Expo –To Charge or Not

This week I attended our regional association board of directors meeting. We were discussing if we should charge members to attend our yearly Expo. Most of the board was against charging members and some of us who had been on and off the board and now on again and knew the history of why we charge members to attend still wanted to continue this practice.

So, the question I wonder is “do we really get what we pay for”? Is there value added when we pay for an event rather than have the ability to attend for free? If you don’t pay and still sign up, do you feel an obligation to attend or do you feel that if something better comes along, you don’t need to attend because you don’t have anything invested?

Personally, I feel the latter. If I don’t pay for something and I choose not to attend later, even though I have RSVP’d, what difference does it make? We did not charge for the Expo before 2005. We had 1200 people sign up each year. Many didn’t sign themselves up, but rather a secretary or the owner of the company would sign up all their sales people to attend “just in case”. Then on the days of the event we would actually have a 45% drop off rate!

In 2005, our committee instituted a $10 per person member fee to attend the Expo. Non members and same day registrants would pay more. We billed it as pay $10 and you received a free parking pass at the convention center, a free awards breakfast, free drinks and hors’doeuvres at the cocktail party and a coupon book from suppliers with thousands of dollars in savings, plus of course free education with CEU credits and the tradeshow. Because registrants actually had to pay to attend we now had qualified sales people sign up and pay and our drop off rate was less than 15%, allowing us to more accurately budget for the event.

The board members who wanted to charge for the Expo, lost. The rational was that we are going to be in a new venue from the previous years, the economy is bad and those who approved the no fee rule felt that the drop off rate wouldn’t be an issue. – The Expo is at the end of August, I will keep you posted on what actually happens.