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Semi-Sweet on Suites

22 Jul, 2002 By: Joan Villa

LAS VEGAS -- Retailers shut out of secured meeting suites grumbled about the new format for last week's Home Entertainment 2002, while others praised the revamped show as more “intimate” and “professional.”

Attendees agreed that some aspects of the Video Software Dealers Association's annual convention will need to be “tweaked.”

Some retailers complained they couldn't get past security guards to visit their sales reps or drop in on suppliers such as Artisan Home Entertainment, Paramount Home Entertainment or A&E Home Video. Those three and several others were on the 20th floor of the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino Ipanema tower, which required an appointment for access.

Other suppliers like Image Entertainment had suites on the third floor, where retailers were encouraged to browse and meet with suppliers, along with meeting space on restricted floors.

“I like having the hospitality suite rather than being in a booth because I'm able to have more professional conversations,” explained customer service manager Kirk Hydinger, who was manning Image's third-floor suite. “At the booth I was always talking to four people at the same time.”

“I love the concept a lot,” agreed Fred Handsman of 17-store Video USA Entertainment, who served on the convention committee that designed the new format. The show “could be tweaked, but most people were happy once they got used to the flow. If there was a way to consolidate the suites into one tower it would have been better.”

Lions Gate Entertainment's suite was on the 33rd floor of the Masquerade tower, where retailers could visit, but few realized they had access because other suites in that tower were restricted.

“We had a productive show. People who set appointments found us and the space was private and conducive to doing business,” said Ron Schwartz, EVP of North American home video. But he also missed “the old days” when the show floor drew unexpected business and other opportunities.

“I feel this approach offers a higher level of intimacy,” offered Chris Tahmin, video director for Koch Entertainment, which was on the third floor. “I was satisfied with the results.”

The new format caught some retailers off guard. Scott Whitmer, VP of nine-store Video Depot in Palm Desert, Calif., was “disappointed” by the small exhibit floor so he was scrambling to set up suite meetings with suppliers.

Lucy DeCastro, purchasing coordinator for Le Superclub Videotron, Montreal, Canada, praised the “one-on-one contact” at the suites.

“These markets are primarily about putting names with faces and building relationships,” added Doug Schwab, president of Maverick Entertainment, who characterized the changes as user-friendly. “The new VSDA is more conducive to meeting people in a nice, comfortable atmosphere rather than a cold show floor.”

The leadership behind Home Entertainment 2002 said on the last day of the show that preliminary reaction from exhibitors and attendees to the new format had been positive and that they will conduct intensive surveys of attendees and exhibitors before making a decision on when, where and what sort of convention the VSDA will hold next year. VSDA president Bo Andersen said, “it's fair to say it will be in the summer, in Las Vegas and probably in July.”

Per their traditional policy, executives declined to provide preliminary attendee numbers, saying they are still accounting for walk-ins and no-shows.

Andersen said attendees he spoke with said they had positive experiences in the studio meeting rooms. “They actually talked and listened to us,’ was the kind of feedback he got, Andersen said. The meeting rooms “really demand” a level of intimacy that you can't get on a show floor, he said.

VSDA board chairman Tom Warren noted retailers were able to build “one-to-one relationships.”

Don Rosenberg, group director of Home Entertainment Events, said some exhibitors had taken two rooms in the suites program, using one for information meetings and the other for private deal-making. This format, he said, appeared to work well, and several studios have already requested extra rooms for the next event. “You can accomplish a lot of business in a shorter period of time,” he said.

In response to some of the confusion from retailers as to how to navigate the show, Andersen said that those retailers who came with specific meetings set up and specific business deals to conduct probably got more out of the event. He believes as the show matures more retailers will come prepared.

Responding to criticisms that several of the “appointment only” meeting room floors were problematic for retailers who were turned away, Rosenberg said. “Those private suites have existed at this show for 19 years, it's just most people weren't aware of them.”

Regarding several major studios that declined to take exhibit or take meeting space at the Rio (Universal, Warner and MGM), Andersen said, “I think we'd say you missed an opportunity to make things a lot more convenient for attendees that you saw and didn't see. And we'd say, come join the party.”

Warren was not so reserved in his comments for these studios. “I took it as an insult,” he said, noting that taking meetings with the studios at other hotels cost him a lot of time, which he said indicated the studios were more interested in their convenience than his. “I have made a decision not to meet anyone offsite” at the next show, he said.

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