SGIA Expo: You're Among Friends
SGIA is just around the corner, and it’s not just about money changing hands.
Ever wake up at 4 in the morning, your mind buzzing because it just hit on the answer to some major problem that had been bugging you in your day-to-day life? A fully-formed solution in your waking dream, laid out in the most logical fashion. Mind pictures in 3D, live action words and chord charts, all there, complete. Of course, you are so happy and relaxed after this happens, you fall back into the deep sleep you've been missing for the last week as you tossed and turned thinking about the “problem.”
My “problem” was this column. And I really did jolt awake last week with a theme and a seemingly complete outline in my head. Which promptly evaporated when I woke up.
I can only remember the main theme: friends. The SGIA Expo is about friends.
We can read the ads and messaging from SGIA and visit all the exhibitors, and make the assumption that it’s all about business and making a deal. And for some, I guess that’s true – companies spend small fortunes to exhibit in the hopes of driving sales. It has to make financial sense to drag the equipment all that way and set it up to run for three days, then pack up and leave. I know this particular hell all too well.
But it’s not so black-and-white. (Nothing is.) For me, and hopefully some of you, the best part of the SGIA Expo experience is seeing old friends and making new ones. The business side, while important, is secondary to those moments when you make a warm connection with another person. Maybe it’s an old pal who moved across the country or someone you only see once a year at the expo.
Maybe it’s some random encounter in a booth, or – knowing New Orleans – at a bar or restaurant. What’s cool about the SGIA show is pretty much everyone on that floor has at least a passing interest in what you do, and vice versa. There’s ample opportunity to start up a “six degrees of separation” talk with just about anyone. And, with the benefit of social media, odds are you might have even closer connections. It’s not a bad thing in the context of the show, because, surprise, surprise: Friendships formed through business invariably lead to more business. Maybe not at the show; sometimes, it takes years. But it starts with a conversation.
I’ve seen friendships break out in the funniest places at this show. Any of the advance setup crew, those unsung heroes of tradeshow life, can tell you of epic adventures getting machines and booths in place and running. And when something screws up far from home – and it always does – it’s not the person who screams at the forklift driver or electrician or technician who moves the booth completion forward; it’s usually the people who work together who get it done. They do things in a friendly manner, which ends up being reciprocal. It makes a show like the SGIA Expo possible.
For booth monkeys pacing the floor of their cage, and the thousands of attendees walking the aisles once the show opens, the ability to be friendly is the key to everything. You're going to have a rough three days if you can’t crack a smile or engage with a stranger. A large tradeshow is all about extracting information quickly. For the buyers, with limited time and over 500 booths filled with thousands of items to see, they need to know the stats on a particular machine or material, its abilities, the options, and the price. The salespeople need to know what the potential customer does, what they are interested in, and whether they’re even in the specific market. Somebody using heat transfers in a T-shirt shop may have little interest in a four-post graphic screen printing press. On the other hand, maybe they want to start cranking out transfers by the thousands. Sometimes there is common ground you don’t expect. You only find it by talking, and you get talking by being friendly. As my wife has told the kids when they complain they have no friends, you have to be a friend to make a friend.
Some of my favorite times at the shows take place during the after-show receptions hosted by sponsors. The days of the monster events are probably gone (or maybe I just don’t know the right people anymore), but I remember a classic at the Superdome in NOLA, where we got pictures taken with the Saints cheerleaders, ran around kicking field goals on the turf, and caught passes from Archie Manning. For a dork from Canada who has only seen an NFL football game on TV, that was impressive, although not quite at the level of the one at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where we got to run around the banked track in a modified race car at hair-raising speed.
These events are as much about building friendships and good memories with other people as they are about doing business. Otherwise, we’d all be touring virtual booths from a couch-potato stance by now. So enjoy the show. You are among friends!