CHICAGO - Recession? What recession? Not at Fabtech. The Nov. 14-17, 2011, metal forming and fabrication event at the massive McCormick Place convention center here broke all the records organizers have used to track the show: trade show attendance, seminar enrollment and exhibit space.

More than 35,000 came to Fabtech 2011 in Chicago - a record for the metal-forming show.


CHICAGO - Recession? What recession?

Not at Fabtech. The Nov. 14-17, 2011, metal forming and fabrication event at the massive McCormick Place convention center here broke all the records organizers have used to track the show: trade show attendance, seminar enrollment and exhibit space.

An estimated 35,457 people attended - 35 percent more than came in 2009, the last year the show was in the Windy City. And there were more than 1,300 exhibitors that took up a record 522,000 square feet of floor space.

It all made organizers and exhibitors very happy.

“Exhibitors were enthusiastic about the activity level on the show floor and are looking ahead to 2012,” said Mark Hoper, Fabtech’s show manager. “Returning exhibitors were happy that leads were up from shows of the past few years and numerous first-time exhibitors proclaimed that the decision to exhibit was a great choice for them.”

Happy companies

That was also true for longtime exhibiting company Hypertherm Inc., which manufactures metal-cutting products.

“We’ve been exhibiting at Fabtech for at least 20 years, and in my 10-year tenure, this show was our busiest. We received a record number of leads, and we were able to get our message in front of thousands,” said Betsy Van Duyne, Hypertherm’s marketing manager. “The results from this show should prove to skeptics that manufacturing is alive and well in North America.”

New exhibitor Jim Gillespie, marketing manager at Fast-Rite International Inc., a distributor of fasteners and fittings, said his company was busy.

“We were first time exhibitors at Fabtech, and it was an overwhelming experience,” Gillespie said. “We have over 500 leads to process, and already have begun receiving orders. Considering it typically takes a year to complete a new-customer sale, we’re quite happy.”

And also making many exhibitors happy were relaxed work rules that allowed exhibitor staff to perform many tasks that were formerly required to be done by union carpenters and electricians.

“Exhibitors cited the improved labor conditions and the new cost savings as key to their decisions to bring a record number of machines, equipment and multi-story displays,” said John Catalano, show manager.  “The new policies strengthen Fabtech’s commitment to Chicago for future shows.”

There were an estimated 500 new products on display, including 75 that the show deemed energy-efficient enough to be touted as “green” by organizers.

Jon Goldman, the chief executive at Brand Launcher Inc. in Baltimore, told seminar attendees frequency of action is key to social media marketing success.

Pent-up demand

Chris Kuehl, Ph.D., an economic analyst for the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, one of the show’s sponsors, said he was not surprised by the good turnout.

“Attendees were preparing for a better year in 2012 and were investing to be ready for it. They were engaged and were finding ways to do things better, faster and more efficiently.”

That was part of what Al Popovich, owner of Accurate Design and Fabrication in Custer Park, Ill., said he was looking for at this year’s show.

“We found some excellent new equipment and met manufacturers we weren’t aware of before,” he said.  “It will definitely make a difference in our future business decisions. Knowing what is available outside our usual capabilities should open some markets to our shop.”

Popovich said he wished he’d had more time, however.

There’s no way to see everything you want in one day,” he said.

Upstairs from the bustling show floor, organizers scheduled dozens of educational sessions, including one from Jon Goldman, the chief executive at Brand Launcher Inc. in Baltimore.

Everywhere, you see more businesses and people involved in social media - Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn - except maybe the construction and fabrication industries. That’s what Goldman and his session, “Social Marketing on Speed: A Crash Course (aka How to Grow Your Fabrication Business With Social Media)” came in.

Quinn Smith of Norlok Technology Inc. shows off the Canadian company’s real-time control monitor now available with its machines.

Facebook and frogs

He compared many fabrication businesses to frogs. If you put a frog in water and start to heat it up, the frog will jump out when the water gets too hot.

That’s not the case with many business owners, Goldman said.

“Fabrication businesses will sit there and boil to death,” he said. “If you wait for things to happen, you are never going to grow.”

In a time when price competition is more cutthroat than ever and budgets are tight, an effective social media presence is a great way to stand out, Goldman said.

But don’t just throw out a Facebook post or “tweet” on Twitter and think you’re done. Successful social media is a multistep process. The idea that it only takes 15 minutes a day to succeed at it is a myth.

“Everybody is talking about social media, but nobody is making any money,” he said. “When you are having an event, and you want to promote it on social media, you need to build up to that event.”

You have to know why you are doing the promotion. Have a goal in mind. Goldman said there are 18 counterintuitive social media strategies. He didn’t have time to explain them all, but these were some of his suggestions:

Give out discounts. “Discounts equal heroin,” he said. “If you offer people discounts, it’s the same as hooking them on drugs.”

Use “interesting bait.” “If you are not offering free information, you are missing the boat.” Find items that have a high perceived value but don’t cost much.

Use videos, but don’t overdo them. “Forget personal. Be professional,” he said.

Put new content on your website often. “You need to learn to write” or hire someone to do it for you, he said. “Publish or perish.” He suggested using headlines and topics such as “The 10 biggest problems” or “The seven myths” to grab attention.

Give readers something to do. “The more opportunities you give someone to say ‘yes,’ to opt in or to ‘like’ you” the more successful your effort will be, he said.

Frequency is key. “Every 45 days you go without communicating, you lose 10 percent of your influence.”

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