Trade Show TalesBlog

Why I Attend Trade Shows — Love on Aisle #600

May 21st, 2011 8 COMMENTS
Love on Aisle #600 -- Trade Shows and Events

Love on Aisle #600 -- Trade Shows and Events

Shame. Shame, Shame. Get your mind out of the gutter. This is neither a steamy romance nor an even steamier fantasy. This is about the love of trade shows and why you, me, or anyone else attends them.

Over the years, I’ve read more articles than I’d care to admit about why trade shows are important, why exhibit marketing is effective, and why we MUST attend them. They make sense, in the same way that taking vitamins makes sense. On some level you know it can’t hurt and it’s good for you, even if you can’t always measure the results. I could give you the typical sales and marketing reasons to attend, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll share nine reasons why I attend trade shows. It may not be as informative, but it will be a lot more interesting.

Reason #1: I have to. I work for a trade show exhibit designer and manufacturer. Even worse, I co-manage the business so I can’t even pretend to hate trade shows, even if I did. Which I don’t. (Just in case my boss reads this, let me repeat, “I enjoy attending trade shows!”)

Reason #2: I get to see family, friends, and acquaintances. That’s a big deal to me. Until about two years ago, my brother lived in Las Vegas. Attending a trade show in Vegas was an excuse to see my brother. When TS2 was in Philadelphia, I had dinner with my old college roommate. Mostly, I get to see colleagues and industry suppliers whom I’ve known for years. Since I don’t travel quite as much as I used to, the shows are an excuse to chat about business and politics, to have a drink or two, and to gossip, learn, and enjoy.

Red vs. Blue

Reason #3: Competitors. They are there, just like you, with the latest and greatest. Even if you don’t get to see all the whiz-bang cool stuff, you get a sense of what direction they are headed. Are they moving upstream? Downstream? Are they investing in R&D? Who’s hanging out in their booth this year? Who’s not? I never understand why companies forbid their employees from chatting with competitors. Obviously, you have to be smart about what you do or do not share, but from my experience, most competitors are friendly, and the stories, observations, and lies you share are at worse harmless and at best enlightening. And to those not so friendly competitors . . . your paranoia will shorten your life by about 10 years.

Reason #4: I love walking the show floor because there are so many folks with encyclopedic knowledge about an industry. I attended my first trade show in 1994, about a month after starting as the marketing director for an exhibit manufacturer. The owner, a man who knew everyone at the show, introduced me to what seemed like hundreds of people. As we walked the show, he shared his knowledge about the industry, the history of the various companies, and the benefits and features of the products. What I learned by walking the show, both on my own and with him, compressed my learning curve by a good year. I could have never gotten the same information without attending the show.

Reason #5: Ink pens. My wife is a writer. She loves pens, all kinds of pens, but mostly fat pens. I score major points whenever I bring home 3-4 cheap trade show pens, especially if they have some kind of gimmick (and are fat).

Reason #6: Trade shows are an amazing buffet of new ideas. How can you not be impressed by the collective creativity? Whether it’s EuroShop in Germany or the local Business-to-Business show by the Chamber, I always discover new products, services, presentations, trinkets, and people. Even if I’m not looking for something specific, I usually find something worth pursuing after the show that will benefit our business or our customers. Would a virtual trade show offer the same experience? Perhaps, but I doubt it.

Reason #7: Customers. Trade shows are a lot like annual employee performance reviews. There should be no surprises, unless they’re positive. If you dread attending your annual industry trade show because of customer complaints, then your company is in serious trouble. I attend for just the opposite reason. Like Reason #2, I really enjoy meeting customers, talking about their businesses, learning about the challenges in their markets, and hearing about their lives. I know it’s a cliché, but shaking someone’s hand and looking them in the eye changes everything. Sure there may be a negative here and there, but it’s mostly all positive. Over the years, I can only count a few times, working with various companies, that I haven’t left a show feeling upbeat.

