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I had lunch a few weeks ago with an old college friend. He is retired from the army and has worked for a defense contractor for the last 20 years. He is planning on building a retirement villa for himself and a few select friends, and wanted to gauge my interest in participating in the partnership.

A couple days later I had lunch with another friend who had just celebrated 30 years with his company. He celebrated by investing in a retirement community in Florida, where he intends to move at the end of the year.

I walked onto the show floor at NRA in Chicago last month and ran into a guy who used to be on my I&D crews in the late ‘80s. It was great to see him again. Then he tells me he is retiring this fall and moving to his place in Wisconsin.

I talked with two more people at NRA who had the same story – retiring at the end of the year and moving off to other locations. And at the end of this month, I’m attending a retirement party for my next door neighbor.

ECN 072014_COL_AsTheSawsTurn_Abandoning Ship_JObermeyerWhat is going on? Am I missing something here? It seems like all the guys I know are bailing. I know I’m no spring chicken, but I don’t feel like I’m ready to call it quits, either. Too old to rock ‘n’ roll, too young to die. This all gets me thinking about two things: How much longer am I going to do this, and who is going to replace all of us?

Personally, I still love what I do. I still get a lot of energy from working with my clients, being on the show floor, seeing everything come together and watching results happen. To me this is an exciting industry; never a dull moment. I have given very little thought to ‘retirement’; in whatever form that takes in this day and age.

Technology has certainly changed the way we do work now. I don’t have to be tied to my desk in my office to be productive and effective. I can do a lot of the same things I do in my office at work while I am sitting on the deck at the condo on the lake.

The word ‘retirement’ to me is too defining of a single moment in time when you stop doing anything related to your profession and start doing something else – playing golf, fishing, sleeping in a hammock. While those things do sound good for the moment, I don’t think I can do that full time.

Perhaps my role changes somewhat, or my schedule lightens up some, but to just do an all stop at a given moment in time…not sure I can do that. I like what I’m doing too much to just end it all at once.

What I also wonder, however, is what this industry will look like in five to 10 years. There are lots of statistics and reams of research out there about the impending changeover from Baby Boomers (people born from 1945 – 1965) to Millennials (born from 1985 – 2005) in our workforce.

From a purely numbers perspective, the Millennial generation is simply not large enough to literally replace all of the Boomers as they retire. There will be a shortage of people to fill all of the openings. While technology will certainly fill some of that gap, the reality is that businesses will need to learn to manage without the same number of workers.

Another piece of this puzzle is the difference in cultures between the two generations. From a business perspective, everything from the approach to the work itself, attitude toward management and loyalty to one company can be vastly different between these two generations. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just something that will have to be adjusted to in corporate life.

It gets not only to what our industry’s workforce looks like, but also to what our clients do to market to the Millennial attendee in the tradeshow environment. Doug Ducate, president and CEO of the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), touched on this issue of marketing to Gen Y in a presentation to EDPA.

Ducate suggests that these folks attend shows because they like the face-to-face experience for networking, they consider attending a professional requirement, they want to see and learn about new products and find new suppliers, and perhaps most telling – they want to browse without sales pressure.

His advice about marketing to this generation: Be genuine and authentic, stop selling and start entertaining, create an interactive versus static presentation, present your message in a one-on-many presentation rather than a one-on-one sales pitch. Every visitor to your exhibit is important, regardless of their age – or perceived age. Treat every visitor with respect. Staff your exhibit with a team that includes people in the same age group so that peer-to-peer conversations happen naturally.

Researchers suggest that Generation Y represents over 60 million people joining our workforce and impacting consumer and business decision making. While they potentially represent much greater net worth and more liberal spending practices, the method of making those spending decisions is much different than other generations.

And one that those of us in the Boomer generation may not fully grasp. But I’m still not abandoning ship just yet.

See you on the show floor.

Jim Obermeyer has been in the trade show industry over 30 years, both as a corporate trade show manager and exhibit house executive. He is now a partner in a new company: Reveal: Exhibiting a World of Difference. He can be reached at jobermeyer@revealexhibits.com.

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