Thursday, April 21, 2016
I started drafting this blog at a bar in Munich, where my colleague Alan Varney (manager) and I chinked steins and said “Prost!” (cheers, in German) after a productive visit to the construction trade show, Bauma, which took place in the Bavarian capital from 11-17 April.
I’ve blogged before about embracing scale. Regular readers will recall me outlining what it takes to become a successful supplier to megaprojects and I also shared some guidance on growing a business in a secure, sensible way. This month, I want to talk about a trade event that many people deem too big for them.
First, let’s get a sense of the scale involved. People hesitant to engage with the sprawling fair are right in pointing out that Bauma is huge. It’s also true that one couldn’t take in everything it has to offer, even if they attended every day from dawn until dusk. The numbers support that with 3,423 exhibitors participating from 58 countries, covering a record 605,000 square metres of exhibition space. Alan and I were among 580,000 visitors from 200 countries, which was up 9% on 2013, when the triennial event last took place.
One can forgive a rigging or lifting component supplier for thinking they’re too niche for such a show, but Bauma offers something for everyone and I’d urge others to mark their diaries for 8-14 April 2019, regardless of how vertical their focus. After all, among the hulking tower cranes, monster mining vehicles and giant boring machines, fall arrest equipment was top of our shopping list—and we found it.
It sounds like something from a school report, doesn’t it? Seriously though, you’ve got to keep focussed at trade shows this big.
There’s a temptation to walk around Bauma like a countryman on a day out in the city. Lifting, construction and infrastructure equipment stretches as far as the eye can see and one could get lost among the jibs, wheels, machines and crowds. Entertainers, hostesses, salespeople, music and shiny kit are a huge distraction, but time goes quickly and it’s important to make the best use of the hours available.
Whatever the show, especially at large outdoor events, keep an end goal in mind. I’d been to Bauma before (in 2007) so I knew what to expect, which is why Alan and I planned our visit to fully exploit the two days we’d given ourselves to walk the aisles. We made a list of the halls and areas we wanted to visit and planned a route around each one to view the exhibits that had potential.
We measured that potential against key criteria. We were looking for good quality products (including working at height kit, as referenced), preferably manufactured by a company not already trading in the UK. Adding a product to the portfolio that our existing and potential customers could find elsewhere would have represented a wasted trip.
In essence, we created our own bite-sized Bauma. The bigger the show, the more important it is to make it digestible. It can literally take 15 minutes to walk from one side of Bauma to the other. Imagine the mileage and time one can waste without a properly planned route or a wavering attention span. Sticking on the pathway to our end goal was fundamental to a successful show.
If the shoe fits
We fitted in the right amount of relevant meetings and arrived at each target exhibit ready to conduct serious conversations, despite the hullabaloo going on around us. However, even upon arrival at a stand, opportunity doesn’t always fall into one’s lap.
The right products might be on show and they may meet the criteria, but just as Alan and I found at Bauma, a visitor needs to tie down a company representative to answer questions and advance an enquiry. Otherwise, it’s like being a customer in a store without a shopkeeper.
It’s much like finding a pair of shoes and looking for a sales assistant to get your size so you can try them on. Patience, proactivity, eye contact and genuine interest are key to getting what you want out of that particular stand visit. Consider that at international shows not everyone will speak perfect English so questions need to be clear and delivered with that in mind.
As with all trade shows, some Bauma exhibitors were better than others, and it’s a good barometer by which to measure a potential supplier. A presentable, well-stocked, well-staffed exhibit with product experts readily on hand suggests the company is serious about what they do and are keen to process new connections. Beyond that, if they understand their product and respect a customer’s market knowledge about what sells, the signs are good for a longer term relationship.
It’s been said before, but it’s remarkable how many companies spend (waste) money on exhibition stands, only for staff to sit in the corner on their laptops. Consider the impression that gives to visitors like Alan and I looking for dynamic, enthusiastic suppliers.
I heard a shocking statistic the other day about the amount of trade show conversations and leads that never get followed up. Even over just two days of the show, Alan and I collected many business cards and contact details, all with notes about our discussions and followup opportunities. Imagine an exhibitor or visitor who spent all seven days at the event.
We were determined to finish what we started in Germany so, upon return to the office, we contacted one potential supplier in particular. As was the case on the show floor, we were clear about our requirements and demonstrated a bias to act on our word. As both parties essentially want the same thing, we moved forward and should be able to make a significant announcement soon about an addition to our product range.
At the other end of the scale to Bauma is the annual LiftEx trade show, of the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA), which is lifting equipment-centric. It is very focussed on our sector but if I could choose one I’d take Bauma every time. We’ll be at LiftEx in Aberdeen this year, as we were Liverpool in 2015, but there’s so much scope at a larger exhibition and with the right plan a visitor can always create their own show within a show.
The next Bauma, which takes place in three years time at the same venue, is already in the Rope and Sling diary.
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