Love ‘em or Hate ‘em, Trade Shows are Thriving
Trade shows have been around for a very long time, with the concept dating back to ancient bazaars and medieval trade fairs. Obviously, life has changed a lot since then — most recently (and dramatically) with the advent of new technologies that allow people to easily communicate across long distances in multiple ways — and yet trade events are still thriving.
This begs the question: why are people still — actually, increasingly — going through the ordeal and cost to travel to trade events? The short answer is that in a world filled with technology, the need to gather together to learn, network and do business has only grown stronger. Parking-industry events are a great example of this, with this year’s Parking Industry Expo, held March 11-14 in Chicago, reporting record attendance.
The Importance of Face-to-Face
So why do people go? For Douglas Cram, founding member of Veterans in Parking, the answer is simple: visibility. Cram attends 8-12 parking-industry events a year and said the ability to meet with customers and prospects is most valuable.
“People are reminded of you when they see you,” said Jeff Pinyot, president and co-founder of ECO Parking Technologies. Pinyot attends the three major parking-industry events each year, plus a number of the smaller regional ones, and finds that it’s at these events that real communication can begin. “When you look someone in the eyes, you can tell a lot more about them,” said Pinyot.
In addition to learning from vendors, parking-industry attendees can learn from each other through the education sessions.
Most industry events have three main components: trade show, education sessions and networking opportunities. What all three components have in common is that they allow attendees the ability to interact with their peers in a face-to-face manner, something that’s just not possible using a computer or a smart phone. As the saying goes: You can’t shake hands with a computer.
Computers and smart phones are also not ideal when attempting more in-depth communication — as anyone who has ever tried to have a conversation on a glitchy phone can, no doubt, attest. In-person conversations allow for a greater amount of information to be passed back and forth than any other form of communication. There is no delay in transmission and immediate feedback can be relayed both verbally and non-verbally, leading to immediate opportunities.
“Hands down, the most valuable takeaways for us at trade events are the genuine business opportunities,” said Colleen Niese, principal at the Marlyn Group, who attends all three national events and the regional ones “here and there.”
Pinyot agreed that the on-site networking can be critical. “I ran into a big operator at a show recently,” said Pinyot. “I didn’t know he was going to be there and was able to spend 20 minutes with him and it was great.”
Niese said that it’s possible to not only make the connections but get actual business under way. “It’s not that unusual during an event to send engagement letters to kick off projects the week following a show — talk about the ‘wow’ factor!"
“In the parking industry, face-to-face interactions with potential partners and government decision makers are extremely valuable,” said Jim Gibbs, co-founder and CEO of Meter Feeder Inc. Gibbs said he attends one or two trade events a year and that his company is more likely to attend when they have some big news to share.
Learning What’s New
Big news in the form of the latest trends, technologies, products or services is another valuable component of trade events and one of the big reasons Robby Phillips, airport operations supervisor at Mineta San Jose International Airport, attended this year’s PIE — his first parking-industry-specific trade event.
“Our team attends a variety of parking and ground transportation-specific conventions each year,” said Phillips. “Since parking makes up just one part of the overall airport experience, our attention can sometimes be required in other areas and we sometimes miss out on seeing the latest and greatest in new ideas or products. Attending these events gives us a chance to bring ourselves up to speed on what is new in the parking and ground transportation industries.”
Phillips pointed out that while budget considerations mean they can’t necessarily take advantage of all the new items on display, seeing them helps stir up ideas. “I came away with some new ideas on signage and lighting that I was not expecting to,” said Phillips.
In addition to learning from vendors, parking-industry attendees can learn from each other through the education sessions. “The information we receive is very valuable and we can learn from our peers what they do to solve certain issues and get the opportunity to provide our own solutions to problems,” said Phillips. “We also get the opportunity to attend seminars that provide valuable information in areas we may not fully understand, from PCI compliance to autonomous vehicles.”
Phillips said that this allows him and his team to build up their knowledge base so they can approach future problems with a better degree of understanding and skill.
“Education has evolved in value,” said Niese, one of the reasons she decided to partner with PIE to sponsor an educational track at this year’s conference. Niese said she found the experience “very successful in terms of brand recognition and supporting our voice of authority.”
Networking, Networking, Networking
Underlying every facet of a trade event is the networking. Whether they’re prospects or peers or potential business partners, trade events provide a forum for all the various constituents involved in the parking industry to meet and greet, which brings us back to the idea of people being able to look each other in the eyes, shake hands and see if they can help each other out in some way.
“The time that is set aside for networking is extremely important,” said Gibbs.
As someone new to the parking industry, Phillips found attending his first trade event to be an eye- opening experience. “I’m sure I would echo a lot of people, but I certainly didn’t realize how much went into the parking industry as a whole and how much the industry matters in terms of revenue and attention,” said Phillips. “Being able to attend PIE and get a glimpse into the industry was very rewarding, both for my personal knowledge level as well as for my current employer. Having an up-to-date knowledge base on parking technology, trends and equipment will give us the ability to effectively handle parking issues today and plan more effectively for the future.”
Ann Shepphird is a technical writer for Parking Today. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
While the ability to meet with peers in the industry is the big reason people attend trade events, that doesn’t mean logistical concerns such as the meeting site and food-and-beverage options aren’t also important — if only to make sure attendees are talking about the business at hand and not about any flaws they’re finding in the meeting itself.
“It’s always noted by an attendee when an event cuts corners (e.g., lowers the quality of food, adds charges in addition to registration, hosts a happy hour and only serves soft drinks, etc.) and affects the overall experience,” said Colleen M. Niese of the Marlyn Group. “I would much rather talk about industry trends with my fellow attendees than the disappointments when it comes to these types of logistics and I think PT shares that belief as well.”
“I understand off-season price deals for the organizers,” said Douglas Cram of Veterans in Parking, “but being in a nice location while the weather is conducive to getting out and smelling the roses is nice for attendees and exhibitors alike.”