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Whether it’s your first time or your 20th, walking the trade show floor is a strange mix of excitement and nervous anticipation. The wide aisles and large seminar rooms are teeming with opportunity: To learn, to purchase, to network.
In anticipation of this year’s fall shows, Professional Carwashing & Detailing decided to track down organizers and seasoned veterans for the best advice at maximizing your time at a trade show event. From walking the floor to taking notes in the classroom, we’ve got the need-to-know info that will help make this your best trade show event yet.
Learn, learn, and learn some more
Jerry Nix, owner of Speedi Carwash Inc., in Tacoma, WA, and presidentsof the Western Carwash Association, recalled his first trade show experience — back in 1988 — as an opportunity to learn, learn, and well, learn some more. “The educational sessions were of particular interest to me since I could take home what I learned and implement the tips or techniques from the educational sessions into my own business,” Nix remembered.
His thirst for knowledge wasn’t entirely quenched either, as his first visit turned into an annual trip he used to build relationships with vendors, learn about new products, and stay on top of his game by attending educational seminars. “I have learned how to market my carwash; what works and what doesn’t,” Nix said, as well as encountered new pricing and equipment concepts that other operators implemented with success, like bonus time for self-serve bays and the benefits of credit card processing.
In addition to attending educational seminars, Nix also found opportunities for networking, which led to solutions big and small. It was through a networking relationship that Nix discovered a method for fixing leaky water tanks : Install a solenoid on the water tank and wire it into the motor starter. Now the only time his water turns on is when the equipment is being used, saving water costs and also preventing leaking from the tanks.
A game plan
Although everyone should be encouraged to research the show before stepping foot on the expo floor, Nix said it is particularly important that first-timers take a moment to consider the schedule of events. Most trade associations will post a listing of all the educational events available (as well as brief descriptions of the seminars) on their website or in the show’s promotional literature.
Preparation before the big day is vital, according to Nix. “Attend as many educational sessions as possible,” Nix recommended. “My father used to tell me there is no such thing as a stupid question asked to gain knowledge and information. Don’t be intimidated by not asking what you may consider a stupid question, the answer may just surprise you.”
Julie Stanton, convention manager of the Northeast Regional Carwash Convention, added that attendees should come prepared with questions for the presenters. “One of the comments that we receive the most about our seminars is how knowledgeable and willing our panelists are to share information,” Stanton said. “This is a great opportunity for everyone to learn something!”
After considering their educational schedule, Nix suggested that operators circle the names and booth numbers of the vendors they wish to talk to and visit. Carry this list with you, but also take the time to walk the floor and stop by any booth that piques your interest. “I make mental notes of who I’ve seen,” Nix said. “If I would like to come back and visit them I make a note of it on my convention program.”
Because exhibitors can get busy throughout the day, it is advisable to let the crowds dissipate before making your more important visits. This way, you can be sure to have a one-on-one conversation that isn’t rushed or hurried.
Walking the show floor also provides plenty of chances to network. Nix reminded operators to take a moment and introduce themselves to other carwash owners and managers walking the floor; fairly easy when everyone’s name is front and center on their badges.
Notes from the speakers
Perhaps no one better understands the necessity of attending educational seminars than the presenters themselves. After weeks of putting together notes and research, slide shows and hand-out materials, these experts have become immersed in the topics they present. Their speeches are peppered with comments like “Write this down,” or “Don’t forget to try this at home;” but how many operators follow this advice?
According to Ryan Carlson, director of marketing for WashCard Systems and regular speaker at industry events, perhaps not as many as you might think. Carlson said he can tell who was paying attention by the amount of questions they have after the presentation.
The biggest mistake, according to Carlson, is biting off more than you can chew. “I’d say where most people fall short…is that they’re not breaking things down into small, bite-sized actionable items,” Carlson explained.
For instance, a small actionable item shouldn’t be “Create branding” or “Get logo made,” Carlson said. Instead, it should be broken down into baby steps, like, “Talk to Cheryl in the front office about whether her son is still doing graphic design.” Then it might be “Generate a list of the four sign companies in town.”
Carlson continued, “I’ll tell you one thing, the problem is not that people are lazy, it’s that we’ve got a momentum issue. People need small wins in order to keep the momentum going on a new project.”
Perry Powell, an independent sign consultant and presenter at numerous conventions, recommended operators also stay in contact with the speakers. “If you hear a speaker and they take you down a path mentally that you feel like you should go; call them,” Powell suggested. Following up could lead to additional help for your business. “Ask them what they can do for your business,” he said.
Trade shows are sometimes considered an occasion for breaking out the checkbook. Exhibitors often have show deals which offer significant mark-downs on high dollar equipment and supplies. But before you open your wallet, consider some of Nix’s advice.
“The bottom line for negotiating deals on the trade show floor is to network with your peers and to build a relationship with the vendor(s) you are dealing with,” Nix said.
To maximize your opportunities, Nix suggested contacting the vendor before the trade show to tell them you are attending the show and would like to meet up and discuss your business needs. Hopefully, the vendor will give you the scoop on show deals and you will have more time to consider your purchase options.
“Some exhibitors will offer free passes to their prospective customers to the trade show floor, too,” Nix said.