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iHobby will return to Illinois

Cleveland proved hard to reach for some exhibitors and dealers, prompting the move

By Nick Bullock
Published: January 25, 2013
Main photo
Photo by Schaumburg Convention Center

After one year at Cleveland’s International Exposition Center, the iHobby Expo will return to the Chicago area starting in 2013.

"We didn’t get what we thought we were going to get out of Cleveland, to be honest with you," Hobby Manufacturer’s Association President Fred Hill said.

The HMA announced on Jan. 21 the show’s relocation to the Schaumburg Convention Center in Schaumburg, Ill. The decision to move the show came less than three weeks after the HMA announced a five-year lease agreement with Hobby Show Promotions, which has assumed management of iHobby.

For several years, the iHobby Expo had been held in Rosemont, Ill., but in 2012 the HMA moved the show to Cleveland.

"The bottom line is we knew Cleveland didn’t make money," said Dave Swanson, vice chairman of Hobby Show Promotions, speaking of the 2012 iHobby Expo. "And we also knew from our show experience and from interacting with a lot of exhibitors, we thought there was an opportunity to get better value for the participants of the show."

When Hobby Show Promotions took over the show it began researching other possible destinations. The company started with a list of about a dozen venues, Swanson said. That list was boiled back down to three possibilities: returning to Cleveland’s International Exposition Center, returning to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Ill., or moving the show to Schaumburg. "I think Rosemont, and to a lesser extent Cleveland, had costs that made exhibiting an expensive and sometimes cumbersome operation," he said. Obstacles ranging from parking fees to drayage had driven up the cost of attendance for exhibitors, dealers and consumers, Swanson said.

Hobby Show Promotions found what it believes to be a better value at the Schaumburg Convention Center, which features free parking and no restrictions that require exhibitors to use unionized labor for drayage or the setup of their booths, according to Swanson. On top of that, the new venue is attached to four-star Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel.

Another significant reason for the iHobby’s relocation was its accessibility, Hill said. The HMA polled and contacted exhibitors and attendees as soon as the 2012 show ended, he said, and what it heard was that travel to Cleveland was too difficult for many manufacturers and dealers.

Both hobby manufacturers and store owners that spoke with Model Retailer said they found the Cleveland facilities and hospitality to be top-notch. However, a number of manufacturers said they were disappointed with the dealer turnout, and a number of dealers said they were disappointed that some of the industry’s larger manufacturers didn’t attend.

This move back to Illinois was made with those larger manufacturers in mind, hoping they return to the show, Hill said. "We’re presenting opportunities," he said.

Swanson echoed that sentiment. Hobby Show Promotions is owned by Randy Bachman, who also owns Train Show Inc., which organizes the widely successful World’s Greatest Hobby shows. Swanson said he and Bachman have organized two World’s Greatest Hobby shows at the Schaumburg Convention Center and are confident that iHobby’s consumer and trade bases can be drawn to that location. He cites Chicago’s heavy air service and central location as reasons. "I also think right, wrong or indifferent Chicago has a better reputation as a destination than Cleveland," he said. "I also think that there are numerous large exhibitors, or potential exhibitors, who are in Illinois, particularly around the Champaign area."

Convincing those large exhibitors to attend will be a big focus for Hobby Show Promotions, Swanson said. "For us it’s not a revenue thing," he said. "For us it is strictly an issue that we believe the industry benefits by having its leadership together with its constituency."

The Schaumburg Convention Center is located 12 miles from O’Hare International Airport and 26 miles from downtown Chicago. The convention space is about 150,000 square feet, according to an HMA press release.

The decision to hold the show at the Schaumburg Convention Center was made in part because it is a smaller space than the Cleveland’s I-X Center and Rosemont’s Donald E. Stephens Convention Center. "It’s fantastic having 1 million square feet," Hill said of the 2012 iHobby Expo in Cleveland, "but we didn’t fill it. And sometimes when you have too much [space] it makes you look small."

As a result, he said, the HMA expects exhibition space to fill quickly at the Schaumburg Convention Center, because space will be more limited than in recent years.

Other changes to the iHobby Expo may include a shortened trade day on the Thursday of the show, Swanson said, which would allow exhibitors and dealers to save time and money by arriving Thursday morning instead of Wednesday night. Hobby Show Promotions also hopes to avoid pulling attendees into seminars while the trade floor is open. This could mean using that Thursday morning as seminar time for those who plan to arrive Wednesday night.

"The overreaching theme is value to the exhibitors," he said.

Another change being discussed, Swanson said, is adding VIP access for a select number of "serious hobbyists." The dozen or so consumers selected would have access to the show floor during the trade portion of the show when no other consumers are around, which he said would generate publicity.

Hobby Show Promotions also plans to be more aggressive in marketing to dealers and potential exhibitors, Swanson said.

The relocation process really got off the ground when the HMA agreed to lease the show to Hobby Show Promotions on Dec. 29.

The agreement is a radical change from the way the iHobby Expo was managed in the past. Peak Management had previously worked with the HMA to organize and direct the show. But the HMA recently decided that it was spending too much of its time and resources planning the annual expo instead of promoting the hobby industry, which is its true mission, Hill said. "We’ve got to focus on the hobby industry, not on trade shows," he said. "Let the professionals do the trade shows. Let’s do what we do best: building good hobby product and promoting and selling good hobby product."

The HMA opened the proposed lease up for bid and received interest from three companies, Hill said. Hobby Show Promotions was awarded the contract and named Bachmann show chairman and Swanson show vice chairman.

Because the HMA leased the show to Hobby Show Promotions, the HMA does not have to bear the cost of the iHobby Expo and will instead share a percentage of the profits. The iHobby Expo, in effect, belongs to Hobby Show Promotions for the next five years, though Swanson said he and Bachman will, of course, consider the HMA’s input. "Everybody worked to make this a win-win proposition," Swanson said.

As part of the lease agreement, Hobby Show Promotions forgave approximately $70,000 in marketing and promotional debt owed by the HMA to Swanson’s other company, Competitive Intelligence Advertising, as well as to Train Show Inc.

The HMA is handling negotiations with the I-X Center over the two-year agreement it had originally signed to stay in Cleveland.