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ConExpo-Con/AGG 2014: Not Your Father’s Trade Show

The producers of the ConExpo show have a track record of Going Big, and the 2014 show will be no exception.

Thu January 02, 2014 - National Edition
Giles Lambertson

The construction industry convention in March in Las Vegas will be heavy in every way: big budgets, giant machines, dense crowds, and huge expectations. Organizers of ConExpo-Con/AGG 2014 have a heritage of building and innovating on previous shows, and the 2014 gathering is expected to extend that record of success.

“People don’t realize the effort that goes into this,” said Rochelle Collazzo, assistant marketing manager of Hyundai Construction Equipment Americas. “Because ConExpo is the biggest, it is exponentially important. To put it together and coordinate everything is a lot of work.”

TV legend Ed Sullivan would have called it a “really big shooow,” but organizers of the 2014 exhibition go one bigger and call it comprehensive. “If it’s new, it’s here” is how the event is billed, meaning that Expo visitors can expect to see all the new equipment models. While not every manufacturer will introduce a piece of machinery next year, fleet managers will find it worth their while to make the trip.

“We certainly value ConExpo as a place all of our customers are going to go,” said David Lipari, marketing manager of Guntert & Zimmerman slipform paving equipment manufacturers. Even though G&Z will not roll out a new machine this time around, it has rented 3,600 sq. ft. at the convention center to display its line of equipment. “Our customers are there anyway, so we need to be there.”

The first of these exhibitions is traced back to a gathering in Chicago in 1925, though some suggest the earliest antecedent is a trade show in Cincinnati in 1909. The Association of Equipment Manufacturers produces the show and, in 1996, joined with the International Concrete and Aggregates Group to merge ConExpo and Con/AGG shows. In 2011, the International Fluid Power Exposition also was held in Las Vegas; some 120,000 registered attendees with interests ranging all across the spectrum flooded the city. The IFPE will be in Vegas in 2014, too.

The exhibition’s home has ranged through the years from McCormick Place in Chicago to the Astrodome in Houston. However, when it landed in the Las Vegas Convention Center in 1987, a special synergism quickly became evident between host city and show. The 1987 ConExpo was the largest convention the city had ever hosted up until that time, covering some 900,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space. By 2011, the ConExpo-Con/AGG in Vegas boasted 2.34 million sq. ft. of show space.

Tech Heavy, Too

New technology is being incorporated into the show presentation and at individual exhibits. The AEM and Association of Equipment Management Professionals have begun pushing smart use of telematics. They won’t employ that at the show — some manufacturers will — but AEM is working up a mobile navigation app for showgoers. With the app, visitors will be able to use their smartphones to find their way to the areas and booths they especially want to visit.

Terex Corp. has some new tech approaches this year, according to Aron Sweeney, marketing manager, including using radio frequency ID technology to track booth attendance and customer engagement. “We also are going to be heavily leveraging social media and marketing automation before the show and during the show, more so than we have in the past. The Genie team is planning some pretty cool interactive properties that will debut at The Rental Show this year.”

Use of social media is expected to proliferate at the event, meaning Facebook and Twitter messages will fly from manufacturer representatives, and YouTube videos pop up on screens near you. Marketing people have concluded that Internet-connected apps with user-generated content are useful vehicles for events like ConExpo.

Other electronic applications include the old reliables — video presentations and LED flat-screen messaging — but they are bigger and better this year. Dave Dennison, manager of marketing services at Bomag Americas, said that at the last ConExpo, the company had several videos playing, mostly on 19-in. screens. This year the videos will be displayed outside and inside the booth, and the largest screen will be 120 in. across.

Other Attention-Getters

Not all the attractions will be on mobile screens. In fact, some manufacturers are leery of overdoing the smartphone stuff.

“Over the years, we have learned to closely manage how much new exhibit technology we have in the booth,” said Jenny Ellenbecker, tradeshow manager of Ellenbecker Communications, who represents Atlas Copco Dynapac. Ellenbecker has worked shows for Atlas Copco Construction Equipment for four years. “Touch screens, for instance, are fine, but customers still want to talk to someone and meet company representatives.”

Added Ellenbecker: “We like technology that gives visitors a chance to experience the equipment in action.” To that end, the 240-ft.-long and 70-ft.-deep Atlas Copco Dynapac exhibit in March will have, besides lots of equipment, a drill simulator. Also, an overhead stationary sound system will dramatize Atlas Copco hydraulic breakers. “Guests who stand right under the system will actually get to compare what noise reduction sounds like, not just read the rating system from a product tag. We will have a lot of elements like that in a single display.”

Volvo Construction Equipment will introduce a little competition among visitors, with individuals given the chance to operate a backhoe loader and an excavator. Prizes will be awarded the operators who perform certain tasks with the machines in the shortest time.

Over at the Hyundai Construction exhibit, an area will be reserved for live entertainment, a not uncommon lure to get bodies into a booth area. However, not every manufacturer believes in traffic for traffic’s sake.

