January 2012 Archives
This past week I spent a couple of days wandering the aisles of the Manitoba Ag Days show in Brandon. After you've logged as many miles walking through machinery exhibits as I have, you become pretty tuned in to the subtleties. I find myself comparing not only the show to other machinery events, but also how the various exhibitors present themselves.
Even though Ag Days is far from being a giant among shows, it's big enough that making the trip to see it is a worthwhile effort. And it always seems to attract an interesting blend of exhibitors. That's good news for a machinery editor, like me, who is always on the lookout for something new and innovative.
Probably the biggest criticism anyone can offer about the show, itself, is the confusing floor plan. Even with a map, it's easy to get lost in the maze of hallways, barns and exhibition rooms. I feel like I should be rewarded with a piece of cheese when I successfully find the booth I'm looking for!
My first day at the show proved a little frustrating as I kept getting lost. Finding my way was even more difficult when the midday crowd swelled to the point everyone was bumping shoulders. But, eventually I got onto it.
If you arrive at the Keystone Centre—where Ag Days is held—anytime after mid morning, be prepared to park at the farthest reaches of the parking lot. You may even have to spend a little time searching for a space.
The most interesting comparison I find myself making, though, is with the presentation of the exhibitors' booths and how easy the representatives are to talk to. All the exhibitor companies have spent money to buy floorspace, haul their products to the show and man their booths; but not all seem to milk that investment for all its worth. I think many of the smaller companies come to find out just how specialized marketing skills are.
This is a situation most farmers can relate to. There is so much to know about running a business that it's impossible for one person to be good at every aspect of it. Farmers can't be professional mechanics, skilled equipment operators, agronomists, pesticide specialists and tax experts all at the same time. Just as it makes sense for them to hire experts to lend additional skills to a farming operation, many small manufacturers ought to think about doing the same with their businesses.
When I looked at some of the new equipment creations the small manufacturers were showing, it was clear there were some pretty inventive minds behind the designs. But often the person maning the company booth was acting as creator, engineer, owner and marketer, along with numerous other roles. Unfortunately, not all of these people were doing the marketing part very well; and that's what farm shows are all about.
You can't expect a small operation to be able to invest money in creating a splashy booth along the lines of those set up by the multinational corporations who also attend the show, but investing in help from someone who knows how to put the company's best foot forward and cause passers-by to stop and ask questions could be money well spent.
Some of the exhibitors who were clearly running mom-and-pop scale operations were a little shy and didn't seem to be making the best of the public interest they could attract. Subtle things like presenting body language that suggests they're willing to answer questions rather than hiding at the back of the booth seemed to be one thing that caused some people to just keep on walking rather than stop and chat.
Kevin LaFlamme, product manager for Rotary Lift, used his hobby as an Elvis impersonator to attract attention to his company's booth. It seemed to help break the ice, starting conversations and creating some buzz about his product.
As a member of the farm media, one of the things that always amazes me is when exhibitors don't seem interested in having their product featured in an article in a publication like Grainews. Many of these same firms have actually been spending money to buy advertising space in a variety of magazines; but when given the opportunity for some free publicity, they shy away from it.
If you're a manufacturer trying to market a product you believe in, be proud of it; and don't be afraid of having it featured in an article. The major brands spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to attract media attention to their products. They recognize the value of that kind of publicity.
Fledgling manufacturers need to recognize where their strengths are and where they could use some help. I bet those that do see it pay off in increased sales.