TAMPA, Fla. – Unseasonably hot and muggy weather greeted Metalcon attendees gathered here Oct. 6-8 for the 19th annual show.
It was in the low 90s°F and very humid for early October - a time when Tampa’s humidity levels usually start to drop.
But weather probably didn’t have much to do with Metalcon’s smaller-than-expected attendance this year. Like most shows, it was probably the recession. Convention attendance nationwide in all industries has been down, and construction-related shows have not been immune. Trade show floor traffic seemed light compared with 2006, the last time Metalcon booked Tampa’s main convention facility. Around 8,000 were expected this year.
About 5,600 came to the event, and organizers and many exhibitors were generally pleased.
“In the 19 years we’ve been doing this show, our exhibitors have never failed to come up with some of the most innovative products every time. Each year we add a new feature to the show, but nothing, nothing can top what they do. They come up with ideas and products that literally have revolutionized this industry. This year we saw new forming equipment, coatings, roofing products, software and a host of new products for the solar market,” said show director Claire Kilcoyne.
Metal booths busyIn particular, booths with products for the metal roofing, walls and fabricating equipment were especially busy, officials added.
“This was a great show for us,” said Geoff Stone, owner of MetalForming Inc. in Peachtree City, Ga. “We’ve sold at least 10 machines and we’re not done yet.”
Kevin Corcoran, vice president at metal roofing maker Englert Inc., had similar comments.
“The serious contractors came and they were very interested in the products being offered,” he said. “We had a lot of interest in our solar products and also sold five of our on-site roll formers. We also realized how good it is to be at this show to find out firsthand what’s going on in the market and what people are really thinking.”
Show organizers estimated that 1,000 people attended the Oct. 6 keynote address by Bob Berkebile, a founding principal with BNIM Architects of Kansas City, Mo. Berkebile gave an overview of just how dire the global warming situation has become. He asked attendees to think about how every decision they make impacts others and the environment.
Green is money, maybeIn case you missed the theme of “Make More Money by Selling Green,” speaker Dennis Duce of Utah’s Nielco Roofing and Sheet Metal was dressed in a green-striped T-shirt, green pants and dyed green sneakers.
But if you were expecting a lecture on how adopting an environmentally conscious lifestyle is crucial to save the planet - and good for your pocketbook - you might have been disappointed.
Duce started the Oct. 6 session with an explanation of how, under certain circumstances, the full-size, gas-guzzling Chevy Suburban could be more “green” than a gas-electric hybrid Ford Focus.
“What’s green for one person may not be green for another person,” he said.
As a successful metal-roofing salesman at Nielco, which has worked on a lot of high-end vacation homes in the Park City, Utah, region, Duce said he has found it more effective to use the environmental aspects of metal as a sales “clincher” - not the primary sales tool.
“We want to make sure we prepare our (customers) properly,” he said. “Don’t lead with your ‘green card.’ ”
He recommended stressing the long-term cost advantages of metal over traditional roofing materials such as asphalt. Even in the short term, Duce said, the cost of metal is not always significantly more than asphalt shingles.
He urged attendees to expand their green expertise beyond metal, because many customers will seek your advice on other environmentally friendly products for their homes and businesses.
“You need to know about those other products,” Duce said, adding contractors should join green associations, read books on the subject and attend trade shows.
Build relationships, he said. Join local chambers of commerce and business organizations to bolster your business’ profile.
He suggested starting a business-oriented blog. More people follow these short Internet notes than you might think, he said. Duce also urged attendees to contact editors of trade magazines in their industries and see if they are interested in having a guest columnist or author.
Having copies of bylined articles is a great marketing tool, Duce said.
“When you write an article, you create a level of expertise much higher than just saying, ‘Here’s my brochure,’ ” he added.
If you’re not confident enough in your own writing abilities, hire a freelance writer.
“You don’t necessarily have to enjoy writing,” Duce pointed out.
Recession bustersThe Oct. 7 session, “10 Reasons Not to Take Part in the Recession,” perhaps should have been called “10 Ways Not to Take Part…” in this downturn. Ted Miller of Clapperton Partnership gave his list of 10 ways to possibly improve business despite the economy.
The first one he suggested was online selling. Despite Internet-based businesses being around for more than a decade, many contractors still aren’t taking full advantage. Miller showed a Web site for one of his companies, Rapid Materials, that makes it easier for contractors to design and order custom metal panels.
“We want this to become the Amazon.com of construction materials,” he said. “In today’s market, no one wants to be ‘sold.’ They want to ‘buy.’ ”
His next suggestion was to partner with vendors.
“Do you ever think your supplier could become a partner and do something bigger?” he asked.
Miller told the story of how he ended up working on an airport expansion in China because he talked to suppliers about their other projects.
“Think outside your normal distribution pattern,” he said.
Suggestion No. 3 was to sell to your competitors.
“It’s a crazy idea,” he said, “but it can work.”
He once worked with a competitor on a convention center project in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Another idea: Try television advertising.
Miller showed the Metal Roofing Alliance’s ad from a few years ago with a perky real estate agent who wanted to talk more about a home’s metal roof to potential buyers than what was inside.
Miller said ad time could be bought for as little as $1.85 per airing in some circumstances.
He called his fifth suggestion “Old-school selling with a twist.”
Instead of simply taking a client to lunch, how about sending them on a three- or four-day cruise, he suggested. Cruises, which typically include all food and entertainment in the cabin price, can cost as little as $150 per person for three days.
“If you can get your best customers off on a three- or four-day cruise, what would that be worth?” he asked the audience. “That’s a good investment.”
The chance to sell them over several days in a relaxing environment - away from competitors --- is valuable, he said.
“You will stand out,” he told attendees. “Not everybody is doing that.”
His sixth suggestion was to start a blog. Miller showed his, which included his musings on business with a picture of himself.
“You can do the same thing. It’s not that hard,” he said. “You can differentiate yourself tremendously.”
Miller urged attendees to start a company Web site with file transfer protocol - commonly called “FTP” capabilities as suggestion No. 7. It allows files to quickly be uploaded, viewed and shared anywhere. It’s much faster than waiting for drawings or carrying files and sketches to jobsites.
“If you’re able to look at 20 jobs and decide what you want to bid on, isn’t that better than waiting for what comes in the door?” he said.
No. 8 was to write for trade magazines. Editors are always looking for content, he said. Writing articles allows you to promote yourself as an expert.
“It is self-serving,” Miller acknowledged. “I make no apologies for that.”
The ninth suggestion was to get to know your customers’ customers.
Miller’s final recession-busting idea was to “take a chance.” Offer more and demand more, he said.
He used the example of Google.com, which gives away a lot of valuable information, but makes money on the advertisements that surround that information on its Web pages.
“The most powerful word in advertising is what? Free,” he said. “There are alternate ways to make money in your business.”
Metalcon 2010 is scheduled for Oct. 20-22 in Las Vegas.
For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.