HME Expo's Smith: "We've Had a Very Positive Response"

Cory Smith -- VP of marketing for the newly announced HME Exposition & Conference, set for April 21-23, 2009, at the Baltimore Convention Center -- said in an April 28 interview that show management has contacted some potential exhibitors and that response so far to the idea of a new HME tradeshow has been "very positive."

The HME Exposition & Conference boasts considerable HME industry tradeshow experience, with Art Ellis (VP business development), Grayson Lutz (VP operations), Kevin Bird (VP sales) and Smith on board with the event's newly formed parent company, Access Business Media.

All four have worked for VNU Expositions, which is now known as Nielsen Business Media and which owns Medtrade and Medtrade Spring.

In announcing the new event, a press release from Access Business Media said, "For years, there has only been one national tradeshow to service the $25 billion home medical equipment industry, but not anymore."

Said Smith in the press statement, "National competitive bidding and dwindling reimbursement for power wheelchairs, oxygen and other core home medical products have put the industry at a crossroads. We recognize the value of producing an event that will address the industry's need to conduct business in a cost-contained environment, to have sessions that provide business strategies/solutions for a changing marketplace and to promote/influence industry change through advocacy."

In an interview with Mobility Management, Smith added of himself and his colleagues, "We just felt like there was an opportunity, and it was time to reposition. We felt like the industry was going through a lot of consolidation and change, and it needs it, from an event standpoint. So we felt like we were well positioned to reposition it, create a new footprint and try to address some new needs that are now facing the industry."

So what about the obvious question: How will this show be different than Medtrade?

"We positioned it in Baltimore for a reason," Smith says. "We think that the industry needs an industry event. We feel that we're going to be able to provide the industry with a location that will position it to showcase itself to the decision-makers in D.C. That was number one; we feel like the HME industry collectively does not have a strong enough voice in that area."

Many of the recent headlines about Medtrade have involved the shows' exhibitors. Starting at Medtrade 2007 last fall in Orlando, Fla., and continuing into this spring, several major mobility and rehab manufacturers announced they would not participate in this year's Medtrade Spring and Medtrade events. Drive Medical did not exhibit in Orlando and will stay home from Medtrade Spring, coming up next week in Long Beach, Calif. In Orlando last year, Permobil announced it would skip both 2008 Medtrade events and hold its own rehab event; its inaugural Power Surge conference took place earlier this month in Nashville. Invacare Corp. is not exhibiting at either Medtrade event this year, and is hosting an invitation-only rehab conference for clinicians May 8-10 in Cleveland.

So how will the HME Expo work to recruit manufacturers who may be turning away from large, centralized tradeshows?

"From a manufacturer's standpoint, return on investment is key," Smith says. "We've brought some people in and modeled this in a way that we think we're going to be able to help the manufacturers control their costs. It's not an inexpensive venture to go into a show to begin with, and we feel like we're lean enough where we can help the manufacturers in that regard."

Smith also promises the HME Expo will work hard to bring quality educational offerings to attendees.

"We plan to offer a very custom approach to providing education for each segment of the marketplace," he says. "The marketplace is a lot more fragmented than it used to be, and more specialized. Our plan is to offer a lot of specialty education for mobility providers. We will also bring some education in from outside the industry, from other industries where they've had to really reinvent themselves. We feel there's value from companies that have had to revisit their business model. Those are the kinds of things that we think are unique to the marketplace and that we're going to be able to bring to the table."

Smith says the HME Expo intends to partner "with all the stakeholders in the industry, as many as we can," and added, "Those discussions are taking place. Our approach is going to be very collaborative."

The HME Expo management is actively talking to potential participants, Smith says:
"The past couple of weeks, we sent out some feelers, and we've gotten a really good response. We've gotten a positive response from some of those companies that, frankly, are not at Medtrade at this point. There are companies that are in a position to really shift the market, and those are the companies that we've had early conversations with, and we've had a very positive response at this point."

Smith adds that show management will listen carefully and respond actively to participants' needs.

"We've set it up so there's reinvestment into the industry," he says. "We plan to set up a mechanism to make sure that the money's not leaving the marketplace. As far as being responsive -- it's the only way we're going to be able to make this successful. We have to be responsive. Our approach is going to be very collaborative. We plan to put together councils that are hopefully hitting on the key areas.... There's going to be a manufacturers' council. And the exhibitor council is not going to be put together in a way where they're going to just come and voice what they would like to happen. They're going to have a vote. They know what their needs are, and we're going to implement whatever this board votes on. At the end of the day, we want to set this up so the industry will drive the direction, from content to location to timing. We're going to respond and serve their needs."

For more information on the HME Exposition & Conference, go to www.hmeexpo.com.

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