Monday, October 7, 2019
Send this year’s show soaring up the table. Here’s how, says Steve Hutin, the managing director of Rope and Sling Specialists Ltd.
LiftEx will once again take place at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes on 13-14 November, having debuted at the venue, in the shadows of Milton Keynes (MK) Dons Football Club, last year.
Fittingly, the MK Dons are languishing in mid-table in League One (at the time of writing they’d lost their last three matches), which is kind of where I see LiftEx. I know the last event left some visitors saying, “Meh,” because many of them told me.
But we’re still big fans—and Gold Sponsors.
After all, a couple of wins could see MK Dons back among the play-off contenders—and LiftEx isn’t a lost cause either. But we’ve got to collectively take a more proactive approach to improving the show in terms of quality of visitors and meaningfulness of engagement on offer for them when they arrive. We can’t place the entire burden on the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association’s (LEEA) shoulders as organisers. History tells us that.
And visitors have a responsibility too to challenge the show to deliver a return on the investment of the time and money spent on participation.
So what can we do—as exhibitors and visitors—to make LiftEx 2019 a win-win for everyone?
I’ll start with fellow vendors:
How to make LiftEx work—Part One: Exhibitors
Too few stands at trade shows generally really portray the business or product range they represent. Planning ahead is key. It won’t do to look in the calendar and say, “LiftEx is next week, let’s dust off the roller banners and find the branded pens at the bottom of the cupboard. Oh, that’s the old logo. Don’t matter—who’ll notice?”
Think of the audience of the day, how you want them to react to your product, and strategise:
What graphics will draw them in?
How can we help them solve their problems?
What questions might they have?
How can we answer them?
How might a civil engineering professional be more interested in a product range than a buying decision maker from the entertainment sector?
Selecting the right product to show is vitally important. Too many exhibits look the same at LiftEx; even at a lifting equipment-centric show there’s scope for diversity. How else are we all still in business?
For example, we’re using the event to showcase JD Neuhaus’s new range of Mini Next Gen air hoists, which we’re distributing to the UK market. We’ll take the standout features of the product—explosion-protected, near field communication sensor, sensitive control and limit switches, etc.—and present them to visitors. Remember that catalogues end up in the rubbish bin outside expo centres the world over. A visitor travels to a show for something else.
It’s a shop window, yes, but don’t employ mannequins. Or, if you do, make them look approachable. Employ enough—but not too many—people of varying skillsets. Stroll round LiftEx next month and there’ll be lots of examples of bad practice: people stood on phones with their back to the aisles; exhibitors sitting on laptops; visitors waiting on stands to be seen only to be ignored by staff; sales pitches missing the point; and so on.
Here’s how we line-up:
Alan Varney, operations director
Angela Holmes, finance director
Louise Grant, office manager
Sean Maslen, regional sales manager for the southwest
Tony Teeder, major account manager for London and the south
No pressure, team!
Invite a customer or two. The lifting industry is paranoid, understandably to a point, about introducing end user contacts to the aisles in case they meet a competitor, but we’re too concerned about this. Most of our clients know whom the next supplier is anyway and if you’re delivering the right levels of value and service, why would they look elsewhere?
We’ve happily invited a contact or two to join us at the Marshall Arena and if they walk off Stand 38 onto Stand 34, Stand 17, or wherever, I’m confident in the strength of our relationship and quality of offering. If they find a solution we can’t deliver then that’s all well and good—that’s how good trade shows flourish. Someone might stumble onto our exhibit from another company in return.
Expected visitor or not, make the time spent on a stand memorable. Offer people a beverage, a seat, and warmth. Think of everyone passing by as a potential customer, apprentice, or future employee: how would you treat him or her if they’d booked an appointment to see you at the office? The rules of engagement should be the same.
Part Two: Visitors
The majority of my readership is actually away from the trade itself but is folded in the arms of the sector via their use of lifting and rigging wares. As such, it’s prudent to take an opportunity to urge them firstly to attend LiftEx and secondly to do so with intent. Only if attendees challenge us as an industry can the show really step up to the next level. Right now, I wonder if there’s complacency on both sides of the fence.
It’s true that there is more room in the aisles for visitors and reality is the vast majority of people who purchase or source lifting equipment in the UK don’t attend. For the expo not to become a sideshow to the glitz and glamour of the awards and other co-located activities, it’s got to serve beyond its networking function, as that box will increasingly be ticked elsewhere under the LiftEx umbrella. We want the show to swell, not shrink.
If you’re looking for lifting or material handling solutions, or you know there’ll be a requirement to source it in future, get along to Milton Keynes next month. Suppliers, like us, are good at informing their contacts about the services on offer but there are always gaps that can be filled by trade events. Perhaps the user has neglected to inform a supplier about a project or upgrade, or a provider thinks their customer is more aware of their full product range than they actually are. Then there’s the problem that the user doesn’t think a supplier can help with so they don’t ask.
I’ve witnessed countless conversations in trade show aisles over the years where a couple of representatives of a company that uses great volumes of lifting and rigging gear have paused when a product catches their eye.
“That looks like a more efficient way of doing this,” they say.
Or, “Have we been shoehorning that tool into that application when that one over there would work better?”
And, “Look what the latest hoists can do. Can you believe we’re still dismounting ours to lubricate the motor chamber?”
Technology moves apace and it’s impossible for someone in the, say, marine or petrochemical sector to keep up with everything that’s happening in the industries that serve them with components and ancillary equipment.
When visitors do wander onto exhibits, they should make sure the vendor understands exactly what they do and how their equipment might help. It can cut out a lot of preamble if they’re clear about the loads they need to lift, in what environment, how often, and how they’ve gone about such challenges to date. Even if it rules out that exhibitor as a solution provider, everyone saves time. If a load is 500 tonnes, but the supplier only offers solutions to 50 tonnes, it’s obvious there isn’t a fit. That’s ok; they might do business another day.
I’m confident that every purchasing decision maker could learn from LiftEx if they opened their eyes and minds to the concept. Imagine how much sharper we’d have to be as exhibitors if another 500 end users were queuing at the Marshall Arena door on 13 November. We wouldn’t be using the show to catch up on our emails, that’s for sure.
FYI, we’ll be exhibiting at Stand 38 but there’s a lot more on offer besides.
See you there!
Rope and Sling Specialists Ltd