Itís Spring! There are Exhibitions And there are Hammer Drills
When I go to a trade show, I’m representing my consulting customers, so I have specific goals in mind. My time is limited (to the opening hours of the show), and if I want detailed information from the exhibitors, I can’t expect to see everything. My list usually has two or three items I want to research. This time, at the PT-sponsored 2013 PIE, it was lighting and pay-on-foot.
The show in Chicago had almost a dozen lighting companies and a like number of revenue control companies. That’s about 24 conversations, and assuming I spent 15 minutes in each booth, I would have six hours of exhibit time filled. Add to that lunch, nattering with friends and keeping my notes straight, and the exhibition time was pretty much used up.
I find that if I have specific goals, and limit them, my time at the exhibition is much more rewarding. If I just walk up and down the aisles, gawking at this flashing light or wondering at that video, I come away with a lot of brochures, but very little solid information. Then, when I get home, I have to do the research all over again, reading technical data, contacting salespeople, etc., and frankly I could have done that via the Internet.
Going to the show prepared means that I can get firsthand answers to my questions from experts who should know what they are talking about. Sometimes, an exhibitor makes a comment that negates everything I had heard in the previous three booths, and I have to go back and clarify. This takes time, but when I leave, I have a good solid picture of the products I was researching.
That’s not to say that I put blinders on. This year, I happened to glance at a booth as I was walking by and spotted a great bike rack. My customer had commented about wanting one for a project in Manhattan, so I stopped in and was wowed by the technology for a simple item that held bicycles.
I took a couple of managers from one of my customers to the PIE show and simply turned them loose. They were surprised at all the different presentations of parking “stuff” on exhibit. I found they focused on things that they particularly dealt with every day – car stops, signage, attendant booths, tickets and the like. These are items they could personally use at their locations. Multimillion-dollar PARC systems were a little out of their league.
However, exhibitors should not discount area, city and regional managers. Maybe they can’t approve a high-level purchase, but they can recommend, and they can say no. It’s a good idea to get them on your side early on in the sales cycle.
All this talk about products and services brings me to my second point – how do parking operations purchase items needed for the garage? Most large operators have a centralized purchasing program, and the garage managers fill out forms and wait for the bureaucracy to grind out what they need.
I have noticed, however, that a number of companies are moving the purchasing process further down the line to the area manager or even to select, experienced garage managers. They are assigned credit cards with single purchase limits (say, $300 or $500) and can go online or to Home Depot and buy what they need.
I think this is a good plan. There is little risk that the managers will “go wild” with the purchasing power, and it gives them “ownership” in what they are doing.
In one case, a lot of minor repair work was going on in the garage, and the manager had bought an inexpensive hammer drill and moved some signs and a bicycle storage area. Had a maintenance crew come in and done it, the cost would have been in four figures. The manager got want he needed, had it done in a day, and saved a lot of money.
Of course, this means that management at all levels has to be on top of what’s happening in the garages, but then isn’t that what management is all about?
The relationship between area and garage managers needs to be strengthened. If the fellow mentioned above kept his manager in the loop, the next time a drill was needed in another garage, it was available.
Don’t know how to use a hammer drill? Ask around – my guess is that someone on your crew has experience. Not everyone sees parking as entry-level.