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Are You Peddling Hotdogs?

I was talking to a good friend yesterday about our changing industry.  He is a new partner in an exhibit house that has been around for about 35 years.  He was venting some frustration about how some of his staff still approach every new sales opportunity from the perspective of how much shop work there is for them.  They look at a design, or a concept, and say “Well, there’s not much build there for us.  Maybe we should pass.”

Interesting comment. It says so much about where that company has parked themselves culturally.  They’re basically saying that they’re a shop first, and everything is done to feed the shop.  If it doesn’t fit their perception of what they do – build stuff – they are not likely to consider the project.

If you espouse to the notion of finding one thing you do well and sticking to it – then this might make sense.  But what happens when the world around you changes?  What happens when the industry you’re in becomes more concerned about shipping and drayage costs and lighter weight materials?  What happens when your client wants to spend less on capital purchases and more on rental?  When they want someone who can provide a total event solution – not just the physical property, but also lighting and sound, staffing, logistics, and even consulting on any number of trade show marketing issues?

What it means is that companies that have done well in the past are going to have to look again at the products and services they are prepared to provide, and see if they match what is required now by their clients.  It also means that new companies that are prepared to do business in this new era – that have a handle on what clients need now – will do well.

For many long standing companies, it might mean a move away from tradition…from the way it has always been.  It might mean restructuring or refocusing parts of their business to meet changing needs of clients.

We talk a lot now about being ‘face-to-face’ marketers in this business.  That is a much broader term than what we used to say that we were: exhibit builders.  The nature of our business has changed dramatically in the last 15-20 years; trade show marketing has become a much more important part of what we do now.

It also goes to that whole idea of being a partner with your client rather than a vendor.  A vendor is someone you buy a hotdog from at the ballpark.  A partner is someone who understands your business, your marketing strategy, and is a consultant to you in creating and executing your trade show plan.  And getting results.

That may include building an exhibit.  But it is most likely going to include a whole lot more.  Like participating in the creative process, recommending marketing solutions, finding resources, managing logistics, tracking results.  And it may also include sourcing a Cirque de Soleil act for an event or figuring out how to do a 30-foot tall wall of fire in a convention center.

The bottom line is that you become a trusted source of value-added service to your client; someone they turn to when they need solutions of all kinds…a partner.  And that’s a lot better place to be than waiting for someone to buy a hotdog.

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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