About 25,000 attended last year’s Fabtech, organizers say. It was held Nov. 15-18, 2009, at Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center.


CHICAGO - Despite the U.S. manufacturing industry’s troubles, 2009 was a very good year for Fabtech. That’s the opinion of organizers for the Nov. 15-18 meeting, which was held at Chicago’s McCormick Place convention complex.

An estimated 25,000 attended this year’s show, the first time organizers returned the event to Chicago since 2007. Ninety countries were represented and 1,083 exhibitors brought more than 500 new products.

“We have already received so much positive feedback about the show from both exhibitors and attendees, and we had quite a presence from people from every continent across the globe,” said John Catalano, a co-manager of the show. “Exhibitors told us how pleased they are with the quantity and quality of attendees who visited their booths, and attendees have expressed their excitement in seeing the newest advances in equipment, products and services.”One such pleased exhibitor was Jancy Engineering in Davenport, Iowa.

“The show has been excellent for us,” said William Hildebrand, the company’s director of market development. “When the doors opened at 11 a.m. on Sunday, we had customers waiting to see us, and we were busy ever since. We had three new products to introduce, and if we’d missed the exposure at this show, it would have taken us months to get the information to our customers. The leads we received were qualified, and now our challenge is to turn them into sales.”

Quinn Smith of Ontario-based Norlok Technology Inc., operates the new Surelok III, which can fasten stainless steel as well as other materials. Smith said the machine was released early in preparation for Fabtech. 

Investments

And some attendees, such as Steve Slawta of Midwest Imperial Steel Fabricators in Whitestown, Ind., said they were looking to invest in their businesses in coming months.

“We’re looking to update, to see what we can do to better our shop so we can remain competitive,” Slawta said.

Something else that may have brought out Fabtech attendees was the timely seminar topics, said Mark Hoper, Fabtech co-manager.

“This year’s show included a special emphasis on how manufacturers can take advantage of the economic recovery period, and those seminars were quite popular and well attended,” Hoper said. “We think the show’s positive attendance figures may be one signal that manufacturing, construction and energy - key indicators of an improving economy - will thrive as the economy improves.”

Regardless of how long it takes for the economy to come back, Joachim “Joe” Mayer’s message was simple: Now is not the time to lose your sales focus.

A managing partner at Mayer Business Group LLC, he hosted a Nov. 16 seminar on the show floor about what business owners need to do to survive now and when business comes back. One thing you cannot do, Mayer said, is return to what you did before the recession and expect it will work.

Brian Owens of Plasma Automation Inc. runs the Vicon Monarch plasma cutting table, which features a 6-foot by 12-foot cutting area.

No more ‘business as usual'

“I strongly believe that it is not back to business as usual,” he said. The old ways “are gone forever.”

As is counting on longtime customers to pull you through. Easy access to credit allowed many companies to coast and they could afford to keep customers satisfied no matter the cost. No longer.

“Strictly relying on your relationships is a thing of the past,” Mayer added. “Selling something to a customer that does not pay, or does not pay in a reasonable amount of time, does not make sense.”

You need to talk to customers to determine what they need and what unique services you can offer them.

“In this economy, value has to be provided on a continuous basis” or only the lowest cost sellers will get any business, Mayer said. “(And) nobody can grow as the lowest cost provider.”

For those companies that have lost customers during this recession, Mayer did not have very comforting words. It probably is your fault.

“Eighty percent of customers are lost due to internal problems at your company,” he said.

Unfortunately, Mayer said, cost pressures will continue to increase. Steel prices, after spiking a few years ago, are down to 2006 levels. Your prices, if you use steel, should reflect that.

Now is the time to get rid of problematic, low-profit or difficult customers, he said. They aren’t worth it. It’s better to lower your overhead to make second-tier customers into your best customers.

“In this economy, it’s not who you know. It’s who knows you,” Mayer said.

Joachim “Joe” Mayer, managing partner at Mayer Business Group LLC, hosted a Nov. 16 seminar on the Fabtech show floor. He advised attendees that business was not going to be “normal” ever again.

Get social

If you haven’t already, make 2010 the year you invest in social media and online networking. Simply spending advertising dollars on print won’t cut it in the next decade. The typical customer spends five hours a week on the Internet versus about two hours reading magazines.

The center of your online presence - but not the only part - should be a regularly updated Web site, Mayer said. If someone types in a phrase such as “sheet metal fabricator” to a search engine like Google, you want to be found on the first page. Very few people look beyond the first page of search results.

Spend the money to have an Internet expert optimize your company’s Web site.

“The name of the game is to establish yourself as an expert in a certain area,” he said. “You have to be out there. You have to be visible.”

Mayer suggested attendees write a blog, establish yourself and your company on sites such as LinkedIn, and host a podcast. But remember that social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have downsides as well.

“The scary part with all that social media is that you cannot control what people are saying about you,” he said.

He urged business owners in the audience to establish a clear policy on employees’ use of social media Web sites. Also use free services such as Google Alerts, which allows you to keep tabs on what’s being said online about your company.

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