One of the fun aspects of sales is doing booth duty at a trade show.  It is an opportunity to meet and greet lots of new folks and catch up with trade show buddies.  Watching an exhibition hall transform into a “show” is like magic.  When you show up with your booth at the hall the day before the show, the place is a wreck. Booths are under construction, carpet is going down, fork lifts are zooming all over the place, exhibitors are lined up at the show managers booth, bewildered sales people are trying to get their bearings, and haggard and cranky union workers are trying to get the whole illusion assembled by the approaching deadline.

Trade shows are venues where buyers meet sellers in bulk.  Buyers show up in droves to walk a few acres of floor space crammed with vendors showing their wares. Everyone is in full schmooze configuration. There is an abundance of literature and business bling. Most booths are 10′ x 10′ with rear curtains and some trade show furniture. Smaller companies bring booths that they assemble featuring a display frame, lights, and velcro panels. Larger companies pay to have the union guys assemble an expensive architectural wonder complete with meeting rooms and, in the EU, a bar with bartender.

Lots of wheeling and dealing gets done by those buyers that come to actually buy on the spot. A great many buyers are there to window shop and go back to the office to ruminate on their decision. 

What is less well known outside of this circle is that a good deal of competitive intelligence is being done as well.  Everyone wants to know who the competition is. Lots of browsing and innocent questions.  Competitor pricing is the magic that everyone wants.  But this information can be hard to get. In the specialty chemical world, prices are often given by quotation to qualified parties. Qualified in this context means that the query originates from a party who is actually in need of the material rather than the wiley competitor trying to get an edge in pricing.

Some trade show organizers will have a high paid speaker talk to the show attendees.  I was once on the “A-List” to get tickets to meet the speakers at a small social hour before the show.  I got to have an actual conversation with James Carville, Mary Matlin, Terry Bradshaw, and Robert Reich. It was very exciting and enlightening. 

Another side benefit of being in sales is the chance to dine in some excellent restaurants. When at a tade show, it is always best to get your reservations in early. All of the best seats in town get taken. 

At a trade show in Vegas a few years back, our hall was next to a room being used for auditions for some transvestite series for cable TV. I recall walking down the hall at the Sands past a long line of “ladies” waiting for their turn at audition.  They were dressed to kill. It’s Vegas, baby.  The details of some other events will stay with me to the grave.

A few years ago at a plastics show at the McCormick center in Chicago I counted 6 multilayer extrusion machines blowing film, multiple PET bottle machines running, and numerous die extrusion systems operating. People waited in line for an hour to get a free lawn chair.

Favorite destinations? Paris, London, New Orleans, San Francisco, Milano (beware pick pockets!), Basel, Seattle, Berlin, Bangkok, Las Vegas, San Diego, and Manchester.

In Manchester we had to walk the gauntlet past a mob of angry protestors in front of the trade show- they were pissed about animal testing done by one of the exhibitors. 

Berlin is a fascinating and cosmopolitan city and anyone who enjoys Europe should visit.