CoffeeFest is an indie run event from a (somewhat cocky) group in Seattle. I'd guess the DC event was about 300 booths or so. They do everything in house, including designing their own reg software. Their DC show looked like a pretty typical mid-budget affair, but we were less interested in the show than in the Mid-Atlantic Barista Competition and the Millrock Latte Art Competitions, both of which featured baristi from our little joint, first time Pittsburgh represented at either.
The owner of CoffeeFest, David Heilbrun, is generally considered a hero in the industry for providing several venues (generally 3x year - East/West/Central) for baristi and coffeehouse owners to meet suppliers. He's viewed as a facilitator. Few if any in the specialty coffee industry begrudge him whatever he makes on his shows.
The SCAA event was 830 booths give or take. It was a bit more upscale, with some superb parties. It was very much like AD:TECH in that there exists an easily identifiable group of thought leaders who influenced traffic at the booths they deigned 'worthy'.
The SCAA doesn't generate the same love that CoffeeFest does. In fact, lately the association seems to be more a liability than an asset as it pertains to the industry's largest show. And everyone is a critic about everything the association does. Particularly its reliance on the annual event for most of its revenue.
Thus it was the SCAA event where I got a lesson on how show attendees are forcing change in their association.
The SCAA has been plagued by mismanagement and worse over the past year and change. To suggest the association is troubled would be an understatement. Nevertheless, the SCAA's incoming president, Rob Stephen, who developed Dunkin' Donuts program for sustainable coffee purchasing, was on two podcasts (CoffeeGeek and Portafilter.net) during last week's national convention. And his candor seems to have changed some people's opinions about the SCAA in a positive way.
According to CoffeeGeek, it appears the 'old school' at the SCAA didn't like their new president going "outside traditional media channels" one bit, claiming podcasts were "amateurish and inappropriate."
The SCAA has an online forum. But it's the smallest of any of the players. CoffeeGeek has a much more active and larger one, as does Home-Barista. The new Barista Guild of America was created to give baristi a greater voice vis a vis shop owners and suppliers and while hosted by the SCAA, the BGA has its own agenda as evidenced by its forum. And there are at least 52 active blogs in the specialty coffee space, plus the two aforementioned regular podcasts.
The number of voices and the numerous opinions shared by the more than 1,000 baristi, coffeehouse owners, suppliers and others who participate in these online forums and read these blogs are in and of themselves, an alternative to having to go to an association for education. There is so much knowledge openly shared and available online it's a wonder anyone pays for any kind of consulting.
Being an astute businessperson, I'd imagine Rob Stephen sees the writing on the wall. This is an industry that's moving forward with much greater velocity than its association, which is being viewed less as leadership and more as sticks in the mud.
Stephen's choosing to use the podcasts, whether approved by the SCAA or not, was an ideal way to begin to fix the relationship between the SCAA and its constituents. And in this case, it appears to have been absolutely necessary.
for those who weren't in the tech/media early adopters of podcasts - and especially those in associations - this should be fair warning that podcasts just came of age.