The calendar may say it’s May, but it’s been a busy year already, at least in the world of trade shows. In the wall and ceiling construction industry, the trade show and convention year began right after the calendar was flipped to 2007. It hasn’t slowed down yet, and it won’t slow down until late this year. And by then, it will almost be time for the full slate of 2008 events.
Veterans of trade shows know the routine. There are plenty of exhibits, plenty of contacts with old clients and forging bonds with new and potential customers. There are client dinners, receptions and reunions.
And there are tons and tons of new tools and equipment shown to the public for the very first time.
For manufacturers, trade shows are the opposite of sending out a hundred e-mails hoping to reach just a few of the right people. At a show, the people walking around, for the most part, are the target audience and manufacturers do all they can to zero in on that target. Still, it’s vital to make sure that the target market will indeed be in place. For tool manufacturers, having success at trade shows has become a big part of the overall success of their company, so there is a lot riding on the entire process.
“You could go to a show every week of the year,” said Mark Chick, principal with St. Louis-based Crawler Products. “There are that many shows. They’re just everywhere. You’ve got to pick and choose where your product fits in.”
COST OF DOING BUSINESSFor Chick and the team at Crawler, one of those perfect fits was this year’s International Builders Show in Orlando. While he has been visiting trade shows for the past three or four years, this was his company’s first appearance at the massive IBS.
“When you’re a new company like us, you’ve got to get out there. People need to see you time after time and know you’re not a one-time deal. People want to see that commitment and see you’ll be hanging around,” Chick said.
Crawler Products first hit the show scene in 2003 with its scaffolding mover, a device that, with the addition of an ordinary power drill, allows someone on a scaffold to move and steer it around from site to site, saving time and money by not having to move the scaffold several times a day. In 2003, Chick took a prototype of the device to a trade show and ended up winning a prize for best product at the show. Ever since, he has been going to shows.
But while Chick and others realize it’s important to be seen and get the product before those potential customers, it doesn’t come cheap. For a company like Crawler, which transports large pieces of equipment to the shows it attends, the costs can easily top $10,000 for the shipping and setup alone, not counting the cost of flying employees to a event, nor their time out of the office.
“Our booth is fairly involved and very expensive to take apart and ship. If you need something to lure people to your booth, something to attract their attention, that can get very costly,” Chick said.
HAND IN HANDAt the shows that have taken place so far this year, there was probably no category that saw more new releases than hand tools. From screw guns and drivers to hammer drills and cutting tools, trade shows not only give manufacturers a perfect opportunity to reach their desired audience, they also give those potential customers a chance to try the tool first hand to do everything from driving a nail to ripping through a piece of concrete.
DeWALT, for instance, was one of many tool manufacturers and distributors to erect a sprawling booth at the IBS in Orlando in order to allow visitors to try nearly every product that was on display, whether that meant drilling into a block of wood or drilling into a slab of concrete. And while DeWALT used the IBS to unveil a host of new products, the company also unveiled its new Nano Technology at the show. Nano Technology is the company’s latest proprietary technology driving the DeWALT line of cordless tools in three different voltages, 36V, 28V or 18V. According to the company, Nano Technology is designed to optimize power-to-weight ratio, maximize battery durability and life cycle and add other productivity enhancing features as well.
Another of those manufacturers to have a large booth at both the IBS and at the World of Concrete in Las Vegas in January was Bosch, where Wade Reilly, Group Marketing Manager for Bosch Tools, said the key is driving what he termed “tool touches,” or getting those new products in the hands of potentially new customers.
“It’s vital, otherwise you’re only taking our word for it,” Reilly said. “We’re only going to tell you good things about our tools, so it provides the proof you need.”
RIGHT SHOW, RIGHT TOOLWith so many shows on the calendar, how does any one company decide when and where to attend and display its products, especially considering the costs associated with such a decision? Reilly said it is a constantly evolving process that also includes decisions on what tools to bring to what shows. Again, he said, it’s vital to hit the right market.
At this year’s World of Concrete, for instance, Bosch introduced a new breaker hammer. The 35-pound hammer, known as Jack 11335, offers advances in durability and vibration reduction while delivering 34 foot-pounds of impact force.
While the tool theoretically could have been unveiled at the International Builders Show in Orlando, the obvious choice was to take it to the more targeted concrete audience just three weeks earlier in Las Vegas.
“We have to decide how relevant we are to those people who are walking through the door,” Reilly said.
Considering the broader range of attendees at the Builder’s Show, however, Reilly and his team opted to bring a variety of tools and accessories, many of which debuted in Orlando. Last year, Bosch unveiled the technology behind its Impactor line of drivers with lithium-ion battery technology. This year, booth visitors got to see the technology in use in the new 10.8-volt Litheon Impactor, a pocket-size driver that delivers 60 percent more torque than most 18-volt drills and drivers with traditional NiCad batteries.
Bosch also used the IBS to roll out a line of four new screwguns: two drywall screwguns and two high-torque drivers. Each of the four screwguns is one inch shorter and lighter than others on the market in an effort to reduce user fatigue.
