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Melting Pot

In her latest blog, Sarah Spivey, the managing director of Modulift, reports her findings from three recent trade events.

It’s good to see for oneself, as last month (April) proved.

I wrote a blog last September that advised businesses how to identify the demographics of trade shows and set a mission for each event accordingly. I used three events we had attended at the time and explained why getting the most from them could only be achieved once we’d considered the organisers, the audiences they attract, the markets they represent and the format they follow.

That content can be revisited here: http://www.modulift.com/blog/blog/show-up-with-intent

This blog is again about three equally different events but, having applied the guidance from the earlier post, it explores how we can use the takeaways from the stands, aisles and related networking to paint a picture of the state of a market. Getting the strategy right and knowing how to read the signals are key components of business planning.

In this instance, I gathered intelligence from two stateside trade association events and the biggest construction equipment show in the world. Bauma seemingly sprawled across the whole of Munich in early April, before Associated Wire Rope Fabricators (AWRF) staged its General Meeting & Product Information Exhibition in New Orleans, followed by the Annual Conference of the Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association (SC&RA) in Florida at the end of the month.

Looking up

I attended Bauma with Anthony Culshaw, our senior design engineer, where we were among 580,000 visitors from 200 countries. It’s a show for big equipment, not components, so we didn’t consider taking an exhibit but it was still important to have a presence. We walked the aisles for two days, attending pre-arranged meetings with various old and new contacts, before networking at the Modulift-sponsored ESTA Users Night and Awards Dinner at the Hotel Bayerischer Hof.

We attended many meetings together but also split up to follow our own agendas. As one can imagine, an engineer and a business leader highlight different things in a show guide. It’s like arriving at a theme park and making a beeline for a favourite or notorious ride. Some go for the tallest roller-coaster and others the teacups.

In many places, like Germany, they call trade shows ‘fairs’ and exhibition centres ‘fairgrounds’. It’s certainly fitting of Bauma, which stretches not only into the distance in every direction, but also into the skies, with the jibs, arms, components and cabs of construction equipment, cranes, mining machines and more stretching in all colours towards what were frequently showery skies at this year’s staging of the triennial event.

One can sit at a desk and read about the buoyancy of the construction and infrastructure sectors, for example, but only at a show like Bauma can real intelligence be garnered and detective work carried out. The type of new products launched, the size of a company’s entourage and their willingness to party all tells a story.

A manufacturer launching its highest capacity tower crane on a record-sized stand, with a 50-strong sales team and a fully stocked bar, might suggest that company senses a healthy market demanding bigger loads to be lifted and purchasing decision makers ready to invest in new kit. Bustling aisles, on-site sales and feverish networking over every meal (and beverage) of the day only supported that further. I remember an Intermat (a Paris-based triennial show) not so long ago where even major manufacturers were downsizing stands in reflection of a slumped construction sector.

Anthony and I exchanged some very interesting notes about product launches and the kit exhibitors chose to showcase on their stands. Even applying the simple theory above, imagine what we could understand about the market by visiting the biggest two or three tower, mobile and crawler crane stands at Bauma. In fact, on the plane home, we even agreed to advance a particular below-the-hook innovation that we’ve been keeping on the back burner.

Taking a bite

AWRF’s event the following week was different on a number of levels, principally because we are newcomers to the association, the event was lifting gear-centric and regionally focussed. The first lesson I learnt is that it was probably a mistake that we hadn’t embraced the concept before, but that realisation acknowledged the success of the initiative and positive market research followed.

The event lasted four days but the Product Information Exhibition (or PIE, as it is known) only consumed one of those days. It meant that not only was it a highly focused product expo of lifting equipment distributors from North America, it allowed time for co-located meetings, networking and other activities. That suited Malcolm Peacock, our international business development manager, and I perfectly on debut.

By the end of the product fair, a clear picture of the state of the market was emerging. That happens when one asks the right people the right questions. Generally, we’re dealing with a global marketplace that is very active below 110t and at super-lift capacity above 1,000t, while the heavy-lift range, particularly 120t to 600t, is slower. The peculiarity with the states is that due to sustainability issues, the lower capacity part of the market is starting to slow.

At the spearhead of our strategy in the region are our distributors Delta Rigging & Tools and Bishop Lifting Products, both of whom were present at AWRF. We promptly named them master distributors to seize an opportunity to supply, through them, smaller re-sellers that don’t have the capacity to stock equipment. Only in attendance at the event could we implement the concept and introduce it effectively.

Market conditions suggest that those re-sellers will receive urgent demand for below-the-hook equipment that Delta and Bishop can meet in 24 hours. It would take us weeks to supply directly, which would break the supply chain and render us incapable of fulfilling those orders. My September 2015 blog (referenced above) focussed on pre-show planning, which is fundamental to success, but sometimes improvisation and spontaneity reign, as AWRF PIE suggested.

Keeping up appearances

The SC&RA gathering in Orlando brought the curtain down on an educational month. While Modulift is a regular attendee, personally I haven’t maintained a presence since maternity leave with my daughter—and we’ve lost momentum. Tim Spivey, and others who’ve covered the North American market in my absence, have flown the flag admirably, but traction with fellow business leaders is best achieved by consistent, peer-to-peer networking.

I forged many new relationships and rekindled those that had been put on hold with a view to regularly attending the event in future. The crux of all conversations was that the lower capacity end of the market is indeed slowing in the states so, like AWRF, it was a case of addressing that trend in the exhibition area and networking sessions.

To recap, we’ve learnt that construction and infrastructure are booming; super and low capacity equipment is in demand, while the latter is slowing in the states; the standard heavy lift sector is slower; and oil and gas remains in a holding pattern.

All the fun of the fair, eh?

Follow us on Twitter—@ModuliftUK—and use the hashtag #belowthehook to engage. You can see the blog archive at Modulift.com/Blog

Sarah Spivey
Managing Director
Modulift
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