By Diane M. Calabrese / Published September 2017
Commerce, camaraderie, and context are the three ‘C’s of trade and industrial shows. Whether exhibiting or attending, participants at such gatherings build and fortify links—business to business, collegial, and friendship.
Perhaps most importantly, participants immerse themselves in a setting defined by new equipment, innovative solutions, and crisp ideas. That context itself is a catalyst for more links.
Indeed, interacting with colleagues in a place that becomes for a short span of time a microcosm of an industry presents a unique opportunity. Judy Bowers, vice president of RJ Bowers Inc. in Rockford, IL, says that she participates “to meet customers—new and old.” She cites that as her primary reason for attending.
“Tradeshows are a very easy way to see your customers and meet new ones,” explains Bowers. They are also excellent places to display new equipment and accessories.
“Tradeshows are a great chance to meet face-to-face with customers and showcase the full breadth of our solutions and product offerings,” says Laura Niessner-Pyatt, product category director (professional pressure washers) with Kärcher North America in Denver, CO. “The industry networking and opportunities to meet with multiple suppliers—vendors—in one place is also a nice benefit.”
The person-to-person dimension of shows makes them especially important. “I participate in tradeshows because it is a great opportunity to network with peers,” says Chad Rasmussen, CFO, Royce Industries L.C. in West Jordan, UT. “I feel like I learn so much from people that do the same thing that I do.”
Networking in a tradeshow setting is valuable, says Rasmussen. “In addition to the great opportunities to network, it is nice to see the latest equipment out there and talk to manufacturers to see what is coming.”
In fact, getting the word out about new products and solutions is important to participants. “We mainly exhibit at tradeshows to see a volume of customers that we normally wouldn’t be able to—and also to showcase products that customers may not know we carry,” says Chris Meyer, controller at Ben’s Cleaner Sales Inc. in Seattle, WA.
Participating as an exhibitor in themed shows, such as farming or construction, on a regional level and participating in national industry-focused shows are both important to members of our industry. “We attend national industry tradeshows to network with manufacturer representatives and other distributors,” says Meyer.
Distributors make decisions about which regional and local tradeshows to attend based on the markets they serve. If there is a downturn in a particular sector—oil and gas, for example—a distributor might find it advantageous to focus on another niche served, such as farming. It’s about finding a balance between time invested and return on the investment. Recalibrating is just a matter of good business planning.
Even so, there’s real value to getting out to as many local and regional tradeshows as possible. When we spoke with Jessica Gentry, office manager with broad duties at Aqua Engineers in Austell, GA, she had just returned from a construction tradeshow. She says she welcomes the opportunity to “get feedback” from customers in a real-time setting.
“With respect to the ‘every day’ utility of what can be learned and used to strengthen a business, there is much,” explains Gentry. Seeing how businesses, such as construction, are using equipment informs distributors and manufacturers, for instance.
With the CETA Annual Convention, co-located with ISSA/Interclean, fast approaching (September 10–14, 2017), Gentry reminds us of the many plusses of attending. “It’s nice to see everybody,” she says. “We like to attend different roundtables.”
National tradeshows are a critical part of keeping pace with the leading edge of the industry. “We try to stay on top of what’s going on in our industry,” explains Gentry, adding that the CETA annual convention gives participants a great assist in doing so.
The sentiment Gentry expresses is a prevailing one. “We certainly value the CETA tradeshow and classes offered,” says Brenda Purswell, president, Alklean Industries Inc. in Pasadena, TX.
“We always enjoy seeing each manufacturer and supplier who displays, and we enjoy seeing what new items have evolved in the marketplace as well as continuing our relationship with each one,” explains Purswell. “The classes/seminars always
have something that we glean from to bring back to our business to become a better distributor or business.”
Again, there’s no way to overstate the significance of the interaction with colleagues. “We always see other distributors and learn from them as well,” says Purswell. “We have developed many friendships through the industry that we value, and we feel they are worth many times over the cost of our membership and expenses incurred to travel to the tradeshow.”
“We participate in tradeshows for a couple of reasons,” says Jim O’Connell, president of Hotsy Pacific in Modesto, CA. “We have an annual World Ag Expo where we actually sell a number of machines to our agricultural customers. At the same time, we pick up new customers and are able to network with our current customers.”
O’Connell’s company also serves winemakers. “At another show in our wine region, it is mainly about introducing products as well as ourselves to the wineries and grape growers in the region,” he explains. “We are also able to network with our current customers as well as develop new customers. Rarely is anything sold at that show.”
The niche, breadth, and frequency of tradeshows are among the factors O’Connell considers when deciding where and when to participate. “We have found over the years that tradeshows help to keep us in front of our customers, as long as the show is relevant to the area and does not take too much time from normal operations for the customer,” he explains. “Frequency is another issue—too many and too often do not work for us or our customer base.”
Tradeshows fit into the whole business plan. “I think tradeshows still have some impact, but it is in conjunction with all your marketing efforts,” says O’Connell. “A good marketing mix of shows, newsletters, online ads, and mailers works for us.”
“There are really three main reasons that we attend tradeshows, such as CETA,” says Jim Cross, marketing manager, Briggs & Stratton, Commercial Power in Milwaukee, WI. “Tradeshows are a great way for us to keep an eye on industry trends and stay connected to new technologies and trends. We stay abreast of what’s new in the industry.
“Having all of the major equipment manufacturers in one place makes it really efficient for us to have meaningful conversations with key members of their teams as well as helping them get the most out of their show experience with special ‘show’ offers,” continues Cross. “We connect with equipment manufacturers.”
Finally, tradeshows afford the chance to “engage with cleaning professionals,” says Cross. “One of our cultural attributes is user-driven problem solving. Tradeshows such as CETA allow us to talk directly with cleaning contractors who use the equipment powered by our engines and understand their daily challenges. We use these conversations to help us develop better innovations and support technologies.”