expect, how to set up, etc. A 10×10 foot booth is a bit pricey at $1,600, but you get a good bit of stuff that is usually extra at other shows (table, chairs and carpet for your booth; a couple of open bar/heavy hors d’oeuvres receptions, some free info sessions, etc). You could also have your booth setup moved from the loading dock to your booth location by the venue teamsters for no charge, which is usually a ridiculous (and mandatory) fee at many other shows. So really, that $1,600 is a full fee, where most other events have all kinds of extra charges that can get you way above that number pretty quickly.
The venue is also one of the nicest I’ve exhibited at in terms of architecture and access – The David Lawrence Center in Pittsburgh is as easy to get to as anything in Pittsburgh is and parking is attached and reasonably priced, so that’s not usually an issue, either. Although on the second day of the show, there was a big parade in downtown that shut down all of the major roads, since the Pens just won the Stanley Cup (really, hockey runs through the end of June now?).
So, how was the business? For me, I still haven’t made any deals or sales to pay for the show. But, there are a couple of leads that are still developing that could be big. I did an invited pitch to a product developer that went pretty well, and made/refreshed some contacts with other marketers and buyers that may turn into something. So, just as with everything like this, things take time to develop and there are never any sudden windfalls where someone writes you a check that day.
Traffic at the show was moderate to light – there were more than a few times of no one at all in our entire row for stretches of 15-20 minutes. That’s disappointing when you pay to show your product and want to meet people who want to buy it. I engage nearly every person walking by my booth with “Can I show you the Card Caddy?”, and most people at this show stopped to hear the pitch. The traffic was never overwhelming, in that I hardly ever didn’t get to accost someone walking by because I was busy talking to another person. But, the type of attendee was pretty good. I talked to over 10 DRTV (as seen on TV) reps there, which I still think is a prime market for the Card Caddy. A number of the DRTV and other companies (HSN, S&T, Cuisinart, etc) had private product pitches, which you had to exhibit in order to get selected for. A surprising number of investors and their reps were there – most of the inventors there didn’t have a full business set up behind their invention, so I’m not sure what the investors would have bought into. Lots of manufacturers and prototypers there, so it was a great place to get to talk to a wide group of them about how to get your product made. Only a few service providers like patent attys, marketers, designers, etc – maybe Inventhelp limits these type of attendees since they provide many of those services, too. There were no buyers that I met from any retailers or wholesalers – probably most of the stuff there was too early in the development stage to have inventory on hand. Also, virtually no external press, which is also surprising and disappointing.
The exhibitors ran the gamut in terms of product development phases, but most had a finished prototype. There were only a few products where I am with inventory ready to sell, and only a few with just a drawing or hand-made prototype. I would say that there were very few total “crackpot” ideas. I feel bad looking back scoffing at some of them – many of them might be saying what a pointless product of a card case and discard tray in one is. There were definitely some that you couldn’t help snickering about, but I’ll restrain myself.
Overall, it was well run and had decent attendees in terms of quality and quantity – I think my biggest negative takeaway is that the show seemed really slanted towards customers who were InventHelp clients. There was a large area in the center of the exhibit area with free food and drinks open to the business attendees that showcased only InventHelp clients’ products. The end of show awards, which inlcuded a $7,500 grand prize, were dominated by IH clients as far as I could tell, and included a suspicously large number of special awards that were just read out in series, but really didn’t have explanation about what it was for. This could very well be Sour Grapes on my part, but my suspicion is that there was at least a preference for IH clients in the judging process, if not a full bias. It makes sense and I get the business angle – if you have a services company and run an associated trade show, make sure your clients come out of feeling good about your services.
Time will tell if the investment of my exhibitor fee will pay off or not. But you can’t tell sometimes until you try! Kudos to the staff of INPEX for putting on a very good show – I don’t know that I would go back, even with a new invention, but the show definitely provides a good service and value.