Award Date

5-1-2015

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

First Committee Member

Robert E. Lang

Second Committee Member

Barbara G. Brents

Third Committee Member

David R. Dickens

Fourth Committee Member

Bo Bernhard

Fifth Committee Member

Curtis Love

Number of Pages

164

Abstract

This study illuminates how place characteristics shape the way in which tradeshow exhibitors “do” business on and off the tradeshow floor. A surge in framing tradeshows as temporary clusters has occurred in the recent decades. Temporary clusters are defined as “hotspots of intensive and dedicated exchange of knowledge, network building and generation of new ideas” (Maskell, Bathelt and Malmberg 2004). The idea that temporarily sharing geographic space can advantage firms is particularly noteworthy in a post-industrial globalized economy. In the literature, social scientists have paid specific attention to the connections between geography and spatial proximity, and information diffusion and knowledge acquisition, interpersonal networks and industry pipelines, and economic activity and outcomes. This research expounds the work of Maskell, Bathelt and Malmberg (2006) and Power and Jannson (2008) who, in the conclusion of their research, hypothesize that social venues may be as important for business exchanges as formal workspaces such as the factory or tradeshow floor.

This study is informed by the interpretive paradigm and based on the tenets of the constructionist approach. This research tradition emphasizes participant’s “definition of terms, situations, and events and try to tap the participant’s assumptions, implicit meanings, and tacit rules” (Charmaz 2002, p. 681). Constructionists use grounded theory to focus on the “what” and “how” meanings and actions are constructed. The epistemological goal is an interpretive understanding aimed at discovering social processes within a specific context (Charmaz 2011).

All ethnographic research is restricted to the tradeshow floor. I conducted 18 formal interviews, and dozens of informal interviews with exhibitors at The Cellular Telephone Industries Association—The Wireless Association (CTIA) and the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) in 2013. These are annual international, business-to-business events for mobile and gaming professionals, respectively. I used grounded theory as an inductive approach to data collection. Analysis consisted of uncovering patterns, themes and common categories in the data.

The study has three key findings. First, I found support for exhibitors constructing time as highly valuable, limited and constrained. They organize and plan their time rather than relying on spontaneous, unexpected encounters. Thus time is utilized differently on and off the floor as well as in temporary clusters and permanent clusters. Second, I found that “being noticed” which includes the strategies exhibitors use to drive people to the booth and generate wide-spread attention are just as important, if not more so than the benefits of “being there.” The exhibitors strategies for being notice include positioning themselves in desirable locations on the floor, contact clients and colleagues to notify them of their participation before and during the show, and employing in-booth marketing techniques. Being there is receiving unsolicited, spontaneous information while being noticed means dispensing information and generating buzz which can increase industry status and prestige. Third, my findings on relationship development move beyond a structural understanding of social networks. This research provides place-based context of the social processes that occurs on the tradeshow floor and in social venues. A move from the tradeshow floor to social venues changes the context of interactions. Social venues are viewed as “relaxed” places where “friends” and “acquaintances” spend uninterrupted face-to-face time. A shift from “client” or “lead” to “acquaintance” or “friend” is meaningful. It is in this context that personal information is exchanged, experiences are shared, commonalities are discovered, and the foundation of relationships are laid and solidified.

In business, there are a few things one can always count on: there is always new information to acquire and issues will eventually arise, especially when working with technology. The advantages of possessing relationships that are more meaningful than pure market-based relationships is that business becomes more enjoyable and people want to do business with “good” people they “know and trust”, help a “friend” succeed, and give a “friend” the benefit of the doubt when issues arise.

This study advances our understanding of temporary clusters, which are only increasing in prominence, and provides an in-depth account of how place characteristics shape face-to-face interaction and network development.

Keywords

Business networks; Exhibitors; Nevada – Las Vegas; Trade shows

Disciplines

Business | Sociology | Work, Economy and Organizations

Language

English


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