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George’s Corner: February 2012

The beginning of the new year ushers in a slew of trade shows.


January 18, 2012
By George Olah

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The beginning of the new year ushers in a slew of trade shows. It is truly remarkable how many people attend certain conferences just out of habit. Some of these events are valuable opportunities to learn about new products. Others offer nothing more than an excuse to get out of the office to spend a mindless day or two wandering about a bunch of equipment, or looking at presentations demonstrating how pink pieces of exotic cloth are able to suck up the equivalent of Lake Erie in a single wipe. Many attendees hope to score a free hat or pen — hardly a good business rationale for investing time and money.

Ask yourself what it is you really want out of a conference or trade show. Good conferences and trade shows provide notable keynote speakers offering something unique for attendees to listen to, take away and apply the information to their daily business operations. Presentations may have to do with life lessons, ethics, something the individual did during a time of conflict, a famous author or a special sports person spinning interesting stories that led them to win as part of a team. You are entitled to something more than the local mayor or councillor welcoming you to their city with the old boilerplate, “Thanks for showing up in my beautiful town.” Look for that really special speaker at the conference.

I have been known to attend many a conference simply because of a great golf course that was being featured as an off-site event. Ask yourself if using this rational to choose a trade show is actually worth your time and money to further your business. If you do like golf both for the sport and because you know how to do business on a course away from the office, then make sure that the conference picks a good one and not some farmer’s field turned into a par three mini putt, since that, too, would be a waste of time.

One way to squeeze the best out of a show is to sit down ahead of time and write down what you want to see while at the event. Use the show syllabus to find all the different manufacturers who will have what you want to see. Consider calling the sales personnel in the booths in advance to set up an appointment to see them at the show booths. Don’t you hate travelling all the way to the show and then having to stand around waiting for the sales staff to answer your questions, or to find out that the technical person left for coffee break five minutes earlier?

Write down what questions you want to ask about the product, not just the price. Remember, when you are at the booth you will have difficulty getting your questions answered during a fast-talking salesperson’s presentation. And for goodness sake, don’t start complaining about your 20-year-old product at the booth. No one wants to listen to you right then. Record your answers in your book of questions for review later.

Don’t forget that a good deal on the trade show floor is not always such a great deal by the time you get it home, especially if you have to pay brokerage fees, exchange rates and freight to bring it back into your shop.

Do ask if what you are buying at the show is approved for use in Canada. Quite often, items are a good buy because they lack the approvals for use here. Then again, you may want to buy it and get the approvals yourself if you think it is worth it to your business. Make that part of your show checklist.

Deciding to attend trade shows and conferences must be done strategically. Competition in today’s business environment is fierce and money is tight. Don’t fritter away precious time and resources on snap decisions based on last-minute deals on air travel.

Prepare yourself in advance. Wear sensible shoes. Don’t overindulge the night before. Keep your smartphone GPS charged and handy. Do carry the geeky binder with your notes. Finally, don’t forget to bring back a fistful of free show pens so your office staff will believe you attended the best conference ever.


George A. Olah has more than 35 years of experience in the training, marketing, and renting of commercial appliances and equipment. He is presently the general manager of operations at ABCO Equipment & Supplies, a family-owned rental company located in Weston, Ont.


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