How national trade shows grow your business

I think that too often LBM dealers get comfortable in their own region and miss out on trade shows that are outside of their local market. Some of the best ideas I’ve seen have come from national trade shows. I’m always impressed when I see the way that other companies build decks or product displays. I find myself saying, “why didn’t we do that, why didn’t we think of it?”

Just like on a family vacations when we have a rule that we never eat at a restaurant that is like a restaurant at home, at trade shows, I’ve found that the way lumberyards operate in different regions of the country is totally different than how we do it in Minnesota. Seeing which products are offered and installed in other parts of the country is a great way to bring new ideas to your lumberyard. We’ve adopted a lot of those ideas. Some of them are great. Of course, not all of them work. In Minnesota we have frost, and other areas have high winds, hurricanes or earthquakes.

Different geographic regions see things differently. The materials that are used, the way they stock and display products is always interesting. I remember a trip a number of years ago to the Seattle area. I went to a local lumberyard and I saw they had no 6″ decking in their inventory. It was all 4″. Then, on the next trip I was on the East Coast and they had 5″ decking. It turns out, my home region in the Midwest was one of the only areas that used 6″ decking. But all composites seemed to be built in that 6″ dimension. About this time, National Nail came out with its Camo edge deck fastening system. But they only made a 6″ tool. It occurred to me that they were limiting their sales because they were only focused on the Midwest 6″ product lines. About a year later, they introduced a new tool that was adjustable. That was one of my first experiences realizing that there are so many differences between different regions of the country. Just because we do it one way in the Midwest doesn’t mean that’s how it is done elsewhere.

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Since then I have made it a point to get out and go to some trade shows in different parts of the country. The International Builder’s Show is an awesome event each year. This coming January, it is in Orlando, Fla. Next year, it is in Las Vegas. I strongly recommend attending the show. You’ll get exposure to products and dealers from all over the country.

If you’re looking for new products to carry, national shows are the ones to attend. Everyone at these shows puts their best foot forward. Sometimes you’ll find information on things that are coming out in the future. One company last year was showing a product that I was able to learn about that is only just now for sale. I gained a leg up in my market by already understanding the product and stocking it as soon as it was available.

The one thing that made my business what it is today, and really opened up my eyes to the entire lumber and building materials world is that there is a lot going on, and it’s not only in my part of the country. I really think you can learn a lot from people who are doing things a little differently than you are.

I’ve made some really close friends and people whose opinions I really trust because they are people who are in my line of work, who do exactly what I do, but they are in different markets. If they were based in my area, I may not know them as well because we would be competitors and we wouldn’t be as willing to share ideas with each other.

But at national trade shows, we can share ideas and talk about concerns and problems and know that we wouldn’t lose any business because of it. They realize you’re not a threat or a direct competitor. In a local market, the lumberyard down the street isn’t going to share the same information because they don’t want to teach you how to compete against them.

From the people I’ve met at national shows, I’ve learned great marketing ideas, I’ve found great products, and I’ve found friends in this industry that I can share ideas with and ask questions and know that I’ll get an honest answer. I just can’t say enough about getting out of your local market comfort zone and seeing these shows. Don’t just limit yourself to the same local home shows. Finding ideas from parts of the country you haven’t been to before can really help your business grow.

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