“You can give away a Harley Davidson and get quantities of visitors,” said Dave Dennison of Bomag. “If you bring in the Hooters girls, you can get numbers. We want to see credible buyers who take time out of their schedule to evaluate our products. At the end of the day, the only credibility we have to hang our hats on are visits that actually generate sales, even if the sales sometimes are years down the road.”

An Effective Exhibit

Evaluating the success of an exhibit at a huge convention like ConExpo can be tough. Measurable expectations that are met are easily chalked up — a requisite number of turnstile clicks, for example. But sales attributed to ConExpo six months after the show don’t always show up in the final report.

“I don’t think we gauge success on sales,” said David Lipari of Guntert & Zimmerman. “One of our pieces of equipment is a pretty hefty investment. We don’t expect to sell a lot of machines, though of course we always hope we will. We look more at the traffic and the quality of the leads we capture in the booth. We want to see concrete contractors coming into our booth.”

Asked how he determines if an exhibit is a success, Aron Sweeney of Terex has a chipper response: “The day after the show, we just know. It’s a marketing thing.”

More seriously, Sweeney lays out a nuanced understanding of what comprises exhibition success. It is gauged by various metrics, he said — “equipment sales, booth attendance, customer engagement, lead generation and the engagement of the Terex team in the show. From a management standpoint, the success of the planning team is gauged by how smoothly the overall show goes, from the first hours of setting up the booth to the last machines being shipped out.”

Rochelle Collazzo at Hyundai downplays sales and leans more toward creating volume of traffic and media coverage — “the buzz that it creates.”

Success presumably is not measured against the square footage of exhibit space, though ideally the cost of an exhibit will produce a proportional payback in the form of sales and contracts. A booth isn’t cheap, after all. A mini-survey of manufacturers indicates the expense of an exhibit for 2014 will range from a few hundred thousand dollars to several million dollars.

With the exhibition coming as the industry still is recovering from five years of steadily declining employment and a general collapse in construction spending, not every manufacturer is ready to pull out the stops at ConExpo-Con/AGG 2014. There will be brands with multiple booths and lots of sq. ft. of show space, of course, but there also will be pullbacks by some companies and more modest expansions for others. The calculations that go into exhibition decisions are complex.

For example, Volvo’s exhibit will take up more than 31,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor convention area, a space only slightly larger than in 2011. Hyundai Construction, on the other hand, will stake out an area of about 11,000 sq. ft., but that is more than double what it showed in 2011.

Or consider Bomag: That company’s show space in 2014 will be about 9,000 sq. ft., only about half of what it occupied in Vegas in 2011. Yet the company is pouring more money into booth elements this time, according to Dennison, and the number of products to be shown actually will be greater. How? Bomag went vertical: The exhibit will be on two levels to use the space more efficiently.

Planning, Training

Exhibitions, expositions, trade shows — whatever the name, these public displays of construction equipment are a regular part of marketing programs around the world. From the various Bauma international trade fairs to ConExpo to regional exhibits, marketing executives spend lots of money and time on the events.

Company involvement varies. Terex planners are involved in an estimated 300 exhibitions, trade shows and customer events around the world. Bomag handles about one event a month, Guntert & Zimmerman one a year. Planning usually starts at least a year out. “For ConExpo, I will say we start at the two-year mark, but we start really planning a year out. At six months is when you roll up your sleeves,” said Hyundai’s Collazzo.

And then an exhibition is over, and the lessons of the experience are sorted out. The lessons are many.

“There always are lessons to be learned,” said Collazzo, Some of them are pretty straight-forward and practical — like always knowing what your neighbors are doing so you don’t schedule a demonstration that will have to compete with a demonstration happening next door.

“You can never plan enough,” said Dennison. “Plan early. Always be sure to follow the rules and regulations put out by AEM and those managing the convention. And be patient. After all, a lot of people are trying to accomplish the same thing.”

Preparations begin with training the staff, Sweeney said. “Terex is made up of five business segments, and as a show planning team we work very hard to ensure that all booth staff are aware of and can speak to all equipment in the booth. One of the biggest lessons we have learned from previous shows is to train, train, train our team members and booth staff.”

Machinery isn’t the only thing on display for five days in March in Las Vegas. CEOs will be holding press conferences. AEM-sponsored seminar speakers and leaders will cover new technology and pressing industry issues and trends. Networking opportunities will abound.

If it all sounds exhausting, the good news is that AEM producers of the event “guarantee” that visitors will do less walking this year than they did in 2011. There are the show apps, of course, to guide visitors through their phones. But a shuttle service is promised to be better than at previous events, and the layout of routes among the various exhibits also will be more visitor-friendly.

Furthermore, the exhibits have been grouped into pavilions so a buyer of, say, skid steers can visit the many brands without crisscrossing the entire convention area. The same proximity planning will be noticed by concrete aggregate equipment customers, tracked crane customers and every other category of visitor. In other words, visitor convenience has been made a priority.

“The goal, as with all our planning,” said Megan Tanel, ConExpo-Con/AGG show director, “is to create the most ROI for attendees and exhibitors.” That sounds like a big payoff for everyone.

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