If I may, I'd like to offer an opposite extremist POV.
In reality, customers/end users owe small/boutique manufacturers EVERYTHING.
Without these guys, us included, music lovers would have spent a lot more money for very little worth.
When was the last time anybody opened up an outrageous product, be it speakers or amplifiers, from those well known expensive brand(s) and found out the inert left a lot to be desired, given the high price?
On the other hand, small business has always have to show their best to begin with in the hope of attracting interests for their products and go from there.
Furthermore, until and unless you spent time exhibiting yourself, you'd not know how much time and effort gone into this plus the amount of flexibility one has to show to accommodate his/her room visitors..
In another word, it is truly a two way street.
Just my $0.02.
I'm going to go a little extremist here to make a point, but in reality the exhibitors owe us EVERYTHING. Without us, they have no customer base, especially in the direct market.
Yes, a potential customer might be able to find a local user of the product that's willing to do a demo, but these shows offer the chance to demo and discuss with the manufacturer / importer / rep / whoever. I agree fully that the customer has to show a great deal of flexibility, but by extension that works both ways. And I do feel for people like Lou, not only for the reasons you laid out, but also because there is no dealer network, he has to see all of the oddballs that a dealer normally filters out. If you get an icy reception from a dealer, you might look for another dealer. Get that same reception from a manufacturer, and you might look for a different product.