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Do Trade Shows Ever Change?

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Do Trade Shows Ever Change?

Every time I go to a trade show I hope it’s different. It is, but it’s also the same.


November 9, 2018

The badge includes a QR symbol with all your data, plus your name and company. Walking down the aisles is like running a gauntlet. They can spot that badge at a hundred yards and they’re not shy about yelling. “Mike! Hey Mike! Do you own a business?”

It’s a decking show with all the usual suspects. You’ve got your products—not only decks, but roofing, siding, windows, and ancillary—and you’ve got your services. Banks, for instance: banks that want to lend you money, and banks that want to lend your customers money (but somehow manage to get some money out of you in the process).

If you collect beer coozies or carpenter’s pencils, this is the place to be. Hand disinfectants are popular these days. (I took a couple.) But if you’re a vendor, you’re not going to get rich here unless you corner the breath mint market.

Usual Suspects

I’m an old hand at shows. I worked home shows all the time. Home shows are about leads. The people pay $20 or $25 to walk through and get hit pitched to by anybody that can afford a booth. After a few years, you start to recognize familiar faces.

I remember my last home show. The Nut Guy had his booth, selling pistachios, macadamia nuts, and cashews. Then there was the Mop Guy, pitching the Miracle Mop: a “self-wringing plastic mop with a head made from a continuous loop of 300 feet of cotton that can easily be wrung out without getting the user’s hands wet.” He’d run through his shtick every ten minutes, and after hearing him, you'd wonder how you survived all these years without this mop.

Trade shows, though, are a little different. Contractors are the customers, not the vendors. I’ve been to this particular show seven or eight times, and it's always the same play, different cast. It almost doesn’t matter what they’re selling—software or digital screwdrivers or the latest and greatest in shingle—the idea is to engage. Fill that booth with bodies. Get the information.

One glance at your badge, and we’re on an instant first name basis. “What does your company do, Mike?” Imagine trying this on a street corner: You’d be under arrest in five minutes.

I recognize a guy I used to know from the window business. Or, I should say, he recognizes me. “Mike! Mike!” Like we’re in a crowd and he’s been waiting 45 minutes for my plane to land.

Now he’s pitching gutter protection. All the gutter protection displays work pretty much the same, but he's got to tell you why his is the best. “You get a hurricane, Mike, an inch of rain an hour, it’s gonna slide right over it,” he says. I’m thinking: tell that to the homeowners in the path of the hurricane that’s about to hit the coast.

He must read minds, or faces, because the next thing he says is: “No, Mike, this product really works.” He starts to explain the science behind it, that when you tilt a glass of water it hugs the side of the glass and… But I’ve mentally moved on. 

What You See Is What You Get

I haven’t worked a home show for eight years, but when I did, I made a lot of leads and brought home a lot of business. Despite the success, we got out of it. Why?

Back in the early 2000s, there’d be one or two people in our category, tops. But suddenly there were six, eight, or 10 companies selling windows or roofing. A good show has a lot of traffic. The more people there are, the better you’ll do. It’s that simple. But you have to divide the traffic by the number of vendors. I can’t say I miss the competition all that much.

As a contractor at a trade show, though, the shoe’s on the other foot. You see vendors the way homeowners see the contracting industry. Except that instead of trying to sell you a window appointment, they’re after your data. “Mike, mind if I scan your badge?”

You wonder why people do it. Well, here’s the reason. If you’re a homeowner looking to replace your roof, or buy new windows, or design a kitchen, a home show is the place to be. As strange as they can get, a contractor at a trade show also has some good reasons to be there. You want to find out what’s going on in the industry, tune in to important marketing trends, and check out next big product. You’ve got to dig a little, talk to people, ask some questions.

One of the best reasons to be there is to see what people you’ve talked to on the phone, and might want to do business with, actually look like. A show is perfect for that. At the most recent one, for instance, I arranged to meet with a couple guys from Utah about a new technology product. That made it all worth it. Plus, I came home with a great hand sanitizer that fits right in my pocket.

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