Wednesday, July 14, 2004

An interesting bit of evidence in today's Washington Post demonstrating the growth of oligopoly: the demise of the trade show.
Consider, for example, the National Hardware Show that, for 25 years, was among the biggest gatherings at Chicago's giant McCormack Place. This show was an efficient way for tens of thousands of small retailers and wholesale suppliers to interact with thousands of large and small manufacturers, picking up on trends, trying out new products, placing orders, negotiating prices. It was also a way for exhibitors to build personal relationships that could sustain them even in years when they didn't have the best products or the best prices.

But how relevant is this, now that the neighborhood hardware store has been bought up or driven out of business? The remaining giants such as Home Depot, Lowe's and Wal-Mart now avoid the time and expense of sending armies of buyers to Chicago. They simply summon all companies that want to sell hammers, for example, to show up on the same day at their headquarters, where they sample the wares and play one against another in a day-long bidding war. In time, those that lose these contests disappear, while those that win get big enough that they, too, decide they can bypass the trade show, turning instead to the Internet and their own marketing events.

. . . With so many industries in the midst of consolidation, with distribution channels fragmenting and with so many other ways for people to communicate and interact effectively and efficiently, the heyday of the giant, industry-wide trade show may have passed.

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