While the allure of Las Vegas as a fun place can be powerful, attending a trade show there can also be the most important point in your business year, both for getting a grip on where you are and where you are going. This certainly relates to the Global Tire Expo – Powered by the Tire Industry Association (TIA) – during SEMA, but it can also apply to any trade show or dealer meeting you attend.
I know what I am talking about. Over the past 30 years, I have attended many dozens of trade shows, produced nearly 40 of them and exhibited at many more. Perhaps the most frustrating thing I have observed is attendees wasting the opportunities that are laid out before them when they attend such events.
Exhibitors spend untold thousands of dollars setting up their exhibits. Attendees spend lots of money on travel and admission fees. Producers of trade events do everything they can to encourage these two groups to interact. Unfortunately, most attendees make a critical mistake. They visit with people whom they know and avoid eye contact as they pass by booths with which they are unfamiliar. It becomes more of a reunion of friends than a “mixer” where people meet those whom they don’t know and learn about their products of which they know little.
Why do such wastes of time and opportunity occur? Perhaps it is shyness. Maybe arrogance. The “old-timer-already-knows-it-all so don’t try to sell me” attitude. Or, the new attendee “more interested in fun than fundamentals.” Or, possibly, just being oblivious—not knowing how to work a trade show. Both attendees who will not listen and exhibitors who don’t get to teach them lose significant opportunities, not to mention wasted dollars spent to get in the same room with each other.
This article attempts to encourage you to do something different at the Global Tire Expo at SEMA this year. With advance planning, a strategic execution and proper follow-up, you can make it a most profitable experience—and have fun, too.
Why attend at all?
Of course, the answer has to be a little more than “Vegas is fun.” Here are a few other reasons:
Networking: Most attendees are pretty good at this naturally, but intentional networking—where you go out of your way to meet people you don’t know—will pay off significantly. You don’t know who you don’t know, so you have to force yourself into situations where conversations get started. The benefit is unknown, but do it for a week, and you’ll be able to reap the benefts networking serves for you. Where else can you meet people in person in your industry with whom you would never otherwise come into contact?
Motivation: Just actively being in the environment where your industry peers are all around you provides energy you could never experience at home. As with networking, you don’t know when or where the light will come on but being actively open to it will pay dividends.
Marketing or Concept Research: You have some ideas you have been mulling. Rather than going headlong into a new idea, test it. It is not likely that your employees or non-industry peers can help much except to cheer you (or jeer you). They don’t have the same experience or risk as you do. At an industry event, speak privately to noncompetitors from other parts of the country. Conduct your own “focus groups” to bounce ideas around. You can’t buy better research, and you will have already paid for what you learn simply by being there anyway.
Pure Education: In one location, you will be able to see the latest tools and equipment, new technologies, useful techniques or processes, best practices and industry changes. Attend the dozens of available classes. Listen to on-floor demonstrations. Entrepreneurs are always looking for the next best thing. They not only look ahead, but often jump ahead of competitors. Chances are those competitors are back home while you are at the GTE. Take the unfair advantage to the bank.
Accidental Education: This is a biggie. There is a tendency not to listen to exhibitors when you “know” you are not interested. You may look the other way or give a glib “hello” when a sales representative approaches you with a greeting. For all the reasons I listed above, you may not tend to listen.
So, as you approach the show floor at the GTE this year, you shouldn’t see a vast array of “sales booths.” Instead, see a massive group of teachers. No one can sell you anything until they teach you why it can make or save you money.
Make no mistake about it. Exhibitors spent thousands of dollars with the goal of selling you something. Why else would they come? Do not make the mistake of thinking that just because you have “absolutely no intention” of buying from some of them that they cannot teach you something. You absolutely don’t know what you don’t know.
You do not have to buy from any of them. You have to listen to all of them.
One of the exhibitors you may have had absolutely no interest in will surprise you. Probably more than one. Just one conversation may spark an idea that you would not have considered otherwise. You already invested money in getting there. It’s worth the investment of your time to listen. Just in case.
Enjoy: This new emphasis should not take the joy away from being in a vibrant city. There will be plenty of time to have fun as long as the fun does not make you unprepared to be at “work” the following morning.
Remember, what happens in Vegas, stays on YouTube! And, you might just find yourself nominated to be a trade show judge someday.