Finding the value in trade show networking to benefit your business
By Michelle L. Cramer
In 1996, Tom Landi and his wife, Jennifer, purchased what would become Landi Pools & Games out of Vineland, New Jersey. Tom Landi recalls that, at the time, they lacked knowledge of the products and equipment available to the industry. Attending the Atlantic City Trade Show that year changed everything for them.
“We realized that, if someone had an open mind and wanted to be unique, it could be done by looking and finding different products than what is sold by everyone else,” says Landi. He also recalls meeting vendors who were excited to talk to business owners focused on offering quality products to their customers. “Not only was this refreshing for us, but refreshing for the vendor representatives,” he says.
“This is where our excitement for going to trade shows started and now, after over 20 years, we still go with the excitement of just finding one thing that will make our business better for the upcoming season.”
Industry trade shows are the norm, but not everyone within the industry attends. Whether it’s a time commitment issue, a lack of interest, or a misunderstanding as to the value of trade shows, we seek to motivate you to go and to get the most out of your attendance in the future. And what better way to do that than to bring in some of your colleagues (and a marketing expert) on the topic?
One-On-One Meetings According to David Carleton, owner of Spa Pool Marketing Success out of Portland, Oregon, attending trade shows is one of the only times of the year that pool builders get a chance to speak to vendors’ top management, like the owner or president. “This is always a good thing, whether you’re having an issue or not” Carleton says. “Also, meeting with successful, non-competing builders from around the world can help you understand [and learn from] what has made them successful.”
Landi gives his vendors first dibs for his time. “Prior to attending the Atlantic City Convention, we schedule appointments with our distributor reps to show us what may be new for the upcoming season,” he says. Additionally, meeting with vendors and attending social events with other retailers gives Landi a chance to hear different ideas and approaches.
Steve White, owner of Underwater Pool Masters in West Boylston, Maine, finds just as much value in the social connections as he does in the vendor meetings. “For example, I was introduced to a new cleaning pole at a trade show—an amazing product to help alleviate the stress put on hands and wrists of service professionals,” he recalls.
“The inventor of the pole needed someone to distribute it, so I brought it straight to Mark Warshaw, the owner of Bel-Aqua Distribution,” White says. Warshaw took on the distribution of the pole and White is excited that they now have it available to use and sell. “It changes the way we do business, and it wouldn’t have happened if we had not all been at Atlantic City together.”
Educational Opportunities One of White’s goals for trade show attendance is to join other professionals in courses to gain insight. “I always learn something new in the advanced water chemistry courses,” he says. As a CPO instructor, White also participates in the Leak Detection Forum led by Anderson Leak Detection. “The enthusiasm has truly been amazing. We get some serious questions and learn about various new successful techniques. We learn just as much from the audience as from the presenters.”
White recommends studying the course offerings in advance and you and your staff attending as many as possible for the benefit of your business. “I need to know all the latest and greatest to keep my customers happy with clean and clear pool water,” he says. Landi attends any seminars that are business related and sends staff members to those that will help improve upon their daily job requirements and advancement within the company.
Round table discussions are a favorite for Rita Rowlen, president of Ultra Modern Pool & Patio in Wichita. “I always learn from someone else’s questions and what others did,” she says. She always tries to attend seminars that are relevant to her needs at the time, such as those discussing digital marketing and reputation management. “I like to attend seminars that help you stay on the cutting edge of trends.”
While Carleton expresses value in seminars provided by vendors and industry peers, he also believes attending seminars offered by those outside the hot tub industry can be invaluable. “Outside experts get to see things from a different approach and can bring a totally new perspective to your way of thinking,” he says. “Some marketing consultants, for example, work with many types of clients in many different industries, and can bring to the table successful strategies they’ve implemented.”
Rowlen recalls one seminar she attended several years ago presented by Martha Rogers, author of One-to-One Marketing. “Most of all of her predictions [about marketing trends] came true,” Rowlen says. “I am always reminded at shows that the one thing that is always constant in our business is change!” She recalls several seminars she’s attended making a large impact on the success of her business.
The Trade Show Floor Jim Bishop, owner and president of PoolMart & Spas in Clarkston, Michigan, recommends having a game plan and an idea of what you’re looking for or in need of before you start canvassing the trade show floor. “Be sure to walk the entire show because sometimes you will find a unique product at a small booth off in the corner,” he says. And be sure to visit the booths of your current vendors too, because they may have something new they’re unveiling.
White makes a point to visit every single booth on the trade show floor as well. “Many people laugh because they seem me speed walking the show,” he says. “I do this because I am religious about spending time in each booth, learning what is new, taking back samples, having my employees try out products. We discuss products as a team in each booth and ask questions. It’s time consuming and exhausting, but it always yields good results.”
Rowlen’s goals for the trade show floor are based upon her business needs for the upcoming season. “Are we looking for a specific new category or brand to carry?” she says. “We’re always looking for new products and new technology that make life better for our customers and team members.” She says it’s always a great time to look at the brands and products your competitors carry, too. “All of this helps with forming your upcoming year’s strategy,” she says.
Prep Work “Any dealer that signs up to attend a trade show has just committed a lot of time, money and resources away from running their business,” Carleton says. “Getting away from the business can actually be a good thing on its own, but you need to ask yourself why you are going.” A great trade show location can make for a great “business vacation” as Carleton puts it, which means there isn’t a lot of pressure. “But if you’re going specifically to help grow your business, then I suggest that you decide what you want to accomplish beforehand.”
White always brings employees with him to trade shows, because it helps to have several eyes and ears examining new information and what’s available. A plan is Rowlen’s first priority. Additionally, she recommends meeting with your employees at the end of each trade show day to discuss what everyone saw and narrow down the best ideas and products for moving forward.
As a whole, maximizing your available time at trade shows is going to have the most benefit for your business. Additionally, a wise use of your time at a trade show is expanding your network, according to Carleton, who recommends that you expand your market and your mind by spending time with new people and not just hanging out with those you came with or the same people every year.
The people in attendance that he can network with are really important to White. “Trade shows help the entire industry and bring us all to a higher, more professional and competitive level.”