In recent years tradeshows have experienced the very sort of highs and lows that make most entrepreneurs wonder why they don’t just cash in for a regular nine to five alternative. The Eighties and Nineties were a boon to the tradeshow and exhibit industry. Companies would spend countless dollars displaying their products and services and entertaining best prospects.

Vendors and suppliers initiated the tradeshow concept because it made economical sense, utilizing one centralized location to display products to a captive, seemingly motivated audience. The gathering of multiple people at a single location also provided a price advantage with regard to travel, hotels, etc. What’s more, companies began to use tradeshows as a reward for sales staff and management. Add to the mix associations that provided educational opportunities for vendors to help train support and other staff. All in all the trade show model was win, win, win.

So the birth of tradeshows began out of a necessity for industries to be more efficient, to unite, to acquire knowledge and training, and to distribute product. But as with most growing trends there comes a point where the push to stand out and one up the competition must be weighed against the bottom line. The September 11 fallout combined with continued economic struggles worldwide forced all of us to take a big step back and re-evaluate our marketing investments.

Today’s tradeshows have taken on a new style and with that style has emerged increased effectiveness. Tradeshows remain a highly efficient gathering place where buyers and sellers can converge and communicate. As a matter of fact, today you’ll find many tradeshows boasting 10% increases in attendance, as well as an increase in exhibitors. Yet there are clear distinctions from the past. Gone are logo-branded shopping bags or other promotional items or giveaways. Today, these items are being replaced with “knowledge tools” that help people become more cost-effective when they are selling a product or satisfying their client. And, gone are the days when employees are rewarded with a trip to the annual convention or trade show. Today, statistics show that up to 90% of show attendees are true decision makers.

What’s more, many company-sponsored entertainment/cocktail events have also disappeared, replaced by educational and training sessions. Often the educational sessions are provided by associations who have now been added to the group of people who have come together at one gathering place.

So at today’s tradeshow, you’ll see associations, user groups, vendors, suppliers and clients collectively trying to make the most effective use of their travel budget, their time and their staff. Companies are sending the people that need to be there. As a matter of fact, 75% of the people who make a purchase tell us that they have visited a trade show and that either their purchasing decision was initiated at a show or it was confirmed at a show.

That’s a very high statistic. So what I suggest to you is to take a step back and take a look at the dollars you are spending. Evaluate your marketing budget and see where you can fit tradeshows back in, or perhaps, how you can do more tradeshows and be more efficient and more effective. There’s one thing for certain: today’s tradeshows remain an effective part of your sales strategy. And, if they’re not part of your plan, you might be missing opportunities. As one of my clients recently asked me, “How much do you think we’re going to do if we go to the tradeshow? And, what do you think the repercussions are if we don’t attend?” I answered his question with another question, “What will your clients think if you’re not there, and what will that cost you?”

As the old adage says: Maybe you simply can’t afford not to do it.

That’s Q from the street.

Anthony Quaranta is the president of Q Group, Hauppauge, N.Y.