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Exhibiting At Regional Events

Taking part in local and regional business expositions can yield important payoffs for AV companies, if the events are well selected, and the objectives are clear and realistic. 3/29/2006 7:01 AM Eastern

Exhibiting At Regional Events

Taking part in local and regional business expositions can yield important payoffs for AV companies, if the events are well selected, and the objectives are clear and realistic.

EACH YEAR, a few huge exhibition facilities around the country fill up with thousands of AV systems integrators, dealers, consultants, and other professionals. They're visiting InfoComm, the NSCA Systems Integration Expo, the NAB show, or some other event to shop for the latest technologies, products, and marketing ideas.

At least some of these expo visitors, though, also get to experience “the shoe on the other foot,” when they select smaller regional or local exhibitions in which to participate as exhibitors. Instead of shopping, they're selling — promoting their rental, staging, design, installation, and other services to local businesses.

Taking part in local and regional business expositions can yield important payoffs for AV companies, if the events are well selected, and the objectives are clear and realistic.

“I think they're instrumental, and they've been critical to our success,” says Sidney Lissner, president of Sterling, VA-based AV systems integrator Avitecture Inc. (AVWashington), referring to the numerous regional and specialized trade events his company participates in yearly.

Lissner says Avitecture mounts exhibits in “dozens” of events each year, including both shows serving special business niches and others that cover geographic areas. The biggest key to selecting these events, he says, is exclusivity. “We go into specialized shows where we hope we'll be the only purveyor of our kind of products,” he explains.

It's very hard, though, to quantify the payoff from these shows. Return on investment can be very anecdotal, Lissner says. “It's a function of how many people attend a show, and how many stop by our booth, which we've labored to make attractive,” he says.

Complicating the equation further, he adds, is the dominance of the federal government in the greater Washington area. “In other parts of the United States it's pretty easy to track the origin of a purchase order,” he says. “In Washington, it's very difficult.”

At a minimum, Lissner says, a well attended show helps the company expand its mailing lists.

Avitecture's exhibits range from a basic 10- by 10-foot space to a 20-foot square the company devotes to its most productive and important events. In the booth, “we don't show boxes; we show how these boxes are used in the real world,” Lissner says. “We give people a chance to try the equipment, and we show photos of installations. The trick is to show pictures that don't look just like everything else.”

Lorrie Morrow, assistant director of operations at design-build AV systems integration firm Audio Visual Resources (AVR) in Williston Park, NY, was interested in participating in regional business organizations and events, but had a more difficult time identifying which ones were worthwhile.



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Exhibiting At Regional Events

Taking part in local and regional business expositions can yield important payoffs for AV companies, if the events are well selected, and the objectives are clear and realistic.

“We originally had checked out the local business associations online,” she recalls. At first, AVR joined the Long Island Association, but Morrow says the main result was that “every other member is contacting you trying to sell you copy machines and other things.”

With limited staff, it was very difficult to attend meetings and follow up on every opportunity to network, she adds. Soon, though, the company hooked up with the Hauppauge Industrial Association (HIA), based in central Long Island outside New York City.

“The HIA annual trade show offered a much better exposure to the community on Long Island,” Morrow says. “It was a whole different spectrum, with better speakers and a more professional approach.”

She attended the show one year, took a booth the next, and plans to return this spring for the 2006 edition.

“We found out there were a lot of people who had absolutely no idea what we do,” Morrow says. “A lot of people don't understand our industry. As an exhibitor we've made a lot of people aware of the kinds of technologies that are available.”

This outreach carries a price tag, of course. Morrow says AVR became a sponsor of the HIA 2005 expo, at a cost of $1,500. There were additional costs to rent an 8- by 10-foot booth, plus carpet, electricity, and other basics, and AVR decided to buy a decorative backdrop for its booth to improve its appearance. The extras added up to about $2,500, she says. As to the tangible benefits, Morrow admits, “I don't have a really good feeling about it. It's important to be involved in the community, and you have to maintain a high level of involvement, which isn't always practical for a small company.” Yet Morrow does point to one key benefit AVR realized from the HIA trade show. The first year, when company executives simply attended the show, they met an exhibitor who helped them attain their ISO 9000 certification.

“We've made some good contacts, especially with other exhibitors,” Morrow says. “But we could have done that as an attendee.” Ultimately, both Lissner and Morrow say that the reasons for exhibiting at regional and local shows may not immediately impact the bottom line. Yet both agree that if building your network, gaining exposure, and educating potential end-users are among your company's objectives, these small events can be an important part of a systems integrator's marketing plan.

John McKeon is an independent consultant and writer based in the Washington D.C. area. He can be reached at jjmckeon@comcast.net.



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