Trade shows Ė thereís an idea

   My friend Simpson and I flew to Atlanta last week to attend the annual sporting goods trade event that is modestly called the "Super Show."
   Itís a show that is a must-see for anyone in the sporting goods business. Unfortunately, that does not include Simpson.
   "This is a total waste of my time," he declared at dinner after the first day. "What am I doing here?"
   It was not an easy question to answer, but since I had encouraged him to come with me, I figured I had better try.
   "Youíre looking for ideas," I said. "You might come up with one little tidbit of an idea which would easily cover the cost of the trip."
   "The only idea Iíve had so far is that I want nothing to do with the sporting goods business."
   I pushed the dinner check toward him, again happy to have had him come along. "See, you never would have known that for certain unless you came to this show."
   He nodded, knowing I had a point, meager as it sounded. But more importantly, he knew we were both trade show junkies and not likely to change.
   Itís an addiction that is very difficult to kick. There is a trade show for every conceivable item ever produced by mankind. The shows prey on poor souls such as Simpson and myself, who are endlessly searching for ideas to satiate our entrepreneurial appetite.
   Never mind that we often donít find any. Itís the search that counts. The trade shows are the cutting edge of the industry. New trends, new products, new images Ė all are on display, ready to be stolen.
   If you donít go, youíll never know 1) what youíre missing or 2) confirmation that youíre not missing anything. Itís one of the surefire ways to stay on top of your business neighborhood.
   Iíve been to trade shows for gifts, apparel, amusement parks, shopping centers, visual merchandising, office products, close-outs, retail services, and (my personal favorite) gourmet foods, where almost every booth offers free samples.
    The anticipation of attending a trade show is always much more exciting than the actual event. The routine never varies. The adrenalin flows as you go through the registration process, people buzzing all around you, and then (in most cases) descend the escalator to the convention floor.
   Walking in, you are struck by the enormity of the presentation. Booths, booths and more booths. Aisle after aisle after aisle. Opportunity is literally around every corner.
   And then the walk begins. Down the first aisle you go, stopping, talking, observing, touching Ė until you realize that if you continue that pace it will take six months to see the whole show.
   So you pick it up a little. By the third aisle, your head begins that rhythmic side-to-side motion as you stroll past the booths at a leisurely but steady pace. A few exhibitors with sharp eyes catch the name on your badge and greet you personally.
    You stop, but when they never take their eyes off your chest, obviously trying to get more information from your badge, you realize they are not one of your closest friends and you move on.
   By the 12th aisle you no longer fall for the "badge info" trick. You insist on eye contact, and since you never look directly at the exhibitors, you feel pretty safe.
   As you round the corner and start the 47th marathon aisle, you realize every booth begins to look alike. They only idea youíve generated up to this point is for a service renting motorized scooters at trade shows to ease aching backs and legs.
   Down the 96th aisle you go, having seen nothing new, nothing exciting. Your eyes are glazed now, the booths no more than a blur, but your head still swivels from side to side as you crawl to the finish line.
    Then, in aisle number 121, you see it; A product that opens up the severely damaged (thanks to aisle numbers 1 through 120) creative crevices of your brain. Blood begins to flow again in your body as you consider the possibilities this new product, this new contact, can mean to your company and your life.
    You talk excitedly with the exhibitor, grab all the literature, and move on with a new bounce to your step.
   And itís a good thing, because you check the directory and realize the show includes three auxiliary buildings full of more booths. An idea could very well be in one of them, too.



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