Why do we go to Trade Shows, Anyway?


Why do we go to Trade Shows, Anyway?

We just returned from the NPA Annual Convention in Atlanta. My any measure it was a successful event. There were lots of attendees and lots of exhibitors.  There were interesting sessions and beaucoup after parties. Why do we go?

If we have been to three or four events in a year, we have seen all the equipment. We have met the people. We have head the presentations. Parties — we can go to them without spending big bucks to get there. Why?

I asked my staff that question this morning and got different answers from each one.

One represented the exhibitors — They go to sell, to meet new customers. They spend money to make money.  I asked one exhibitor why she was there — she told me she went to see existing customers and cement relationships with them. She could see a bunch of people all in one place at one time, it was a very cheap sales call.

Another exhibitor told me that they use the trade event as a marker in time. It is when they launch new products and so they have deadlines created by trade show organizers. That seems reasonable.  We would never publish Parking Today if we didn’t have a deadline.

Another PT Staffer said that she went to meet people. Not just our customers, but people from across the industry. She told me that it gave her an insight into parking that she couldn’t get anywhere else. People who attend shows, she said, have more than a passing interest in their profession. They are engaged. Those are the people she wanted to meet. The parties were good for that. People relax a bit and maybe a bit of the real person comes out.

One of our managers who had been attending shows for decades said that the shows were a magnet for people, but that a lot of the business, the business of commerce and the business of meeting, was done away from the trade show floor. She said that PIE attendees told her they liked our show because it was smaller, more intimate, and that it was all located in one compact hotel in Chicago. It was easy to find people, easy to sit with them and just talk. Some shows, she told me, are so big and spread out one on one conversations require an appointment weeks in advance.

In all the cases above, the common denominator is meeting people. There may be different reasons — sell, learn, gossip, make friends, solidify relationships, buy – but the key is meeting.

You don’t go to a football game to meet people. There are plenty of people there, but truthfully, too many people. If you go to a dinner party in a private home, you meet people, but not very many. You need to go to an event that is large enough to attract the people you need, but small enough not go gobble you up. You also need to go to an event that has ‘new’ people. Seeing the same folks year after year may be fun, but few of the reasons above revolve around ‘fun.’

I think many attendees, and vendors, go to the event and just let it wash over them. They attend parties, drink a bit too much, sleep late, attend some sessions, and walk through the exhibit hall. They then head for the airport and when home, tell the boss it was the “same old, same old.”

I wonder how many plan what they are going to do before they go to the show. I had one main goal at the NPA event and I nailed it. I wanted to meet one person and set up a dialogue. It didn’t just happen, I caused it to happen.

I think that people who attend these events and don’t have a plan of attack are wasting both their time and the time of those around them at the show. There’s the vendor who sits in his booth playing with his smart phone, while 500 people walk by, and then complains he got no business.  There’s the attendee from a city’s enforcement operation who attended the Skidata party because it was at a fancy nightclub, but missed the T2 and Nupark events which were at the same time and just down the hall.

These conferences are big business.  They cost a fortune to put on and a fortune to attend. If you attend, remember that it is business, and figure out why you are going. Then go and profit from the time invested.



Picture of John Van Horn

John Van Horn

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