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Industry Trade Shows: Visiting Versus Attending

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Hosting elaborate trade shows is one thing the elevator industry does well. A walk through this year’s National Association of Elevator Contractors (NAEC) 64th Annual Convention & Exposition  in Tampa, Florida (p.44), revealed some of the most colorful, best-thought-out displays and working models of any industry. If you could not find a new product in Tampa, you just were not looking, which raises the question: are we just visiting or actually attending?

How many times have you asked a friend or colleague, “How was the trade show you went to last week?,” only to hear him/her respond “OK,” “Good,” or, “There were some pretty interesting things there.” During 20 years of attending elevator trade shows, I have found those three statements make up 99% of the responses I get. It is sad that so many of us just visit a show and do not actually attend. Vendors, OEMs and small businesses spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to travel and set up displays that are often overlooked. If their products are junk, that is on them. However, when we run into an old friend in front of a soon-to-be-bypassed booth, many wonderful products and components can escape notice. It is unlikely we will ever change that.

If there is one group that appears to get the most out of these shows, it is the independent elevator contractors. Independents always seem to be on the lookout for things that can change their business. After all, their livelihood depends on it. The most engaging conversations about both new and old products are almost always with independent contractors. I am in awe of the level of talent independents have managed to attract over the past few years. In fact, some of the industry’s most talented individuals are working for the smallest companies.

Regardless, it often seems the largest demographic represented at today’s trade show is the younger sales representative working for a major OEM. The cost to the OEMs to send representatives to trade shows is great. Expenses include travel, hotel and lost customer-service time. Despite their having such a high sponsorship cost, sales representatives are often the least likely to get anything out of the shows. Be it limited technical savvy to identify game changers for their piece of the business or lack of interest in much more than the social atmosphere, this group just seems to miss out. Its members do, however, appear to have the most fun at industry gatherings.

If more people change the way they view these indus-try gatherings, trade shows will become a valuable tool to boost revenue.

Regardless of the socializing, these individuals still seem to glean minimal knowledge from these events that independent contractors view as priceless exposure to both products and industry professionals. To my surprise, this year, someone noticed this trend and actually did something about it. While manning my company’s booth, I was approached by a group of three younger sales representatives from one of the major OEMs. They were direct in asking what my company can do for them. They wanted to know what new products I had, and if any old products were underused or slipping through the cracks. After spending some time with them, I noticed they were taking notes. I was shocked to see that the very people that need information most were actually collecting data. When my product pitch was complete, I told them I was surprised they were so focused and motivated to gain knowledge.

They then told me that their regional sales manager had tasked three representatives from each branch office with collecting data on products that can positively impact their business. Each group of three was assigned a small number of vendors from which to gather data. At the conclusion of the show, they were to assemble as a group and analyze their findings. One of the sales representatives also told me he had been to several trade shows in his six years, but this was the first time he actually got something out of one. He then boasted of meeting Herb and Walter Glaser of Hollister-Whitney Elevator Corp.

I truly applaud that OEM regional manager, as it is clear he or she sees the value in giving a firsthand look at what products are available to boost sales. New products can offer new opportunities for a sales team, not to mention solve problems for a service operation. Perhaps this trend will catch on with other OEMs. They invest so much in their people; it is a grand concept to actually expect results from a company-funded trip to a trade show. If more people change the way they view these industry gatherings, trade shows will become a valuable tool to boost revenue.

Trade shows are a valuable resource to our industry, and it doesn’t stop at looking at products! Many trade shows offer seminars and meetings on topical issues that would benefit the majority of us. Often, when I ask an associate if he or she attended one of these seminars, they respond, “I didn’t know that was going on.” NAEC does a great job of providing booklets spelling out events that are ongoing during these shows. Online information is also published in advance. These are valuable resources that will likely go away if underused. As professionals in an industry that will outlive us all, we have an obligation to ensure these industry events endure the test of time. Perhaps that is best accomplished by getting the most out of these events for ourselves and our companies alike. When visiting your next event, make a concerted effort to attend. Plan in advance to attend a seminar or even a discussion on something relevant to your business segment. Perhaps you are an expert on one of the seminar topics. If so, you just might be able to share some quality information with less senior members of our industry. Should you be in a managerial capacity for one of the major OEMs, look to task your sales representatives with collecting data and not just having a good time. At a minimum, look over the vendor list for an event, and plan to spend some time at the booths that can positively affect your business. When compiling data for your year-end report, you just might be glad you did!

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