I remember the first trade show that I ever worked. Well, I think I remember. I was probably 13 or 14 years old. I had just started wearing my first pair of hard contact lenses and my optician asked if I'd like to work a booth at the Michigan State Fair - unpaid - to promote his business and the business of contact lenses. That was "way cool."

Fast-forward to this month's ABCO Refrigeration Supply Corp. Trade Show at the Terrace on the Park in Flushing, N.Y. This was my first venture to the venue. My initial impression was of the magnificent New York City skyline beyond my window. My second impression was that of the show itself: the people, the interest, and the learning experience.

Just when I thought trade shows were dead and buried, I happened upon this one. Now I'm not prepared to write an obituary featuring the demise of the industry trade show - not yet. (For more on the ABCO show, see the story "ABCO's One-Day Trade Show Sets Record" in this issue.)

The ABCO Show

The approximately 200 exhibitors, most manufacturers' reps, were busy fielding questions, dispensing literature and freebies, and lining up solid leads. But what made this show special was the number of HVACR students who had the opportunity to visit with reps and learn about the products they will install and service.

The students were also offered up an array of 10 Quick Tech seminars from the ABCO University, running each hour concurrently with the show. And they were fed, which can be a very key ingredient to success.

These students - the young and not so young - represent the hope of our trade. Hope? Sure that's a bold statement, but it's true. We need them. And if we treat them right, they will treat us right. From what I saw at this trade show, the students were being treated right.

I can't help but believe exhibitors at shows like this know the importance of being treated right, and embrace it. They must know that the success of their own businesses is directly dependent on the success of their customers - the contractors - and the technicians who work for them.

And if contractors employ eager-to-learn, knowledgeable service techs, it can only help their business.

Adding A New Twist

I would eventually like to see trade shows add another twist to their event - opening the show up to the general media and general public.

I attended a trade show a couple of years back in Austin, Texas, called the Healthy Indoor Environments (HIE) 2002 Conference. On the last day of the show, the public was invited to attend a mock mold trial. This was a good time to hype the event, as mold had just started to become a hot-button issue, and Texas was in the forefront of the mold news.

The result was an overflow crowd, which included the local media. People with little or no prior knowledge of the mold issue or the HVACR contracting trade now got an interesting insight and perspective into both.

For that moment, our trade was no longer shrouded in mystery and myth - susceptible to the wants of a hungry media, looking to barbecue our contractors every time it is sweeps month or when it is time to boost ratings by catching local contractors in a sting.

Let's add media day to our trade show venues. It can only help our image, and it can strengthen the show itself. Give the general public the opportunity to see the good things our trade does and how we make life safe and comfortable for the population can only help all of us.

John R. Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 248-244-1294, 248-786-1390 (fax), or johnhall@achrnews.com.

Publication date: 11/22/2004