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Computer Trade Show Hurt by Changes in Industry : Comdex May Be Losing Its Luster

November 12, 1986|DONNA K. H. WALTERS | Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS — Each year the computer industry comes to this electrified oasis hoping to create a little flash of its own, and 1986 is no different.

As throngs of manufacturers, dealers and users gathered for the eighth annual Comdex trade show this week, the searchlights were out. For the most part, they have focused on the new breed of personal computers, those using the Intel 80386 microprocessor as a brain.

Many in the industry are hoping the 80386-powered machines will invigorate sales of personal computers. But Comdex itself, which hit its peak two or three years ago in conjunction with the PC's phenomenal success, is beginning to show some signs of fading.

Although the show's sponsor, Interface Group of Needham, Mass., says Comdex attendance has not dropped from last year's 1,200 exhibitors and 80,000 attendees, the mix certainly has changed. And some major companies are beginning to doubt whether they'll be back next year.

No longer does Comdex live up to its name (which stands for Computer Dealers Exposition), primarily because of vast changes in the ways computers are marketed and sold.

Industry Shift

The industry is shifting its reliance away from plain and simple dealers, the retailers who put computers on the shelves and wait for customers to walk through the door.

And many of the "mom-and-pop" dealers, who used to flock to Comdex each fall, are staying away in droves, some trade show observers say.

"Two or three years ago, this was a dealer show," said Ed Carlson, sales manager for Berberian & Associates, a North Andover, Mass.-based manufacturers' representative. "Now, it's an end-user show, and the dealer feels slighted. You just don't find the small, independent dealer here any more."

Now the hot segment in computer selling is the value-added reseller, or VAR, which package computers, software and peripherals and tailor them to specific business needs.

The VARs are getting more and more of the manufacturers' and distributors' attention, and more of them are showing up at Comdex. Also, major users are sending their own representatives to the show, intent on building in-house familiarity with the wide range of products that fill almost 1,200 exhibition booths in five locations throughout the city.

As more and more companies make initial investments in computers, they are looking for ways to better utilize them. Often, they turn to specialized VARs or to smaller trade shows that focus on a given application of the technology, such as computer-aided design, desktop publishing and graphics.

That trend has been a boon to the smaller trade shows, but it has robbed the bigger ones. The National Computer Conference, one of the "granddaddies" of computer trade shows, was spectacular because of low attendance when it met here earlier this year.

Although most of the major industry players are still here--with the notable exception of Apple Computer, many say they are reassessing the value of Comdex, which is an expensive show to attend.

Apple decided to skip this year's event, saying it was finding the people it wanted to reach at the smaller, more specialized shows and through its own dealer gatherings.

Apple's absence from the show floor was the talk of the town and caused some controversy among makers of peripherals and software for Apple computers, who usually attended the show on the larger company's coattails.

"I'm really disappointed in Apple," sniffed cabbie Jonathan C. Newcombe, who avidly follows the show's comings and goings from his vantage point. "I think that says an awful lot about them, that they don't have any new products that can compete with these (80386-based machines)."

Making the decision to stay away from Comdex is difficult, most companies acknowledge, in part because of the attention it draws.

Going to Comdex each year, Hewlett-Packard spokeswoman Karen Gervais said, "is almost a must. It's like going to your parent's house for Christmas."

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