Volume 43, Issue 10 - October 2008

the Farnady Files

Withdrawal Symptoms
To Attend or Not to Attend Industry Trade Shows

b y D e z F a r n a d y

It was exactly seven years in September since I vented my frustrations here regarding trade shows as the result of my experience at that year’s national CSI show in Dallas (see September 2001 USGlass, page 9). It was expensive, it was time consuming, it was poorly attended, but otherwise it was a roaring success. Actually, more like a simpering flop. I blamed the world for the show’s failure and after decades of attending, I decided to swear off trade shows forever.

Well, apparently forever is not quite as long as I figured it would be. Having once attended both statewide and national glass shows in some pretty good convention towns, I think I am starting to miss them.

While most trade shows could do with some serious priority adjustments, I do miss them for some pretty good reasons. First, there is the camaraderie that comes with exchanging ideas with your peers. You get to put faces to the voices with which you made your last deal, voices from the branch in L.A. or Seattle or maybe that branch in the Southwest that has some capabilities your facility does not have.

There is the time you spend shaking hands with old vendors and new to compliment or gripe about the service. You get the chance to whine about the pricing in person or maybe press a little for a better deal. On the other side of the same coin, your customers can do the same to you. The social contact seems to feed a need that ultimately makes it easier to do business with people you know, as opposed to disembodied voices on the telephone or undecipherable signatures on the bottom of a purchase order.

Then there are the competitors. In an industry as small as ours, it is pretty rare not to occasionally run into a competitor’s sales rep in a customer’s office. So you know them anyway and maybe at one point in your history you both even worked for the same employer. The opportunity for personal contact eliminates the animosity that can be generated by stiff competition. Familiarity with your competitor may even help to keep the competition personal enough to remain fair and honest.

The pleasantries aside, we can deal with the primary reason for the existence of these functions. Beyond this publication, there really are not that many other opportunities in any business for direct exposure to highly concentrated quantities of quality industry and product information. Most of the vendors and manufacturers put their best foot forward to present the best of their latest products. You can not only obtain all the current documentation on most items but can usually touch and feel the product you have only seen pictures of before. The seminars and formal presentations are also a bargain because you don’t have to take another trip halfway across the country to your supplier’s facility to be introduced to their products. At most factory tours you can only hope there is time for a good tour and that your guide is as prepared as the seminar presenter.

But then, of course, we need to do some serious fixing. The major criticism of the trade show is the general lack of interest on the part of the people who need it the most. The poorly informed customer, the new guy in the business and the old guy who thinks he knows all there is to know all need to show up. Glass companies usually cry in busy times that they are too busy to go, and in slow times that they can’t afford the time or the money. We must do a better job of selling the industry on the fact that the vendors are spending a great deal of money to provide a presentation well worth experiencing.

We should consider the appropriate location for the shows and forget Las Vegas. Every Vegas show I ever attended had lousy turnouts because while everybody went, they didn’t bother to leave the casino floor long enough to actually attend the show. The same thing happens in Anaheim, where the customers beg off to take their kids to Disneyland instead of attending the show. I guess that’s the only way to write off a trip to an amusement park as a business expense. A less prominent location costs the vendors less and thus provides the customers with a “low price” admission incentive. Convention towns are typically trying to make money at the obvious expense of the conventioneers. Glass shows should not be held in convention towns. They should be at locations that suit our purpose, not that of the host convention hall or the local chamber of commerce.


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