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The Greatest Show(s) On Earth

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Every time, it seems, one way or another, the announcer always managed to get in those lines. I always wondered which was the “Greatest Show” and which was only the “Second Greatest Show” on Earth.

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Well the year is rapidly coming to an end, but before it’s gone, we’ll have made our decisions about which of the three greatest shows on Earth are the show or shows for us. Choices, of course, include the SEMA/AAPEX shows in Las Vegas, the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) show in Florida and The International Motorsports Industry Show (IMIS) in Indianapolis. Once you’ve decided between Las Vegas, Orlando or Indianapolis, and you’ve made your airline and hotel reservations, it’s time to sit down and put some serious consideration into just what it is you want to accomplish when you get there.

At times this may all feel like a circus, but your presence at a trade show can mean serious business for you. Each of these shows has a lot to offer the automotive business owner and enthusiast. But if you are like most of us in the industry, it can be a challenge to find the time off for just one of these events, let alone two or  three. So when your time is too precious to waste, you’d better make the best of it.

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If you’re like me, this will require some organization, and the best way to get organized is to put it all down in a list. In fact, I need several lists. This is how planning might work for you.

List # 1 – Things to Accomplish. What are your goals for this trip? For some this is a vacation, possibly the only one you’ve had in years. A top priority may be to have some fun, relax and unwind. These are legitimate concerns: after all, it’s not like we’re going to Boise, ID, or Fresno, CA (not that there is anything wrong with either of those places). No, this is “Wally World,” “Vegas, Baby!” or “The Brickyard.” If we can’t find some fun here, we might as well close the door of the miniature car and go home.

However, for now let’s leave the vacationing to the rest of the family and for the evenings. Trade show halls are, after all, serious working venues. The veteran show goer knows that these shows are the best place to shop for new equipment, to see the latest parts offerings, to network with other business owners and attend seminars to learn about almost everything. But to be successful, we’ll need to drill down further. Get specific. You don’t want to rush yourself and walk briskly by. There are just too many booths to visit, too many machine companies to see and too much equipment to try out. And maybe every seminar does not match your business needs.

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So that leads us to List #2 – People to See. This may be broken down into sub categories: who is a must see and who do I WANT to see if time permits? You may want to highlight the people and products you know in one color and the new vendors you want to investigate in another. I find the pre-show guides and magazines are a great value when it comes to my pre-show homework.

There is usually plenty of info available online as well. Some even include software to help you manage and maximize your show experience. The floor plan and displaying vendor guides can be used to map out a complete walking itinerary. This way you don’t walk past anyone you are looking for, and you don’t have to travel back and forth and up and down every aisle in the place more than once. By controlling your steps, you will make best use of your time, thus allowing more stops and more time for each stop. Plus, your feet will thank you.

List #3: What to See. Machine shopping can be a long and tedious process so you might separate the machine manufacturers from the parts vendors. You rarely have a chance to check out a particular piece of equipment you’ve been thinking about, let alone all its competitors under one roof. If you are serious about a purchase, this is where you’ll want to spend time with the sales reps to ask and learn all you can. This is no place to be rushed.

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A suggestion on machine shopping: If you’re serious about it, you may want to contact the manufacturer long before you get to the show. Set up an appointment so that you can have a rep’s undivided attention. Maybe you’ll even meet with their engineer if he is in attendance to learn all you can before you sign on the line.

One list you will probably just make in your head is “What do I bring?” I’m not here to tell you how to pack your bags. But I still have some advice. First and most importantly, wear comfortable shoes. You’ll do a lot of walking and you don’t want to be breaking in some stiff new shoes. At the same time, while considering comfort, you’ll also want to dress for success. While I don’t think this is a place for a three-piece suit (we wouldn’t want you mistaken for a banker, after all), a professional look will tell others you are here to learn and to work. If you want someone’s attention, you want them to take you seriously. This is communicated by how you present yourself. And don’t forget your business cards. Leave an impression AND a way for someone to contact you.

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A little more planning, and possibly a list, can save you money. Plan early and shop for your accommodations. If you have transportation, you can often stay a few extra blocks away from the venue and be surprised at how cheap you can stay in most of these cities. The convention associations usually have a range of hotel prices, but you may be able to do a little better if you do your research. The tourist industry is hurting as bad as any other. If you shop around, you can find some of the many deals offered to bring price conscious tourists to town.

If you don’t have a buddy who lives in or near town, you probably won’t have wheels. Using taxis can really add up, so check the shuttle bus schedule. There are usually dozens of these parked just outside the convention halls traveling to all the major hotels. You can even find one going some place near your special off-the-beaten-path motel and greatly shorten your walk.  Or, just find that compromise place to stay that is priced fair, but still within walking distance.

You can also plan your meals. Hospitality suites and attendee appreciation nights can feed you well and cheap – searching out a sandwich shop outside the convention hall might help with one of the more expensive portions of your stay as well. The concessions at these shows can be far more expensive than the popcorn under the big top.

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You’re going to visit a lot of vendors. You will be tempted to grab a catalog here, a brochure there, next thing you know, you’ll need another suitcase. And with airlines charging for checked bags you’ll find yourself paying to bring all of this paper home. No need. Most vendors have a neat little machine in their booths called a card reader. Just ask if you can swipe your show badge and have them send the materials to you. Most will be glad to. If you do find yourself holding the bag – that is an advertising bag full of literature – look for the shipping vendors booth. There is usually one of the major shippers on hand to handle getting your bag of treasures home for a reasonable fee.

Tickets to the circus are still one of the better entertainment deals available. Traveling to an automotive show may not be. You will want to be organized and prepared. You’ll want to make the best use of your time and accomplish all the goals you’ve established on your lists.

Trade shows are an important part of our industry and it can be of great value to most everyone in the industry to attend one. You may not be able to afford the trip every year, or even every other year, so you’ll want to make the most of your time and the money you’ll spend.

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Oh, one last piece of advice: put your lists and your business cards with your airline tickets or boarding pass. No one likes to forget things and feel like a clown.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, cast your eyes to the lion’s cage…The trade show floor can be viewed as a vacation, a party or a serious business venue. What you expect to gain from your trip will help you decide how you
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