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Ask Your MHEDA Board: Getting the Most Out of Convention

“What are your best practices to get the most out of a trade show or convention experience?”

Asked by Josh Smith, President, AK Material Handling Systems, Maple Grove, MN

Thomas Albero
President & CEO, Alliance Material Handling, Inc.
Jessup, MD

Divide and Conquer! It can be overwhelming because there are so many opportunities to participate in speaker sessions, exhibits and networking events. As soon as the schedule comes out, we determine who will be attending and then decide who the best person is to go to each event. Whoever attends a trade show or convention must present what they learned back to the Leadership Team the following Monday morning. As soon as I register for an event, I put it on my calendar. At the same time, I also block off time on my calendar to make sure I review everything that I learned and take the time to determine how best to communicate it to our staff. I found over the years that if I did not block off this time in advance, I would return, get busy and forget to spread the wealth of knowledge that I learned at the conference/trade show.

Darin Boik
President, Advanced Equipment Company
Charlotte, NC

Conventions are a rewarding part of your work life. Whether you are working in a booth or visiting as an attendee, there are many ways to get the most out of your event. I believe that networking is the most valuable part of the convention. There is nothing that can replace the conversations and idea generation that happens when we talk with others in our industry. In order to maximize the networking experience, be strategic with your time by creating a plan that includes a list of who you want to see and their booth number.

Prior to the convention, get a good night’s sleep and have the right mindset upon arriving. Comfortable shoes are a must, as you are going to be standing on a hard floor most of the day. Save time by mapping your route along the floor based on who you want to see, and where they are located. Listen more and talk less. Have some conversation starters and listen attentively. If there are others in the group, try to involve them into the conversation.

Lastly, be courteous of a vendor’s time. Remember, they are there to find projects. Be sure to attend less formal networking opportunities such as networking receptions and hospitality suites. One thing you can count on is that it will be a long day, so don’t forget to make time for yourself. I look forward to seeing you at the convention.

Doug Carson
VP of Marketing & Sales, Fallsway Equipment Company
Akron, OH

To get the most out of a trade-show or our MHEDA convention, you should begin by doing some pre-planning. See who’s attending prior to going to the show and think about who you’ve been trying to meet with and with which organizations you’re attempting to establish contact. Send some preliminary emails or LinkedIn messages and let them know you’re interested in meeting for a brief time at the event. Then, check out the daily schedule and decide what programs most interest you from those offered. Coordinate with any co-workers attending the convention, so different people can attend as many of the educational workshops as possible for your company’s benefit. When you arrive at the event, be sure to take advantage of the social events that kick off the show. These are great times to network in a relaxed setting and get to know your fellow industry peers. If there’s an extra-curricular event, such as a golf outing or 5K run, be sure to participate, if possible. Finally, be fully present at all functions offered and engaged in the learning and information sharing.

Thomas R. Duck
VP/ General Manager, Tri-Lift NC, Inc.
Greensboro, NC

I would say to decide your Why? Why are you going and what is your plan? What do you specifically want to get out of the show? Get a menu of who will be there and what products they carry and plan your visits and, if possible, even set appointments so you get some one-on-one time. Also, get a list of what presenters will be there and plan your visits around those presentations so you get the most out of the show. The biggest tip I could give is to plan your visit as much in advance as possible so you don’t just wander around. This would include having a list of written questions for the booths you plan to visit. With all of the excitement and activity, we sometimes forget all we want to ask so have a cheat sheet of questions. Other than that, enjoy the experience.

Jim MacGregor
Vice President of Operations, Toyota Forklifts of Atlanta
Suwanee, GA

When I plan to attend a trade show or convention, the first thing I do is research the association that is conducting the event. I assess our alignment with that association to ensure that attending will provide value to our organization with a Return on Investment. Next is to research each of the presenters or Keynote Speakers. A quick Google search, website review of their core organization, and a LinkedIn review of the speakers provides a better understanding of their education, experience, work history and their strengths. This also allows you to make informed decisions as to which to attend should there be overlapping times.

Most industry trade shows and conventions offer an excess of high-quality information, so research in advance is critical to leverage the most value for where you are in your corporate initiatives within your organization. Each year your initiatives change and the topics you will choose to afford time to will also change. Inevitably every time you do the preparation work in advance, your experience and return on your time investment is maximized.

Todd Maxwell
COO, RMH Systems
Waukee, IA

At RMH Systems, we offer our salespeople the opportunity to attend the ProMat show, as we believe it is a great way to train our new salespeople and let our veteran salespeople see what’s new. In 2019, we sent 30 employees to the show. We will pair up a veteran salesperson with a new salesperson to walk the floor together. Walking the floor with more than three people is very difficult, as everyone stops and looks at different equipment or products. Thus, we will have multiple small groups spread throughout the show. Our salespeople make a point to stop at each of our supplier’s booth and see our sales representatives. In addition, we will set up specific times with our suppliers to have a training session on their new equipment. This brings the entire crew into the booth and allows all of us to see and hear the same thing. We attend many of the supplier functions prior to the show, during the show, and after the show each day. Many of our salespeople will meet our customers at the show. They will walk the show and take the customer to specific booths to discuss specific equipment with the manufacturer. This allows the customer to see and hear the detailed information right from the people that make the equipment. We have been issued many purchase orders due to meeting a customer at the show. I hope this helps and see you at ProMat 2021!

