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Exhibitors Angry Over Sparsely Attended Expo

San Diego County Business Editor

By the time the three-day Business Systems Exposition in the San Diego Community Concourse ended Friday evening, most of the 110 exhibitors had already left, expressing anger over the sparse attendance and talking of filing small claims and class-action lawsuits against the promoter.

Exhibitors also claimed that the promoter--National Media Corp. of San Diego-- did little advertising for the show and misled exhibitors about the number of preregistered participants. One exhibitor took his complaint to the San Diego district attorney’s fraud unit.

Fewer than 300 people attended the three-day expo, according to the exhibitors, who were charged between $300 and $1,500 per booth. Rent for the entire Concourse hall was only $1,100 per day, plus expenses for security guards, according to Sandy Niemeyer, event and booking coordinator at the Concourse.

On Thursday, the merchants circulated a petition demanding a partial refund of their fees.

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But Robert Bennett, president of National Media, said in an interview that he saw only 23 signatures on the petition. He criticized the merchants for expecting a bigger turnout.

“This isn’t a consumer event,” he said, “and they’re expecting to see mom and pop and the kids with balloons.”

Exhibitors tried to complain to Bennett on Friday, but he left the exhibit hall in the morning and was unavailable most of the day. He did not respond to several requests for interviews to comment on the potential lawsuits.

Most of the people attending the show did not pay the $7.50-per-person registration fee, according to merchants. The promoters were asking passers-by to attend the show, one exhibitor said.

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One National Media worker said that only $30 in ticket sales had been generated.

“The only business I’ve gotten is from other exhibitors,” said Sally Lindley, San Diego sales manager for Jeter Systems.

Exhibitors said they were told by Bennett that 4,000 people had preregistered for the event. But merchants claimed that 200 businesses in San Diego had been approached as potential exhibitors and that each was given 50 free tickets to distribute.

Officials staffing the IBM booth dismantled their exhibit Friday morning, and other exhibitors removed their items well before the 6 p.m. closing time.

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“I made one sale,” said Lisa Young, an employee with Grantree Furniture Rental, “and that was to another exhibitor.”

At David G. Walck’s Royal Business Machines booth, only 14 non-exhibitors stopped by. “I’ve sold nothing; I would have done better if they had just taken my money,” he said.

Winn Schwartau, former marketing executive at Kaypro and now an independent computer distributor, said he and other merchants filed suits in small claims court against Bennett’s promotion firm.

Bennett claimed that he spent $40,000 on advertising and direct-mail promotions for the event. But exhibitors said they saw only small advertisements in the San Diego Trolley newspaper, a one-inch ad in the San Diego Union and an ad in a north San Diego County paper.

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