Welcome to day 18 of 30. My first order of business is to give my best wishes to friends in Puerto Rico who have been affected by the most recent hurricane. Hold in there friends and be safe!

Yesterday I spent most of my day at the SCAJ trade show here in Tokyo. After a few conversations with coffee producers who were also visiting, something seemed to come up in comments about how this particular show has not really grown in size much over several years (to note, the quality of the show and number of visitors seems to have grown, the actual space used is the same). I started thinking about trade shows quite a bit. 

I have attended and spoken at trade shows all over the world and for a few different industries, and they all feel incredibly the same. Professional companies, manufacturers, and other elements of the industry show up and try to reach the local audience, usually for the purpose of selling something. This is not to say that selling is the only goal of shows, but that this is one of the main things happening. 

Outside of selling, there are educational classes and often competitive events of some sort to engage the audience and showcase talent. There are all manner of interactions, though I would probably sum it up as networking, sales, and education (though most everything always seems to come back to sales). In our industry, and I’m sure it is the same in others, it seems like the same people are meeting up around the world and essentially congregating in their own cliques. Most of the time the show attendees are not terribly engaged. It is easy however for attendees to be impressed because they never if rarely see the technology, techniques, and pitches found in trade shows. 

In a trade association show like SCA, since it is built for professionals and those forging into the industry, we often find new tech releases, latte art demos, cuppings, and other standards like the US barista championships. We get a lot of ‘stuff’ but if you are anything like me you may not be terribly fascinated by much of it. 

I think this is “trade show overload”.

We see the same things, the same people, in the same cities over and over again. It becomes almost boring at points, let alone incredibly expensive for small business owners like myself. We let this boredom of familiarity overpower our passion that got us started going to these shows in the first place. This also translates to how we interact with others. For our friends and acquaintances this doesn’t hurt because we all feel like friends at a get-together. But it becomes terribly unfair for newcomers often times because we are turned off, and not always interested in “newbies” being a part of our group. 

This perpetuates itself, with newer members feeling like they don’t fit in and the ever present same group of friends staying in place. Not really growing, not really dwindling. Just staying the same. Eventually we might take positions in the association or a show organization since we are always there, and we just keep going. 

Now to be clear what I just said above is a gross simplification of trade shows, associations, and the people working in them. However there are elements that have truth in there. In many ways we are stagnating in our purpose because we are repeating the same things every year with little to no progression. I also want to say that I love seeing the people I know all over the world as well as meeting newcomers. It really is my social time.

So we need to take a step back and think about what it is we get out of shows, why we even attend, and how we can redefine our purpose for the future. Don’t get trapped in the same role or spot every year. 

This past year I found myself once again in the competition hall (which I can’t stand the fact that it is separate from the show), and I ended up spending almost my entire show there. Obviously I love the competitions and always want to support them, but at some points I do in fact need to expand my business and look for new opportunities. So for me I must find better balance between the fun thing that I love being a part of (competitions) and the real business that takes place with other people in the industry. Some of this may even mean attending other events that do more for my business than the standard trade shows themselves. But it is a real evaluation of what my goals are and where my strategy is taking me.

For you I ask that you help push growth in our shows. Be there with the noobs. Encourage the open dialogue of learning that we took so much pride in when we first started building our careers. And of course strategize your time and efforts. Be conscious of what will make you happy, what will make your business grow, and what will make you grow as a professional. The answer may not be to attend every event each year.

So there you have it, a little stream of thought on trade shows!

See you tomorrow,