OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill. - The CSMCA annual trade show is part educational program, part exhibition and part party.

OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill. - The Chicagoland Sheet Metal Contractors Association's annual trade show is part educational program, part exhibition and part party.

Sheet metal machinery displays and informational seminars mix with beer and plenty of backslapping during the eight-hour event. Perhaps that accounts for its longtime popularity: More than 3,000 contractors and 100 exhibitors came to the Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace for this year's show, the CSMCA's 26th.

Within hours of the show's 1 p.m. start, the exhibit hall was packed, and contractors who came to the show after work found themselves waiting amid the red velvet couches, crystal chandeliers and huge photos of Mickey Rooney, Debbie Reynolds and Wayne Newton that decorate the Drury Lane's lobby. The complex includes a 1,000-seat theater, and the stars are among those who have played there.

Show organizers were pleased. "The event has really become the best place for contractors and suppliers to meet face-to-face, also giving attendees a chance to see a wide variety of products at one time," said CSMCA President Dick Ralph.

Off the busy trade-show floor, there were educational seminars on business management and indoor air quality held in conjunction with the event.

Show sponsors brought in Robert A. Langdon, a certified public accountant and author of Managing Your Business for Profit, to give contractors moneymaking tips in "Three Routes to Increased Profitability in Your Business."

Many business owners probably know the only ways to make more money are to increase sales, reduce expenses or increase gross margin. But expenses are the only one of the three that company executives have a lot of control over, Langdon said.

"Why? Because a higher percentage of a company's expenses shift from fixed to variable as the company grows and matures.

"If you are only looking at increasing sales, you will be confined by your market size and your respective share in that market, as well as the labor pool available to do the work, and your own ability as a company to manage it," he said.

A better idea is to try to make more from the customers you already have, Langdon said. You may be able increase prices and keep customers.

"They'll (pay more) when they want something. Price is always involved in the purchase decision, but when a customer wants something, price moves down the ladder."

The key is to make your company stand out from others in the industry, he said. "List five ways that your company is different from the competition. Get input from your employees in compiling your list, and then make a list for your competitors," Langdon said. "Then, delete items that appear on both lists."

The other seminar, "Psychometrics of IAQ," was presented by James Woods, a Ph.D. and licensed professional engineer. Woods explained how HVAC contractors could judge indoor air quality with proper testing procedures.