As winter rolls around and the heat waves of summer are long gone, contractors are typically incredibly busy planning for the winter heating season. It’s also the time when industry meetings, trade shows, and seminars begin their annual cycle — often perplexing contractors who feel they don’t have time to attend. There is no shortage of events, including the Women in HVACR conference, the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) Annual Convention, the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors (PHCC) Convention, International Ground Source Heat Pump Association (IGSHPA) Technical Conference and Expo, ACCA’s Service Managers and Office/Operations Managers Forum, and the recently announced Service World Expo. So, what should a contractor do? What should he or she go to and why? What happens if a contractor is forced to skip a year? These are all pertinent questions contractors ask themselves.


It’s no secret that contractor attendance at industry events is mostly down over the past few years. In fact, trade show attendance across all industries is down.

In some ways, this is very understandable. With rising costs on all levels of attending a trade show, contractors often end up second-guessing the commitments they’ve previously made. With dollars getting tired, I’ve heard the question often asked: What’s the payback, and how do I measure the return on my investment? Both are excellent questions.

Something’s worth depends on who is evaluating it and how. Is it about return on investment (ROI) or return on objective (ROO)? Or, is it about the buzz on the show floor? In the 2012 study, “The Role of and Value of Face-to-Face Interaction,” conducted by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), 48 percent of trade show attendees said face-to-face interactions at exhibits during exhibitions, conventions, and annual meetings are more valuable today than two years ago, and 43 percent anticipated this even more true over the next two years.

So, despite all the techie methods for communicating and staying in touch with customers and vendors, the old-fashioned pressing of the flesh is still the best way to network, develop relationships, build up existing relationships, and learn a lot, all in one setting.

Industry-specific events make this even more valuable because attendees represent qualified buyers, and exhibitors are looking to directly interact with this group. The CEIR study backs this up, stating: “Attendees place high importance on face-to-face interactions at all pre-purchase stages, with two-thirds or more ranking these interactions important for investigating, evaluating, and narrowing down choices before buying. [Even after making a purchase], 71 percent of attendees place high importance on face-to-face interactions to maintain relationships with vendors.”

Over the years, I’ve talked with a lot of contractors at industry events, and what I’ve found is that, as the economic recession dragged on, companies became more strategic when it came to attending. They sent fewer people, and, often, the folks who attended were more on the purchasing side of the business.

The value of attendance may be prioritized by personal access to a highly targeted audience of your fellow industry professionals; the most cost-effective means of sourcing products, services, and information in your industry; direct personal access to the suppliers of the leading technology; the opportunity to question, examine, and compare the performance of competitive suppliers from across the country
and around the world; new product launches with linked conferences, exhibitor seminars, and networking events; the most time-efficient forum to keep up-to-date with new to market technology, state-of-the-art products, innovations, and developments in your market; and new business opportunities by providing direct negotiation with exhibitors’ senior decision makers.

Still, whether to attend is a very difficult decision for contracting firms that have been struggling due to recessionary overflow. They consider things like: How many members of the team to send to an event? Do team members stay for the duration of the event or not? What goals should they have? How do they get the most out of their time there?


According to the Business Know How website, 39 percent of all trade show attendees spend less than eight hours visiting a show.

The site further suggests attendees perform the following activities before leaving for an event:

• Register in Advance — Shows have different policies and pricing structures; you may be able to save money by registering early. If you call ahead, you may be able to schedule an appointment with a company that is attending the show.

• Stay at the Host Hotel — Though this is usually more expensive, it’s the place where most vendors and contractors stay, because it’s convenient. And, after the day’s events, many attendees will likely be meeting in the lounge for cocktails.

• Bring Business Cards — Make sure to get business cards from all the people you talk with. It’s not enough to give someone your information. If you work a trade show hard, you could walk away with dozens of cards.

• Make a List of Goals — Include your own personal goals and those of your company. Every subsequent decision you make should put you closer to achieving your goals.

• Read Through Promotional Materials — This is really the first step in making a plan. Include a list of must-see and want-to-see booths. Spend a little time researching the vendors so you’ll have a clear idea of who you need to see and what you need to learn from them.

• Plan Accordingly — Decide how much time you want to spend at the show, and then allot an appropriate amount to each booth. Make sure to schedule the must-see booths first. Consider making appointments with those exhibitors you really want to meet with.

• Wear Comfortable Shoes — Trade shows require lots of walking, which can be exhausting if you aren’t wearing comfortable walking shoes. Since the plan is to gather information to make purchase decisions, be sure to carry a lightweight bag to carry them in.

• Scan the Most Updated Directory — Once you arrive on the scene, check the most current show bulletin to see if any exhibitors have dropped out, seminar times have changed, and so on.

• Select Brochures Carefully — Take only the material that helps you achieve your goals and/or would be useful to others in your company.

• Time is of the Essence — Let exhibitors know you’re on a tight schedule and encourage them to get directly to the point with you. This is good for you and them. Skip booths that don’t interest you. Be aware and look for networking opportunities with vendors and fellow contractors alike.

Take regular bio and hydration breaks. It’s amazing
how easily we forget to take care of ourselves when working an event.


People go to events and get all fired up to make business changes and purchases. But, as soon as they get back to their companies, they’re immediately confronted by the emergencies that happened while they were away, and all their good intentions get put on the back burner. These ideas often remain hidden until they’re resurrected at the next industry event.

So, here’s an idea: Each night you’re at the event, before you hit the town for those networking parties and fun, organize the information and any notes or business cards you gathered. Make a commitment to implement just one thing you learned while there. When you get back from a show, go through all those cards and follow up with all of them. If you do these things, the value of the event can be immeasurable, and that makes the decision to attend an event much easier.

Publication date: 1/11/2016

Want more HVAC industry news and information? Join The NEWS on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn today!