Ground Clutter

Jan. 10, 2007
It's showtime

Trade shows, conventions, conferences — they go by many names and they share one truism. They can be the most cost-efficient tools in your business toolbox. People ask, why go to a trade show? A better question is, Why not?

In any given industry, a major trade show can be the one place during the year where you can meet, sell to, buy from, and learn about your major competitors, suppliers, and customers, all under one roof. That's quite a bargain, and too good to pass up.

Everyone seems to think that writers always go to conventions at somebody else's expense. It ain't necessarily so. A couple of years back, I wanted to learn more about the book publishing business. At my own expense I attended a convention in Hawaii. It cost a not-so-small fortune, but I learned more than I could have in any other way, and interviewed a dozen potential customers. It was worth it.

Many moons ago — dang, close to 30 years ago — I wanted to learn something about the professional speaking business. My mentor, the late great Robert Henry, told me to join the National Speakers Association and go to the trade show/convention. He said it would save me six years of floundering around on my own. He was right, and one speakers bureau that I met is still booking me today. Talk about a profit.

I have been to many aviation trade shows at my own expense, and am convinced that they were all profitable experiences. At each I met dozens of customers and potential customers for my speaking business and booked future business directly from the shows.

Come to think of it. It was at an aviation trade show that I got the job writing a column for FBO, predecessor to Airport Business. I have now had that job for 20-plus years. That's the longest I have ever held a job other than working for myself.

I have bought products at trade shows that proved to be worth much more to my business then the low "show price" paid. Where else could I get a personal demo of an electronics gadget or a piece of luggage? Where else could I talk to other people who have bought the product?

Have you ever attended a trade show without learning something that made you sit up, take note, and say to yourself, "I didn't know that. I can use that. Why didn't I think of that?"

Most of all, trade shows help overcome the isolation inherent to the aviation business. Lawyers have local bar associations where they get together to share problems and information. You can pretty much bet that there is no such local group of airport directors or FBO managers. We need to get together at trade shows to help us stay out of — or get out of — the ruts that come with isolation.