Once upon a time, trade shows were all about writing paper.
Retailers would shop a show and, if a vendor had the right product at the right price, actually place an order.
Today, with the advent of private line previews and sophisticated supply chain management systems, writing paper has become a thing of the past. And CES, as founder Jack Wayman recently told TWICE, is no exception.
So, if they weren't busy buying electronics, what the heck were dealers doing this month at CES? A spokesperson for Circuit City said that the chain sees CES as "another opportunity to sit down with vendors to discuss where we want to go during the year, as well as to meet potential new vendors. It's also another opportunity for us to look at new products and technologies as they emerge."
Here's what a handful of other top retailers had to say on the eve of the show:
Frank Sadowski, VP/CE merchandising, Amazon.com: "The nature of CES has really changed dramatically over the last five years. Back then it was a place for horse-trading. Now, it's about forecasting, strengthening business relationships, looking at new technologies and ascertaining business trends, rather than trying to squeeze 25 cents out of a 25-inch TV.
"To that end, we have a fairly standard agenda for CES. We'll be looking at next generation products, and getting a feel for the industry outlook for the year — and seeing how that meshes with growth plans at Amazon."
Bernie Sapienza, VP/merchandising, Tweeter Home Entertainment Group: "A lot of companies hold vendor events in October, November and December, so we don't go to CES to look, we go there to have meetings and see the products live.
"That said, there are four areas of interest to our merchants at the show. We have a high-high interest in emerging display technologies like LCD, plasma and DLP, and we're interested in custom installation devices — things like wiring and furnishings.
"We also want an update on digital AM/FM radio and digital satellite radio, and are looking for new technologies in general — like a set-top box with HD-this or satellite-that. We're looking for someone to blow our socks off."
Cathy Stauffer, executive VP/merchandising and advertising, Good Guys: "We've already been seeing people's lines over the last couple of months, so we use CES as an opportunity to sit down with senior-level people to talk about the big picture for the year ahead. We have high-level, face-to-face discussions with all of our vendors about what we're focusing on, what our plans are and to recap last year.
"For our merchants, it's a chance to look to see what's new in categories and in brands that we're not in. Sometimes they also see a few new things that weren't ready during the advanced previews."
Mike Abt, president, Abt Electronics & Appliances: "In the past, when we were growing in audio, we talked to vendors in order to pick up new lines. Now, we never do business at the show.
"This year there's no set agenda. I plan to look around, meet with vendors to discuss big-picture things, and cement our new relationship with DISH. There's always a closeout or two, and it's a good time to see fellow retailers to see how things are going for them."
Steve Child, director, R.C. Willey: "Our primary purpose is to solidify what we're doing with current suppliers and to solidify the products we're already in."
Bob Lawrence, executive director, Brand Source/AVB: "We spend a lot of time programming for the new year. Vendors are on an April through March calendar, so we'll be working on programs.
"We'll also be looking at product lifecycles — which are much, much shorter these days — and we'll be looking at what technologies are emerging. We can jump on new high-tech products because of the nature of our selling force."
Mike Perlman, president, BrandsMart U.S.A.: "We now have our own service company, a big project, and we're going to renegotiate on service contracts. Vendors want to get rid of their service centers, and we don't want to fund them for them.
"I usually don't see any lines that we're going to pick up; we leave that to the buyers. I'm there to let people know we're OK, and to keep an eye on some of our vendors, to make sure they're solvent."