Canadian Rental Service

Advance planning

By Mike Davey   

Features Shows

There’s an opportunity knocking. Time spent at the Canadian Rental Mart can be very rewarding, both for you personally and for your business.

There’s an opportunity knocking. Time spent at the Canadian Rental Mart can be very rewarding, both for you personally and for your business. It’s a great time to make new contacts, renew existing relationships and see what’s new. Go in without a plan, though, and the opportunity will be wasted.

The Canadian Rental Mart offers something for everyone in the business. There will be hundreds of items on display, from heavy-duty equipment to lightweight table covers.


Trade shows can be an overwhelming experience, even if you’ve attended dozens over the years. Having a firm plan in place means that you’re sure to see everything you came to see. You’ll leave the show secure in the knowledge that you’ve spoken with the best people to help your business. Without a plan? Forget it.

Penny O’Sullivan of ABCO Equipment & Supplies has been attending industry trade shows since 1990. Her interest is the same as that of many of those in the rental industry: a desire to see what’s new.


“Everybody has a different strategy,” says O’Sullivan. “I like to plan things out by getting a list of the vendors and then going through it to find the ones I’m most interested in. Getting to know the layout of the floor saves a lot of time in the long run.”

Simply walking in the door and wandering around has some obvious pitfalls. For one thing, the entire purpose of every single exhibitor’s booth is to attract your attention. Aisle after aisle will be filled with company reps that want to speak to you. Navigating past eye-catching displays to find what you’re really interested in can be daunting. And don’t forget the little guy in the back corner. What if he carries something that would turn out to be your most successful new line?

Planning your trade show excursion isn’t tough, but it needs to be done in advance. A couple of quiet hours spent planning is worth days of randomly wandering the show floor. Below are some great tips for making the most of your trade show experience.

Establish your goals
Know what you want going in. Your goals are going to dependent on a large number of factors. Someone who is fairly new to the industry may simply want to visit as many booths as possible, and will plan accordingly. An old hand with lots of experience will probably want to be a little more selective, and target just the exhibitors that have something new to offer.

The Toronto Congress Centre, home of the Canadian Rental Mart. 

The Canadian Rental Mart headquarters hotel, the DoubleTree International Plaza Hotel.

The experienced rental operator, however, may want to take some time to renew old acquaintances. This can be an extremely valuable part of the trade show experience, but it has to be handled properly. To maximize your time, the best strategy is to decide which relationships you want to renew in advance. This doesn’t mean you can’t stop for a five-minute unplanned chat, but be selective.

There’s a list of exhibitors at the Canadian Rental Mart included on page 28 of this issue. Along with the map on the same page, it makes a great starting point when it comes to planning your time.

Set a schedule and stick to it
Make sure to play to your strengths when it comes to setting your schedule. Sitting down and writing out what you’ll be doing every minute of every day sounds efficient, but if you’re the sort of person who prefers to play things by ear, you will either drive yourself nuts or simply abandon your schedule completely within the first hour. A more fluid schedule might be the best thing for you if that’s the case.

In any event, make sure your schedule fits your personality. Don’t try to make your personality fit the schedule. You’re the one designing it, so you have complete control. You can also deviate from your schedule if you want, as long as you’ve got your priorities straight.

Here are some basic guidelines that you can follow if you wish. A good way to start scheduling is to break things up into phases:

Phase 1: Walk around and see the entire show floor. This should give you a good idea of who has what. You can also schedule appointments during this time.
Phase 2: Meet with the main suppliers that you already do business with.
Phase 3: Tour the big booths to see if there’s anything you missed in Phase 1.
Phase 4: Check out some of the smaller booths. They may have something you’ll be interested in.
Phase 5: Anything else. It’s best to leave yourself an hour or two in your schedule that you can use to follow your nose. You never know what you’ll find.

Pre-emptive strikes
Exhibitors want to talk to you. After all, that’s why they are there. But sales reps have a lot of demands on their time when they’re working shows, and they may not be able to give you the attention you deserve if you just wander by. The solution is simple. Make appointments to speak with them. Ideally, you can take some time before the show to set up these appointments.

