LAS VEGAS — If manufacturing executives were depressed over Mitt Romney’s loss in the presidential election a week earlier, it didn’t show at Fabtech.

Close to 26,000 people came here Nov. 12-14 for the annual metal forming and fabrication show. It was Fabtech’s first time back in Las Vegas since 2008. The trade show floor was busy, and if people still had politics on their minds, they didn’t let that stop them from buying.

“If you can take the pulse of the economy by what’s happening in manufacturing, then you have to be optimistic that we are headed for economic growth,” said Mark Hoper, a Fabtech co-manager.  “A constant theme I heard both on the show floor and at the seminars was that, while challenges and uncertainties remain, most manufacturers believe that their businesses are headed for continued growth in 2013.”

The Nov. 12 opening day brought a record number of attendees who made the Las Vegas Convention Center’s floor tough to navigate at times — a problem that show organizers and many exhibitors didn’t mind at all.

“We’ve received great feedback from attendees and exhibitors,” said John Catalano, show co-manager.  “Attendees were impressed with the size and scope of the show and the vast array of new products and technologies on display.  Exhibitors were enthusiastic and report that sales activity was brisk and leads were plentiful.”

A panel of pundits

With the show taking place so soon after one of the most rancorous U.S. presidential elections in recent memory, organizers booked a panel of industry lobbyists Nov. 13 to give their opinions on what the re-election of President Barack Obama means for manufacturers.

Several of the panelists said the economy would continue its slow and steady expansion, since the president’s re-election provides some certainty for businesses. They didn’t believe the White House or Congress would let the nation fall off the so-called fiscal cliff, but some higher taxes are likely to be part of the solution. There could be other tax reforms that benefit manufacturers, the panelists said.

The speakers agreed that the manufacturing industry has boosted its profile in the last two years, and they encouraged companies to stay active in advocacy through association membership.

Another popular session, held Nov. 12, featured a roundtable talk on the state of the manufacturing industry. The chief executives in attendance said they expected manufacturing jobs to grow in the next year, although the skilled worker shortage is again becoming a concern.

Above the convention center’s show floor, Fabtech organizers brought in speakers for dozens of sessions on business, fabrication and manufacturing issues. As is the case with many trade shows these days, social media and Internet marketing remain popular topics. Fabtech had two sessions on the subject this year, including Chris Schmitt’s Nov. 12 presentation, “Online Marketing for Manufacturers: Growing Your Business Using the Web.”

Online marketing matters

Schmitt is a marketer with American Roll Form Products who has led that company’s migration into numerous social media outlets. It’s not a natural fit for many firms, he said.

“Most manufacturers suck at marketing,” he said. “We have never been expected to be good at it.”

Companies need to start thinking differently about their marketing activities both online and off.

“Everything you do connects back to the Web,” he said.

Schmitt recommends that whatever your budget, a company should spend at least five hours a week on social media online marketing. It’s not a set-it-and-forget-it activity, he added.

“Just being online so you can say you’re online doesn’t do anything,” he said.

The best online and social media presence includes plenty of pictures and videos. Lots of high-quality content will drive traffic to your site from search engines, and keep visitors there. And don’t ignore sites such as Twitter and Facebook. They’re not a waste of time.

“If you think your buyers aren’t using Facebook, you’re kidding yourself,” Schmitt said.

When it comes to content for your website, it’s best to think like an outsider. Too many people, in all industries, write using industry-specific jargon that will turn off potential customers.

Picture pages

Post lots of pictures on your website, but don’t settle for low quality. With inexpensive digital cameras and the ability of most smartphones to take high-megapixel images, anyone can produce good images today.

Schmitt said he is a strong proponent of putting company videos online, but like with pictures, he said good quality is a must. Don’t just shoot jittery images of anything.

“Go in with a plan,” he said.

And while many companies put videos on their websites, Schmitt recommends against it. He prefers posting videos on a company-branded YouTube channel. And like everything else, remember to keep up with your videos. Don’t assume a video will attract customers forever. Old videos can look outdated quickly.

“Remember, haircuts and technology change,” he said. “The website is now the front door of your company” since 80 percent of your customers will never visit your facility.

Most website visitors make a decision whether to do business with a company within 2.4 seconds of looking at your site. Keep it updated. Too may company executives never bother to check out their own websites. A complete overhaul is recommended every three years. Never go more than six years between website redesigns. Updated sites perform much better on search engines such as Google, which is how many people find companies now.

“If you are not performing well on the search engines, that is a major, major emergency,” he said. 

Schmitt did offer some solace for anyone whose current website doesn’t use many of his tips. As long as your website includes contact information and an explanation of your company, it’s better than 90 percent of the sites on the Internet, he said. And really, having an effective social media presence is not too hard.

“A lot of this seems difficult, it seems confusing,” he said. “I promise it’s not.”

For reprints of this article, contact Renee Schuett at (248) 786-1661 or email