While the shops seem eager to foist Christmas upon us ever earlier, it’s been exhibition season for those of us in the construction industry. And if you’re old enough to remember when Christmas started the day school broke up and the only time films were shown on the BBC you’ll also have seen exhibition traditions evolve over time too.
Take, for example, Timber Expo, one of the shows I visited recently. It was full of interesting products and innovation, which was great to see as a visitor. But unlike trade shows of old, where the discovery of new products was the draw alongside the opportunity to network and catch up with colleagues and contacts, this dynamic is now, but a shadow of its former self.
The thing is, the nature of how we do business has changed, with products researched online, transactions conducted at a distance and commercial relationships forged in the virtual world of email and LinkedIn, while trade shows and exhibitions have stayed largely the same. Companies still pay for space in the hall, still compete for the most eye-catching stand and still collect visitors’ business cards for a prize draw as a means of extending their mailing list. They may zap your name badge for data capture and hand out reusable water bottles instead of the humble pen these days, but the set-up and format is still much the same as twenty years ago, and judging by the numbers, it shows.
For many exhibitions, the show organisers have tried to addressed the shift by focusing on building their event around a speaker programme to attract delegates. This has the potential of offering real value to the construction sector at a time when construction materials and methods are developing so quickly and there is genuine need to learning about best practice. As a company that offers a product portfolio that’s both high performance and environmentally advantageous, we’re always supportive of platforms that can be used to educate the sector and provide opportunities for knowledge sharing. However while we’ve seen the birth of the ‘seminar’, it seems it has reached maturity overnight with many of the talks being closer to a live product pitch complete with remote head mic and enthusiastic candy floss salesman.
As such I still feel that exhibitions are missing a trick. We need to find a way of making the whole event valuable to all concerned; whether that’s in terms of financial transactions, knowledge sharing, teambuilding or networking – or a combination of all of the above. The great advantage trade shows have over the virtual world is the ability to bring expertise together in a single location where ideas can be shared and interrogated and products can be fully explored from both a performance and a buildability perspective. In the same way face to face meetings are still needed as they simply far more productive at delivering solutions to certain challenges and opportunities
At NBT, we sell solutions not off-the-shelf products, because that is what the specifier and contractor need to deliver the new standards required for our built environment, complete with design knowledge, specification expertise and installation advice. If exhibitions become more about ‘meet our experts and solve your problem’ rather than ‘buy our products’, everyone benefits, including the end users of our built environment.