You can also try stopping by the first morning of the show if you can’t swing an appointment in advance.

Do your best to be on time for any appointments you make. The customer may always be right, but that’s no excuse for bad manners.

Bring a large bag
Ever tried to stuff 12 pounds of assorted marketing materials into a laptop case? Trust us, it doesn’t work.

You’re going to be inundated with paper. Some of it will be important (business cards, specifications, price lists), but at least some of it will simply be junk. The most efficient thing to do would be to give serious and sober consideration to every single item, and to use prior experience to tell you if you should keep it or not.

However, efficiency is highly overrated. Situations like this don’t call for efficiency, they call for cramming every single thing you receive into a great big bag. You can sort through it at your leisure when you get home. The Canadian Rental Mart only lasts a few days. Don’t waste time weighing the pros and cons of picking up a flyer. Just grab everything and go. You have a recycling bin to deal with the eventual rejects.

Some trade show aficionados even recommend a large rolling suitcase to tote your marketing materials. A point in their favour is that crowds tend to clear for someone towing a large piece of luggage. Crowds of rental pros tend to make sarcastic comments, too, along the lines of “Hey, couldn’t afford a hotel room?” and “Brought your store, huh?” If you can take the slings and arrows, it’s actually not a bad option.

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Rental operators Keith Smith and Barry Weaymouth (left) from Elgin Equipment Rental speak with exhibitors Tony Shelling and Will Stayer from A.E. Sales.

Dean Nasato (left) of Wacker Neuson Canada speaks to Hank Heuvelen from Tim’s Rent-All in Bowmanville.

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Shawn Joiner (left) and Cory Joiner of Muskoka Rent-All received the CRA Image Award.

The Supplier of the Year Award went to Diane McKee from D & K Imports. 

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Rick Darche (left) of RDSI speaks with Rich Overholt and Tim Robinson from Putney’s Rental and Sales. 

Don Ayotte (right) speaks with Gui Chen Qiang from ABC Rental Centre in Markham, Ont.

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James Morden of Rentshop and Neil DeJong of ITE Equipment Rentals at the Canadian Rental Mart in 2008. DeJong was president of the CRA Ontario chapter at the time. Morden currently occupies that post.

The Rental Professional of the Year for 2007 was Dan Bonish of Pete’s Rentall in Sudbury.

Write things down

Feel free to take some notes. If you don’t want to look like a reporter, don’t carry your notebook in your hand. Instead, try to take a break every two hours or so, and write down anything interesting, while it’s still fresh.

All work and no play means Jack was dull to begin with.

There are a lot of social activities associated with trade shows. In fact, a lot of the public perception of these events is people having a good time on the boss’ dime. In the rental business, though, there’s a pretty good chance that you are the boss. Three days of partying sounds less attractive when you’re paying for it out of your own pocket.

With that said, don’t give all the social events a miss. It’s a great chance to talk shop with like-minded professionals. Students of business history know that more than one million-dollar deal foundered in the boardroom and was resurrected in the pub.

Jeff Campbell of St. Thomas Rent-All believes that trade shows are a great place to interact with a large number of successful rental operators and vendors.

“People contact is important,” says Campbell. “The social events are really good for networking and meeting the salespeople. And not just the salespeople, the rest of the company, too. We don’t often get a chance to meet these people, and it can be good way to top up your education.”

Don’t waste time
Time is really the only commodity a person has. Don’t get trapped into hour-long presentations for products you’ll never buy just to be polite. If you’re really, really, REALLY not interested in new gensets, then say so. You’re doing yourself and the exhibitor a favour. They can pitch to someone else, and you can find something you are interested in.

Dress for success
In this case, that means casual wear with comfortable shoes. Convention centres and exhibition halls spare no expense when it comes to making sure carpets are as thin as possible. Maybe that’s just the way it seems to us, after walking around them for what seems to be the majority of our adult lives. In any case, don’t wear your hurtin’ shoes. Save the tie and tails for the social events.

The key to having a successful tradeshow experience is the same as with any endeavour. Be prepared, but leave yourself room for flexibility. And when you decide to do something, do it with gusto!

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