CSMCA welcomes contractors to 27th annual trade show.

The line for this year’s show stretched out the door. Photo by Larry Dermody Photography Inc.
OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill. - What do you get when you mix sheet metal machinery, 3,000 people and beer?

No, the answer isn't an Occupational Safety and Health Administration violation; it's the 27th annual Chicagoland Sheet Metal Contractors Association trade show.

The long-running show, held March 30 in suburban Chicago, is one of the largest regional one-day trade shows in the sheet metal industry. It turns the upscale Drury Lane theater complex into an HVAC shop for eight hours. Starting in the early afternoon and building throughout the day, contractors and trade school students file past the lobby's ornate crystal chandeliers and red-velvet couches to see the latest in air conditioners, press brakes and plasma tables.

But the show is also about having a good time, and many attendees - and more than a few exhibitors - peruse the aisles or work their booths with beers in hand. It's a mix that works well. At a time when many trade shows are struggling with declining attendance and exhibitors complain there are too many regional shows to attend, Chicagoland continues to draw people and praise.

Bill Niehoff Jr., owner of Fresh Aire Test & Balance in Lemont, Ill., and chairman of the trade-show committee, says the show's success is no surprise.

"Education means everything to CSMCA members," Niehoff said. "The trade show offers our members an opportunity to meet with manufacturers and distributors to learn the very latest in technological advances - information we can then pass along to our customers in the form of advanced systems and practices that are designed to do one thing: make their systems less expensive to install and operate."

In addition to the trade show, the show's educational opportunities this year included a seminar hosted by Mike Henning of the Effingham, Ill.-based Henning Family Business Center, who spoke about "Recruiting, Retaining and Motivating Key Employees."

So how do you know who is a "key" employee? Look for certain personality traits, he told attendees, especially with managers.

"You have to look for a person who is patient and mature, able to accept the business situation as it is, work with what is available and make gradual improvements," Henning said. "Key people must learn the values of the owners and identify company culture. For things to run smoothly, the values and culture of this key person and that owners and company need to align."

Other suggestions from Henning:

  • Key people should have a real desire to increase profits.

  • The company must provide challenges, clear goals, respect for employees, communicate effectively with workers and clearly define relationships.

  • Supervisors need to share the owner's vision for the company's future, including issues such as growth rates, decision-making and teamwork.

    (For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail devriesj@bnpmedia.com.)