Tech savvy snag bargains at shows

MarketPro computer exhibitions offer venue for enthusiasts to indulge their passion for digital gear at low prices

April 12, 2004|By Bob Erle | Bob Erle,Special to Baltimoresun.com

The advent of computer technology as a necessary tool of everyday life, coupled with an insatiable thirst for bargains among consumers, has left MarketPro Computer Shows Inc. the benefactor of a convergence between computer enthusiast and computer liquidator at their weekend discount shows.

MarketPro -- which holds these consumer shows across Maryland, including their stop at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium earlier this month -- brings thrifty shoppers together with computer re-furbishers and manufacturers who offer discount prices on computer systems, software and accessories.

"Consumer shows in general have been popular mainly because show producers have improved their marketing," Michael Hughes of Trade Show Week magazine said of the growing popularity of such events. Consumer shows make up about 70 percent of all types of trade shows, he said.

"Also, post 9/11, there has been the trend of family events that only require a drive as opposed to a flight, Hughes said. "There has also been an explosion in the number of convention centers. There are literally more venues to hold these types of events all over the country."

Low prices are one reason why more than 2.5 million people attended MarketPro shows nationwide last year, said the privately held company, based in Rockville.

Eric Maghanoy, a Ft. Meade Army sergeant who began attending these shows in 1997, said he routinely shops these events to save money. Admission costs as much as $7 per person.

"Best Buy or CompUSA are the stores where I buy the expensive hardware like motherboards or hard drives because I can get a better warranty there," Maghanoy said. "Anything else I need to build, add or install into a computer, I can buy at a more reasonable price at the computer show -- and they offer decent warranties, too."

Beat that price

These events, which typically take place at arenas and convention centers along the East Coast, often have 30 to 150 companies selling similar products, making comparison-shopping as easy as walking a few feet to the next booth.

"If I don't like the price of a product," Maghanoy said, "I can move on to the next vendor, who might be offering the same product or a similar one at a cheaper price. Sometimes I can even talk down the price."

Exhibitors can provide bargain-hunters with low prices because they buy their products in bulk.

"I sell modems out here for $15 apiece," said Alex Fevenko of Equipment Exchange Resource Systems Inc. The company, based in Jessup, specializes in refurbished monitors.

"I buy them for $10 and make $5," Fevenko said. "I sell to other vendors at $14 or $15 apiece. I buy 1,000 at a time so I get that price -- but I'm passing most of that to you, the customer."

Fevenko, one of MarketPro's oldest and largest exhibitors, understands that people expect bargains at these shows, especially after paying their admission fees. He's been selling products at the shows for nine years.

"I give [the customer] computer-show pricing that's cheaper than my showroom price," he said. "We figure you're coming to the show to save money, so that helps offset the $7 fee to get in. A 21-inch monitor that's $299 at the show would be $359 at the shop, so you're going to get a good savings."

Although purchasers can save as much as 80 percent on equipment, Hughes warns that these bargains may have drawbacks.

"The prices that some of the dealers offer reflect the total service package, or lack thereof," said Hughes, Trade Show Week's research director. "So what I'm saying is: It's buyer beware, and you get what you pay for."

In case of refund ...

If a consumer does have a problem with a purchase, getting a refund or an exchange can be difficult -- as some dealers do not attend every show and a few don't have retail outlets.

"If I go out and buy a hard-drive, and that hard-drive fails, either in the short-term or a little bit later, the vendor may not be in business -- they may not be there," said Ed Fox, an technology consultant who shops at MarketPro once a month to collect pricing data for his Web newsletter, Current Trends in PC Technology.

Fox also noted that these shows were designed mainly for the true computer enthusiast and that the vast selection of products and prices can be intimidating to a novice.

For those who don't know a hard drive from a hard-shell crab, Fox recommended that they have a specific idea of what they need before attending an event.

"If people are looking for a computer where they need to have their hand held somewhat, then that is a drawback to the MarketPro Shows," he said. "I always buy at the shows, and I've never had a problem; but I know what I'm buying, and not everybody does. Some of the dealers at the shows sell second-hand merchandise -- and those are always a risk."

Vendors see profits grow

Many vendors, however, do have brick-and-mortar stores -- and oftentimes, the success of their business depends on the revenue generated at these weekend events.

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