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Benjamin Spillman

Gadget group official accuses furniture mart of poaching buyers

21 January 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The leader of the biggest convention in Las Vegas is accusing operators of the city's largest trade show venue of poaching buyers from the International Consumer Electronics Show.

Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, says operators of the World Market Center in downtown Las Vegas violated industry ethics by using limousines and free food offers to lure buyers away from CES.

Shapiro said the World Market Center gimmick was an example of "outboarding," convention industry jargon for moving in on a successful event to attract attendees to another venue.

The practice, according to the largest trade group for the exhibition business, is detrimental to the industry because it gives organizers of established events less incentive to invest.

Investment in conventions and trade shows is especially important in Las Vegas, a place where the industry is worth more than $8 billion annually to the local economy.

"We spent a lot of time and money recruiting buyers," Shapiro said of CES, an event that attracts about 140,000 people to Las Vegas during the second week of January. "Then they do something like this."

Outboarding is legal and there are no sanctions or punishments for doing it, but it is considered an ethical breach in the convention business.

Specifically, Shapiro was upset about events World Market Center hosted Jan. 7-8, the first two days of CES.

World Market Center advertised an event called "Tune In, Tune It Up: Home Entertainment and Furniture Trends."

A Nov. 15 press release promoting the event invited attendees from "the consumer electronics event" to the morning event and to visit showrooms in World Market Center.

The invitation offered complimentary breakfast and lunch and limousine service from the Las Vegas Convention Center, site of CES.

In a written statement, World Market Center managing partner Shawn Samson said the promotion didn't violate the letter or spirit of outboarding guidelines.

Samson said outboarding involves "creation of a concurrent event." Since World Market showrooms are permanent and available to tenants at any time the venue operators didn't violate the standard.

He added that outboarding is frowned on because it involves capitalizing on another event organizer's investment.

World Market Center builders have spent about $1.1 billion so far creating their venue so it is wrong to imply they aren't investing in the industry, he said.

"No trade show organizer has ever invested or committed such (an) amount of capital in Las Vegas," Samson wrote.

Steven Hacker, president of the International Association of Exhibitions and Event, disagreed. Hacker said World Market Center was outboarding and compared it to a yacht racer who sucks wind from opponents' sails by cutting ahead to block gusts.

"This is the moral equivalent of stealing air in the America's Cup," Hacker said of the World Market Center event. "They should know better."

Both CEA and World Market Center are members of the IAEE, the largest trade organization for the exhibition businesses. But Hacker said of the two members, only CEA officials signed a voluntary ethics code that includes a pledge to eschew outboarding.

Shapiro's allegations aren't the only problems dogging World Market Center as it prepares for its winter market, one of two weeklong events it hosts annually in which professional furniture buyers from around the globe visit the center to browse showrooms.

The center opened with great fanfare in 2005 with tax breaks and a promise to revive the business climate in downtown Las Vegas.

Since then, the housing-market dive sucked some momentum from the furniture industry.