Tradeshows bring together various levels of the industry; from manufacturers to end users, and everyone has a part to play in making it a great show.
Almost every industry has a tradeshow or convention each year, with varying budgets and attendees. Google search ‘annual tradeshow statistics Canada’ and the Canadian Parking Association, Canadian Self-Storage Association, and Canadian Bottled Water Association appear on the search list promoting their tradeshows and conferences. Whatever the industry or size of tradeshow, it seems to be a favourite way to gather together with peers to learn, exchange information, or see upcoming products and trends.
While the largest tradeshows for our industry are AAPEX and SEMA, there are many shows all year round that you could attend from your local jobber store to the trade associations. Various manufacturers and service providers participate in these shows, hoping to connect with end users. Many tradeshows add a learning component with seminars ranging from how to effectively manage your shop to diagnostic training for technicians. Oh, and let’s not forget to mention the number of brochures, samples, and swag you can pick up at any given show!
Event planning 101
Let’s look at tradeshows from the highest level, in the eyes of the event planners. According to U.S.-based Exhibit Surveys in 2015, attendees spent an average of 2.3 days and 9.5 hours on the exhibit floor. Our digitally focused world gives tradeshows the unique opportunity to connect end users with exhibitors at one venue face-to-face.
It’s the organizers’ role to ensure that the exhibitors and sponsors have ample time and space to engage qualified attendees—after all, the cost to participate in these tradeshows are significant both in money and time, leading up to the event and on the exhibit floor. Exhibit Surveys’ 2014 white paper notes that “…product interest is the best predictor of an exhibitor’s chance for success…’ so it becomes important for organizers to have exhibitors showcase products that are relevant for attendees.
A good tradeshow will also have pre-show promotions to generate interest and anticipation for the event. Lastly, the number of workshops or seminars needs to be balanced so that they don’t take too much of the attendees’ time off the exhibit floor.
Bring on the exhibits
Exhibitors plan for tradeshows well in advance with time spent on deciding which product or service to feature, how to engage attendees, promotional offers, etc. “We participate in tradeshows to engage customers and show them what ACDelco has to offer. We want to help customers grow their business, and we’re here to support them if they have questions about product or training,” says John Pedersen, Aftermarket Business Development Manager at ACDelco. Pedersen wasn’t kidding about engagement—at a recent tradeshow the ACDelco team had 25 representatives to give attendees dedicated time at the booth.
Dino Hatz, Business Development Manager with Hunter Engineering Company, explains that “valued distributors like Lordco provide such opportunities to their customers to view a variety of products and services from multiple suppliers under one roof at one time. For Hunter, tradeshows offer a way to facilitate access to shop owners that may otherwise be inaccessible during other times of the year.”
Nicole Thomas, Marketing Manager at Meguiar’s Canada, agrees and notes that tradeshows present an opportunity to connect with consumers and receive authentic feedback from those who are using their products. Meguiar’s also incorporates product demonstrations and education right at the booth.
Tradeshow like a pro
One of the best-run tradeshows that I’ve ever attended is Lordco’s Annual Tradeshow, from the support that Lordco provides to its exhibitors to the level of engagement with attendees. Doug Coates, CEO of Lordco Auto Parts, recognized the ongoing support that vendors have for Lordco and remarked, “we’re here to keep business simple, and support vendors during a sale.” According to Coates, “we care about our customers, staff, and suppliers” and that business model permeated the tradeshow.
The annual event brought together manufacturers, vendors, general repair shops, dealerships, fleet and commercial accounts to the Pacific National Exhibition grounds in Vancouver, B.C. The two-day tradeshow was filled with new product info, learning opportunities, fun raffles, as well as complimentary food and drink. Lordco provided buses and some attendees flew in. “We make this a fun trip and we appreciate them for giving up their time to come,” says Coates.
While Exhibit Surveys reports that 38 percent of tradeshow attendees stated that visiting exhibits influences purchase intent, this wasn’t the case for the Lordco Tradeshow. It’s not your average show, with numerous promotions and pricing specials that attendees can only take advantage of over the two days. Attendees placed orders as they visited the booths, and each vendor had in-show pricing specials. Coates explained that “April is our biggest sales month of the year, and the cost savings at the show will help [attendees] as they head into the busier months.”
What’s in it for you
Let’s get past the marketing glitz and glam of tradeshows and talk about why we really go. “I attend tradeshows to learn about new products, new resources for old products, and to learn from people who know things that I don’t. I also enjoy being around so many people who are like minded as you never know who you might meet,” says Stu Boyd, owner of Boyd Automotive & Tire.
For most repair shop owners, time is limited and valuable, so what factors do you consider in choosing the shows you attend? Or who do you send to the show? Perhaps you bring technicians along to learn diagnostic information during the workshops or get their opinion on the newest product. How much time can you afford for them to be out of the bay? What about your service advisor? Could they benefit from attending and learning about product to help them in their sales?
It’s no surprise that tradeshows are targeted towards YOU. The event planners and exhibitors gather data to know as much as possible about attendees so they can run successful events. With so much strategic intention and marketing focus driven to engage you, it’s easy to be passive as an attendee. But why let them dictate the value you’ll receive? If you’re going to spend the time and money to attend a tradeshow, be strategic too and determine ahead of time how it will be the most effective for you.