Like Chick from Crawler Products, though, Reilly said that almost as important as getting those tool touches is getting – and keeping – the company name in front of customers and would-be customers alike.
”We wouldn’t not go to the IBS if we weren’t introducing a new saw,” Reilly said. “It’s an investment in the industry. We have things to talk about whether we’re introducing a new product or not.”
REACHING NEW HEIGHTSVery often a tradesman can have the perfect tool for the job, but it won’t do any good if he can’t reach the job in the first place. As is the case with many tradeshows, ladders and scaffolding were prominent features at this year’s WOC and IBS.
Werner Ladder, for instance, was at the IBS, showing off its series of JobStation ladders from its Old Blue line, designed for job-specific fieldwork. The line debuted last year with the Electrician’s JobStation, and expanded last month with the release of the Contractor’s JobStation and the Pipe Trade JobStation. The line is designed to give those working in a specific industry the tools they need.
Like the original JobStation, the Electrician’s JobStation includes wire spool holders for various sizes of wire. It also has a retractable cutting tool for conduit, a special holster for tools and small equipment such as wire nuts, and a ruler.
The Contractor’s JobStation features a similar holster top, but with a large, powerful magnet to keep tools secure while keeping them within reach. The ladder also features a multi-use hook to keep other equipment on hand.
Every ladder in the JobStation line also features Werner’s Lasso system, which allows the user to feed a fastening lasso around a tool and then drop that lasso into a specially designed slot on the top of the ladder, allowing for larger tools like drills and saws to stay within reach. The entire line of JobStation tools are rated for 375 pounds and features extra bracing for enhanced safety.
While Chick from Crawler Products has become somewhat of a trade show veteran, he knows it’s important to have new products on hand to be visible to a market. While the company has been showing its original scaffolding-moving device for several years, the first Crawler scaffolds have been making the rounds at various trade shows for the past year.
Laser sharpAt both this year’s World of Concrete Show in Las Vegas and the IBS in Orlando, lasers and laser equipment were among the hottest new releases.
Among the first products to be unveiled were from Trimble, which debuted the LM80 Layout Manager and Trimble LM80 Desktop office software at this year’s WOC show.
The Trimble LM80 Layout Manager is a pocket-sized, personal layout tool that lets contractors enter their blueprint, creating a digital replica. It allows users to carry, manage, work with and lay out the jobsite blueprint, regardless of the method and instrumentation used in a variety of commercial and residential applications. When attached to a Trimble construction total station, the LM80 allows for increased accuracy, reliability and productivity.
The LM80 Desktop is a PC-based office software support tool for use with the LM80 Layout Manager. The latest 2.0 version now offers as much functionality in the office as the LM80 Layout Manager provides in the field. Using the LM80 Desktop Software, contractors can create a digital replica of the blueprint, load it onto LM80 Layout Manager and prepare in the office for a perfect layout in the field. New functionality now available in Trimble LM80 Desktop includes:
• Enter plan capability: Allows the contractor to draw/generate an electronic copy of their blueprint in the office. Now users have all the same functionality to enter blueprint data in the office with LM80 Desktop, as they previously had when using the LM80 Manager. Users have the option to create electronic blueprints on a computer in the office, or directly onto an LM80 Layout Manager in the field.
• COGO functions: Provide the contractor with the ability to perform coordinate geometry calculations in the office. The same computations that can be done with the LM80 Layout Manager can also now be done in the office. These calculations include: angle, distance, area and perimeter.
• New CAD file improvements: Allow contractors to use the DXF files as background line work that can be transferred to the LM80 Layout Manager with the job. This eliminates the need to manually create lines on the LM80 Layout Manager, and gets layout data into the field faster and easier than before.
BUILDING EXCITEMENT FOR THE FUTUREWhile most of the manufacturers at the early trade shows this year had their latest and greatest available for demonstrations and in-hand sampling, that wasn’t necessarily the case for the folks at C.H. Hanson, which will not have its latest tools on the market until later this year. Still, according to Chief Operating Officer Bob Hudson, it was vital for the company to get to shows like the IBS to let visitors know what was on the horizon. Between this month and next, C.H. Hanson is expected to release four new products: the Chalk Hog 100, the Slide Square, the Pivot Square and the Angle Snap. All were developed in large part due to feedback from current or recently retired tradesmen to fit very specific on-the-job applications.
“We’re giving out literature and focusing information on where users will be able to get the new tools,” Hudson said. “We’d love to get them to the show, but we’re not selling at the show anyway. We’re trying to generate interest in some cool new products.”
Rather than having dozens of samples that could be passed around to booth visitors, Hanson took product prototypes to the IBS, as well as videos showing the new products in use. They took a similar approach during another trade show in March, and walked away with about 200 leads from the two-day show.
And while the approach has helped generate interest in the upcoming releases from C.H. Hanson, Hudson knows that hard work still lies ahead for he and his team.
“When the product is in the marketplace, we’ve got to communicate with those people and start farming that database of leads,” Hudson said. “We’re probably up to about 3,000 this year. Now, it’s up to us to go back and get in touch with those people.”