There is much to be gained by international travel, even for a regionally focussed business in a niche marketplace.
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, or so the saying goes.
Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. When my father and Ranger Lifting founder, Steve, and I travelled to Nevada’s Mojave Desert earlier this month (March), we did so with the intention of taking as much out of the place as possible, and I’m not talking about gambling winnings.
We attended a trade show called ConExpo-Con/Agg, which takes place in Las Vegas every three years. Our intention was to network, gather intelligence, source product and ultimately make our customers’ lifting operations even safer and more efficient.
The sprawling construction-themed event welcomed 128,000 people, who visited nearly 3,000 exhibits over five days. About 20% of the visitors, organisers told me, were from overseas, representing around 150 countries.
It’s those international visitors that inspired this commentary. Not only am I going to applaud each and every one of those 25,600 globe-trotters for crossing land and sea to get to Vegas, I’m going to suggest next time you join them. I don’t literally mean one has to go to Nevada (mark your diaries for 10-14 March 2020 if you want to) but the mindset should be adopted. Most businesses can learn a trick or two by travelling, particularly overseas. And trade shows are a good reason to board an aeroplane.
As an Australian business it would be too easy to look at the miles of ocean that separate us from the next civilisation and conclude that there’s nothing to gain from attending trade events and making contacts overseas. How can travelling the world help our customers in New South Wales, Australia—our home city? It’s an easy question to answer, as I’ll explain.
For starters, not many of the products we sell are manufactured in Australia so we are in an international marketplace by default. Even regionally focussed businesses often find themselves part of a global supply chain and travel helps to keep it connected.
For example, we apply solutions to customers’ lifting problems every day that we only know about because we put in the miles to meet the people behind the equipment and learn how end users in other sectors and geographies are operating. In turn, we’ve opened markets to European manufacturers that it would have taken them decades to discover on their own.
COUNTING THE COST
It’s true that attending overseas trade shows is expensive, which can put people off. For each of the near-26,000 overseas visitors to ConExpo-Con/Agg, managers and finance officers would have told just as many that the company’s budget wouldn’t support the trip. “Get back to your desk!” it might have been said.
Business travel is not about going all in on black and hoping for the best or writing off some cash to reward a hard-working employee. Make no mistake, we put the same pressure on ourselves to deliver a return on all investments as any CFO gripping the purse strings tightly. Where we’re different to many is we understand that the long-term gains outweigh the short-term costs.
The argument that it’s too costly to attend exhibitions is flawed because it doesn’t consider those returns. For ConExpo, so compelling was the case to participate it was almost a no-brainer. Actually, the only way to lose big at the Las Vegas Convention Center was by not being there.
Nowhere else on the planet this year will as many crane, rigging and construction professionals assemble in the same place among the wares of the industry’s leading manufacturers and suppliers. After all, the crane companies exhibited in an aptly named area called the Gold Lot! What do those in this marketplace who didn’t attend plan to do—look at photos and videos of the show on the internet?
Put simply, there are three elements to getting the most out of attending a trade show—what one does before, during and after the event. Getting each stage right will help businesses take a speculate to accumulate approach rather than having a blanket policy that means they can only attend certain events for a set period of time, only in specific locations and only if they fall at the right time of year. This naive policy is commonplace in the lifting and other industries.
Before we booked our flights and hotels, we conducted extensive research about the show, its history, target demographic and exhibitors. From that we looked at the potential outcomes and listed a number of key objectives, which you’ll forgive me for keeping to myself.
Once we’d decided to attend, we planned a travel itinerary that allowed us to get the most from the show. It sounds obvious, but look at the dates of an event, its size and number of exhibitors to give oneself enough time but not too much. It’s also prudent to strike a balance between having a number of fixed appointments yet allowing scope for spontaneity and the unexpected. It would be impossible to stick to a dozen daily scheduled appointments in the mania of a big trade event anyway.
Social media is a useful tool. In the weeks that preceded the show, we were posting quality, educational content to the event hashtag—#ConExpoConAgg—to introduce ourselves to exhibitors and fellow attendees.
This leads into on-site strategy as a hashtag can be used to share stories and photos, and network once a show is underway. Keep content qualitative throughout and don’t be tempted to post self-serving Tweets, like ‘We’re the best company at #ConExpoConAgg’. Who would want to engage with content like that? Not me.
Remember, holding conversations and networking is a crucial part of trade show participation. Whether it’s at an exhibit one has planned to visit, another that presented itself by surprise, at a chance aisle encounter, at a networking reception, or in a bar, don’t be fooled into thinking this is down time. Prizes aren’t on offer for the most stands visited or miles covered. Quality conversations with relevant professionals are worth far more.
Trade shows are just one facet of international travel. We frequently visit jobsites and manufacturers’ premises, whilst exposing our professionals to the industry’s best knowledge and training programmes.
Being insular in business limits opportunity. Consider the long-term gains and value one could pass onto customers before isolating the economic and time commitments associated with international travel.
I know what Ranger’s approach will be when we start to plan for LiftEx, which takes place in the UK in November; and, on a larger scale, Bauma, when the massive German fair kicks-off in Munich in Spring 2019.
Could you broaden your own horizons?