If you're sitting down in the Orlando, Florida Orange County Convention Center reading this magazine, it might be that you needed a $7 hot dog to re-energize your aching feet and lower back.

Or, it could mean that you can't wait to find out what's going on in the rest of the HVAC world while more than 30,000 attendees at the Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition (AHR Expo) are battling in the aisles for a few minutes with an exhibitor. If you're sitting in your office reading this, you're missing a good show, but you're smart - the hot dogs aren't that good.

The AHR Expo is, without a doubt, the No. 1 show in our industry, and if you're interested in viewing nearly every product you could ever hope to sell, it's at the show.

However, do you ever think that there ought to be a better way to get information? Perhaps there is; but it usually depends upon what you are looking for. If you are interested in seeing new technologies and products, the aisles of the expo are the place.

However, what if you're in need of strategic discussion to aid your decision-making process and your bottom line? Fat chance on a trade show floor.

So, what do attendees do at the expo? Please don't consider this as being scientific, but for the sake of argument, assume 60 percent are seeking products to use in their business, 20 percent are window-shopping between ASHRAE sessions, 18 percent are networking, and 2 percent don't know what they're doing, but the weather is warm.

Looking For Help In All The Wrong Places

Some contractors attest that manufacturer reps, distributors, and territory managers provide plenty of product knowledge; therefore, these contractors reason that they don't need to attend trade shows.

Conversely, many contractors also confirm that they don't feel as though they are receiving the strategic assistance they occasionally need. Admittedly, not knowing the right questions to ask can hinder progress. Sometimes, not having the adequate expertise sitting across the table from you can slow you down.

Years ago, Lennox Industries created a powerful program to counsel dealers on strategic marketing decisions. These early Dealer Marketing Advisors weren't dependent upon box sales for the support they offered. Sure, box sales often increased as a result of their collective efforts. The point is the program worked fairly well and contractors who needed help had a place to find it. Perhaps it's time once again for contractors to have a place to turn for strategic help.

Trade shows are available to you when you want to learn about new products. If you haven't attended one lately, do yourself a favor and go to the AHR Expo next year.

If you find yourself at the point where a decision to purchase a new building, a decision to pull out of large projects in favor of smaller, more profitable jobs, or any other difficult issue is weighing heavily on your mind, consult a contractor peer group. If you're not in a peer group, do yourself a favor and join one.

If, instead, you find yourself in the middle of a large convention center staring at an expensive hot dog, do yourself a favor - walk away.

Mike Murphy is editor-in-chief. He can be reached at 248-244-6446, 248-244-2905 (fax), or mikemurphy@achrnews.com.

Publication date: 02/07/2005