Here’s a proposal: Pack a bag, head to the airport, and fly to a destination city like Las Vegas, Chicago, or Orlando. Check into your fully booked hotel, then do not visit The Strip, The Miracle Mile, or the Magic Kingdom. Instead, spend 8 or more hours a day walking around indoors under fluorescent lighting being greeted by complete strangers who want to “scan” you. And when you get hungry, don’t worry, just look for the 200 yard-long line to get a $12 hot dog and coke. Sold yet? If so, welcome to the iconic experience of the industry trade show.
Considering the direct expenses of travel, the opportunity cost of being away from your business, and the fact that product information is a Google search away, why would you ever attend a trade show? Well, despite the somewhat bleak picture I’ve painted so far, and despite my memories of lower back pain and sore feet, I remain a firm believer in this type of event, especially for the construction industry. Here’s why:
The Bigger Picture
In our professional and personal lives, we surround ourselves with familiar groups of people–family, friends, and co-workers—and also with familiar routines. We fall into patterns in the way we get work done, the way we look for information, the places we go to learn, and the things we do to relax and have fun.
These routines bring us efficiency and comfort. We don’t have to continually figure out how to do things or concentrate on every little detail. Having routines is important—even vital. But walk that same routine path day in and day out, and it will inevitably turn into a rut in which you may find yourself stuck.
Being stuck in a rut in a very competitive industry such as construction can a recipe for disaster. Especially when new technologies are changing the way much of the industry works. The remedy for the rut is not to abandon your routines—simply expand them. Discover new ways to work, to learn, to communicate.
And “new” means you probably do not even know they exist. You would not even know what to ask Google’s search bar to look for. But walk the floor of a trade show and attend conference sessions and I guarantee you will bump into something you never considered. From a new way to dig a hole to a new way to save lives on your job sites.
Trade shows are still unique in the way they bring together relevant, varied, and (most importantly) unexpected products and people into one place. An online search delivers what you ask for and most media delivers what you expect. Trade shows, to me, are still the best place to encounter the unexpected and see the bigger picture.
You Can’t Photoshop Company Culture
There was a time long, long ago* when people came to trade shows with their checkbooks‡ to actually buy things, because all the vendors they were interested in were in one place. Today, when you can buy almost anything from anywhere, trade shows are less about shopping and more about learning.
Like shopping, learning is also something that one can easily do without leaving one’s desk, let alone hopping on an airplane. If you are in the market for construction software, for example, why not simply do an online search and visit the various websites you find?
Believe me, as a marketing guy I do not want to discourage you from doing just that. But as a marketing guy I also know that you will not take the full measure of the company you are visiting when you visit them online. If you’re buying a commodity product, that doesn’t much matter. But if you are buying a high-value, long shelf life product from a company, then, whether you like it or not, you are entering into a relationship with that company.
Perhaps one of the best aspects of a trade show, from an attendee’s perspective, is the fact that the vendors there have to bring their real life employees with them. You get to meet the folks you might be stuck with for a while after you buy that concrete mixing plant or that construction enterprise software system. You get a feel for the type of company you’ll be working with. Anyone can buy or build a quality website. It’s a lot harder to manufacture a quality corporate culture.
Have I sold you on Tradeshows yet? Tune in next week for part two of Construction Industry Tradeshows where I’ll share some hard-won wisdom on how to make the most of your trade show experience.
* The 1990’s
‡ A way of exchanging currency in the 1990’s
For information on upcoming construction tradeshows and conventions, click here to see Dexter + Chaney's list of upcoming industry events.