What Good Is a Trade Show?

Originally published
Originally published: 1/1/2007

Re-examine the benefits of these gatherings, and you’ll see that you must make time for them.

What is the real value of attending a trade show such as AHR Expo? As the saying goes, “the proof is in the pudding.” So based on the 2006 event, which was held in Chicago in January, we could come to some factual conclusions without making any assumptions. More than 35,000 hvacr industry professionals — many traveling thousands of miles — attended in the middle of winter, with the cold Chicago wind blowing, and the possibility of snow always around the corner.

Why? Because of the lure of… warm weather, beaches, and golf? Or endless varieties of theme parks and family entertainment? Or nights filled with every type of gambling known? The answer obviously is, “No!” So what motivated these thousands of people to travel long distances, spend money, and invest valuable time during the cold winter in Chicago?

The answer is simply that trade shows (the AHR Expo in particular) provide proven value to the industries that they serve by offering:

Knowledge of what’s new and different: Generally, the greatest attraction of a trade show is its ability to present in one place at one time the newest and most advanced products and technologies available. To come up with good choices, decision makers must gather up-to-date information, and trade shows are geared to making this process relatively easy and efficient.

Up-close-and-personal examination: Equipment is usually three dimensional, and the way it operates may well be its main feature, so prospective buyers want to touch it and observe how it works. They want to see if it’s well made and listen to how much noise it makes. Many visitors come to a show with project specifications so that they can find out how an exhibitor’s product could best fit into their own specific applications.

Learning from experts: Attending a show can be like shopping at a super store. Industry professionals can find most of what they need in one trip, including education. At AHR Expo, courses are offered by ASHRAE that carry Continuing Education Units (CEUs) required for maintaining P.E. Registration. Technicians who need certification find workshops and certification testing right at the show. Educational courses and training sessions add greatly to the value of attending a trade show.

Information exchange: Trade shows bring people involved in the same industry together in one place from all over the country, and all over the world for that matter. They provide what are usually rare opportunities to meet new people (network) and to discuss problems and issues with peers who share the same interests and concerns. Extending one’s sphere of acquaintances and learning from impromptu discussions are both valuable dimensions of the trade show experience.

Person-to-person interactions: When buyers and sellers meet face-to-face, the opportunity is there to get to know each other on a deeper level than e-mail and the telephone can allow. Personal relationships can be key to building the confidence and trust required for successful business dealings. During the show itself and afterward, when many people get together for dinner or hospitality events, a unique opportunity presents itself to actually get to know those with whom a show visitor may ultimately do business. A lot can be learned about a company by meeting the people it employs.

Generation and comparison of alternatives: If a buyer has only one source for the product he needs, then the only choice he has is to “buy” or “not buy.” On the other hand, generating as many alternatives as possible, comparing them, and picking the best make for a wise decision. At a trade show, this process is sped up and becomes relatively easy. Products that satisfy a need can be examined almost side–by–side. Pros and cons actually can be solicited from the manufacturers, and products compared on the spot. If a person were asked to judge a beauty contest, think about how difficult it would be if he or she could see the contestants only one at a time, months apart. When they are all together at one time, the job suddenly becomes manageable.

So why do industry professionals attend trade shows? In its simplest form the answer is: If they are busy, they don’t have time not to attend because to some extent, the value of a trade show is all about time. The benefit of attending a trade show would be greatly diminished if we had years to conduct research about what’s new, time and stamina to travel all over the world to see and evaluate different products, and months to identify key people and schedule meetings with them. The return on investment from attending trade shows takes many forms: time saved, information gathered, technology and new methods learned, relationships formed, good decisions made — in other words, the keys to success for the visitor and his or her business.


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