Getting the most out of the miles of aisles of a truck show
By Paul Abelson
I love attending truck shows. I get to see all the latest in equipment and services, and meet some of the greatest people in the world — truckers. That’s not just hype, it’s fact. When I used to be a supplier, I quickly learned that my marketplace, truckers, tell it like it is. They say what they think, not what they think you want to hear. My company got a great deal of valuable market research for free just by listening to the folks who came into our booth.
As worthwhile as shows are for suppliers, they should be much more valuable to attendees. I say “should” because not everyone takes advantage of all that truck shows like the Mid-America Trucking Show (March 19-21 in Louisville, Ky.) and the Great American Trucking Show (Aug. 20-22 in Dallas, Texas) have to offer.
The bigger shows feature performances by country music headliners, compliments of show management and major truck manufacturers. The entertainment is a delightful bonus, but don’t let it detract from the main reason to attend: to learn how to improve your operations. MATS, the biggest of the truck shows, happens this month. With so many exhibitors and displays on hand, a savvy driver can leave the grounds with lots of new ideas.
Set your priorities
Business improvement can take several forms. It can mean selecting new trucks and the components that go into them. It can also mean learning new techniques and getting better information to run your business. All the major shows and many of the regional and state ones hold seminars. These education programs are usually run by trucking associations and government agencies. They cover subjects as diverse as how to reduce idling, simplify record keeping, achieve better fuel economy or improve maintenance practices.
The seminars and events are all listed in the show program, along with all the exhibitors and a map of the show floor. The program is an important planning document, one that can maximize the benefit you get from the show.
Planning should start before you leave home. Decide ahead of time what you want to accomplish.
• Will you be buying a new truck? A show is a great place to compare the new models.
• Do you have equipment problems you need to get resolved? You won’t get it done at the show, but you can make valuable contacts who can help after the show.
• Are you a do-it-yourself maintenance mechanic? You can find out how to get manuals or information you’ll need, and find specialized tools and equipment. If you rely on maintenance providers, you can visit with them at the show and learn about recommended intervals and upcoming price deals.
• Are you a show-trucker, or do you just want your truck to be the sharpest one on the highway? You’ll find all the chrome, lights and accessories you could ever want.
Decide what your priorities are. Maybe you just want to look at the show trucks for ideas. Maybe you want to see what’s new in the industry. Whatever your goals, the show program will help you get organized so that you can realize them.
Map your route
The first thing to do after you get the program is to find a table or a quiet corner. Most attendees are in such a hurry to get onto the show floor, they ignore the program or put it in their literature bag to look at later, perhaps in the evening at the hotel or after they get home. That wastes the program and, more importantly, wastes your time. By using the program as a planning tool, you can make better use of the limited show hours.
Exhibitors are usually listed alphabetically and grouped by product or service category. If you have a list of exhibitors you’d like to see, note their booth numbers on your list. If you’re not sure which vendors you want to see in any category, go to that category and see who is exhibiting.
Bring a highlighter or two with you. Mark the booths you want to visit on the show map. Then plan your route. If you can, prioritize in order of importance. Use different colors for each priority. Develop a route that takes you to your most important suppliers first.
Stick to your route. It’s very tempting to stop and look at anything and everything that catches your eye. Don’t. If you see something particularly interesting, mark it on your program and get back to it after your priority suppliers have all been visited. You can’t spend quality time at every booth.
Set objectives for each booth. Is it worth waiting in line to speak to a representative if all you need is the latest literature and specifications? Probably not, but waiting could be worthwhile if you need to find out who to contact to get a technical problem resolved.
Remember, you are one of thousands attending the show. The representatives want to speak to as many potential customers as possible, but, at the major suppliers’ booths, both time and personnel are limited. Make your time count, and be tolerant of others.
You’ll probably be collecting a great deal of literature, not to mention premiums like pens and notepads. Paper is heavy. Bring a sturdy cloth bag with a shoulder strap, or better still, a roll-around bag to carry everything. If you’ll be attending for more than one day, go through the literature at the end of the day. The more you can trim your load, the lighter and less tiring it will be. We hope these hints help make truck shows more valuable and helpful for you.