Ted Springer
President, Springer Equipment Company
Birmingham, AL

Before we visit any trade show or convention, we always make plans to attend the functions well prepared. Most of these events today are big productions, like MHEDA’s Convention, ProMat and MODEX, so we usually take several of our managers to the events. Before we attend the functions, we look at the exhibitors and events offered, like seminars and workshops, and determine who would be the best to attend a specific event. It is always a best practice to get a list of attendees or participants in order to maximize your time, as shows and conventions can get pretty hectic. You don’t want to miss out on learning from your peers, networking and seeing new cutting-edge technology. Remember, take plenty of photos of what you want to review later. Pictures always tell a story better than many conversations after several days on the road.

We always contact other participants in advance of these events to not only let them know who will be attending from our dealerships, but to make sure we get an opportunity to visit with them. Make every attempt to visit as many vendors as possible even if it’s just to see what they have showcased. Always follow up after an event with an email or phone call to attendees that you visited with; the very best practice we have found is to Network, Network, Network!

Nate Storey
VP of Operations Storage Solutions, Inc.
Westfield, IN

At Storage Solutions, we use an event like a trade show or convention as the perfect opportunity to exercise our relationship between our Sales and Marketing departments. We view these as unique opportunities for increasing brand recognition, putting names to faces and communicating with those in our industry about what we do, how we do it, and what makes our organization an ideal partner. That communication comes through everything from the signage we have at our booth to the language our “boots on the ground” use to build relationships and tell our story. We also use technologies like iPads and automated messaging to ensure our lead generation strategy begins with timely, relevant messaging that connects our solutions with the appropriate audience.

These events also give us the chance to connect in person with a number of our valued vendors and partners. We can hear their stories, learn from their experiences, and find ways to better collaborate in the future. We value these connections because these are fellow industry experts; we are building genuine relationships to learn from each other continually.

We also take time to connect with potential customers. Every operation has some pain points they are experiencing. While we can see if their needs match with our service offerings, more importantly, we can bring several smart, experienced and creative people together to solve problems and strengthen relationships. Ultimately, we must have a symbiotic relationship – from manufacturer to distributor to the end-user. So, we all need to work together to help each other accomplish our respective goals.

Perhaps the most important “best practice” we employ for events like these is our wrap-up conference call with stakeholders. We use those to find takeaways at all points of the process – from planning to execution to follow through – that allow us to learn from missed opportunities and better capitalize on opportunities for growth and development. Hope to see you at an upcoming MHEDA event!

Michael Vaughan
CFO, Liftech Equipment Companies, Inc.
E. Syracuse, NY

Certainly, to get the most out of your convention experience the best thing you can do is to attend as much as you can. If you are attending with multiple co-workers…. divide and conquer! I always look at the convention agenda and identify the sessions, in addition to keynotes, that I am interested in attending. The networking receptions/events are a great way to expand your connection base. MHEDA members are very inviting , so creating new relationships is there for those who choose. Post-convention I usually try to make connections via LinkedIn as a way to foster continued dialogue. For events where rosters are published, like the golf tournament, I usually target people I want to meet and introduce.

Michael Wall
President, CSI Materials Handling
Westmont, IL

Great question. My first suggestion would be to go to bed each night of the event allowing enough time for the alcohol to wear off before the next day. Nothing worse than working a trade show after a late night spent with a bunch of MHEDA people…these folks are professionals! On a more serious note, you really have to get out of your comfort zone. Trade shows and conventions cost a lot of money. You need to engage with as many people as possible to make it worthwhile. Talk to your booth neighbors, sit at lunch tables where you don’t know people, walk the aisles and introduce yourself to strangers. Make it count!

Pete Womack
Vice President of Sales, Riekes Equipment
Kansas City, MO

We don’t do a lot of trade shows as a company, maybe 4 or 5 in our entire territory, but what we have found is the following. 1. Due diligence beforehand to make sure you know your audience and is it a fit for you so you can determine if you want to go. (awareness, leads, relationship) 2. A customized approach to every show product focus, booth materials etc. 3. If we are allowed to speak or demo at the show that is a positive, but that isn’t always possible 4. Measure ROI, traffic, leads, and sales. Make sure the shows are growing each year. 5. Don’t over crowd your booth with products, and again, tailor it to your audience. We participate in a farm show every year so we always have that $10,000.00 to $12,000.00 used truck and one new truck. We also have racking and a walk behind pallet truck.