What? No Sewing Kit!

Reason #8: Hotel/Motel Toiletries. Actually, I don’t really care about the shampoo or the conditioner, but I hoard the little soaps. I am cheap, but that’s not the reason. I can’t stand the liquid soap at the gym where I am a member, and over the years I’ve probably left over a 100 bars of soap at the gym because I’m absent-minded. The mini-motel soaps are perfect. I don’t care if I leave them, and I don’t care about the brand.

Reason #9: Potential Customers. Next to chatting with existing customers, potential customers are my favorite reason to participate in trade shows. You get to see your company and your booth through their eyes. Is your product and service relevant to them? What interests them? What have they seen at the show that appeals to them? What does the future hold for them? For you? Far too many exhibitors are simply carnival barkers with more teeth and less visible tattoos. They want to close the sale, not create a relationship. That’s unfortunate because no one wants to be assaulted at a show. “Listen and Learn” is my mantra at every show.

Reason #10: For purely selfish reasons, I need a #10 to complete the list. Please take a moment and share your reason for attending/participating in trade shows. Why do you love to stroll down Aisle #600?

— Mel White

Additional Blog Entries:
10 Quick Tips for Any Trade Show Novice
Trade Shows as First Dates

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8 Responses to “Why I Attend Trade Shows — Love on Aisle #600”

  1. You’ve named a bunch, but what fun to finally meet the person or people you’ve talked with on the phone (for years!) and imagined what they look like from their voice(s). Only to discover they are nothing like you imagined. Sometimes that’s good and sometimes not so good. But always totally fun. I love trade shows!

  2. mel says:

    I believe that’s called the Rick Astley Effect, the British singer of “Never Gonna Give You Up.” The booming voice didn’t quite match the boyish appearance.

    An acquaintance of my wife, who met me for the first time, said to my wife, “I thought he’d be taller.” That’s my all time favorite.

  3. I never knew you were this funny. Well done Mel, great article.

  4. mel says:

    Hi Steffen–

    Great to hear from you. Just curious . . . Is that American funny or Danish funny? I assume it makes a difference. 😉

  5. Jacque says:

    I just love how creative people get when they know they are going to be right next to their competition. It really does bring out the best in everyone. I love going booth to booth and taking the time to discover all the little things that company has come up with that I might be able to use in my business. I always leave so energized and creatively empowered!

  6. Erik Frost says:

    As a very green (in the old sense of the term) project manager for a portable/modular manufacturer, Exhibitor ’99 was my first trade show.

    I was overwhelmed by the experience. It was quite a large show, and I saw it all: The bitter and unfriendly competitors, the warm welcomes from industry friends, colleagues and clients, the rush to get our booth (with some newly designed and quite unwieldy ribbon headers) set up in time, labor “relations” and after-hours merriment with people who remain friends to this day.

    All in all, it was a fantastic and educative experience. My eyes were opened to the breadth of opportunities and possibilities that this industry offers. Ten years on, I still enjoy reminiscing about the first trade show and look forward to my next.

    Erik Frost
    President, Goro Design Group (Gorodesign)

  7. Mel,
    These are GREAT reasons to go to shows and I agree with all of them. Because I am transporation guy; I love to go to show to reconnect with the Marshalling yard guy/gals, the dock formen, General Contractor’s Freight Manager. These are the people that help me get my clients exhibit materials in and out of shows. Many have become good friends and I have been to their homes and enjoyed their families. It is ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS in this business.
    Thanks for the reminders!!!


  8. Caryn says:

    I too have enjoyed the many show experiences I’ve had over the years. It’s been interesting seeing the show from many different angles from registrar, to show manager, to transportation/VIP babysitter to exhibitor. I’ve seen a lot and most of all enjoy knowing that every person there will leave with a new experience, a new skill, a new knowledge of their field, a new view on their jobs, a new friend, a new contact, a new family vacation spot or something new that they would not have if they stayed back at the office.

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