Behind the Booths: The Exhibitor’s Side of an Automotive Show

You’ve probably attended your fair share of trade shows while working in the auto industry. But, do you know what those feel like from the other side of the booth?

It’s 7pm on Thursday. Tear down done, boxes are all closed, the room is empty. The suits are on the chairs, we’re in jeans and shorts – a gentleman does not use the suit where it does not belong. The TU Automotive Detroit 2017 Exhibition is over. This room looked pretty different 48 hours ago when it was full of life and awaiting its debut – as did it several times over the years. But, let’s spin back the wheel a bit.

Getting Started

Anyone who has ever participated in a trade show as an exhibitor knows how it goes, but for those who never have, let me share another viewpoint. Think of it a Pink Floyd concert where you’re working in the background, but have the chance to see the show as well.

Building a booth at Telematics Detroit

It’s Tuesday morning, and our boxes are still somewhere on their journey here. But we’re professionals, so we don’t panic that they haven’t arrived, and instead focus on our team’s schedule. Fortunately, we’re fully booked, with requests and confirmations still coming in – this going to be a good one again! The oatmeal in the hotel was tasty, the coffee sits in the car’s cup holder, and we’re turning into the parking area of the Suburban collection showplace. The feelings are familiar – this is my fourth show here, so no surprises. The good old Emerald room did not change either. With the colleagues, we don’t even have to discuss the work. Everyone has a routine and the work is flowing along.

In the exhibition area, our guys are building the booth. I won’t be spending too much time there, but this is going to be big for sure! Right now I’m focusing on my job – we’ll have enough time to check it in the next days. Back to work.

It’s almost 7 pm. The room is ready, the demos are ready, the lights are working, and we just received our passes. We’re ready to rock.

The Guests Arrive

We’re starting early on Wednesday, with our firsts guests are arriving at 8am. The exhibition starts at 10, so final preps need to be done. I’m good, let’s check the exhibition area. This is bigger again. I still remember how it was years ago. Less than half of this… It keeps growing each year. A quick check on the others – we’ll have time later to look around.

Telematics Detroit

We had, Thursday afternoon, 2-3 hours before closing. It was the busiest TU I’ve ever seen.

The show changed a lot in the past years. Back then everyone just wanted to sell their products and services. Over time, it has turned into a collaborative space. Everyone who you’re working with or want to work in the future is here – it doesn’t matter if it’s a customer, supplier, or partner.

During the two days, I met and chatted with at least a hundred people. I’m not a technical person – but interested in it – and it was great that I could have so many worthwhile discussions, meet so many interesting people, discover exciting ideas and solutions, get new info on competition, and hear so many diverse opinions all in one place.

As a white label provider, it’s always exciting to get feedback on your product. The surprise, the reaction, and the appreciation keeps you sure that you’re heading in the right direction. Critics are often there as well, but you have to deal with it and use them positively.

I’m probably not too objective, but our booth did it again! It’s one of the largest, and the best design for sure. Of course it is.

NNG at Telematics Detroit

It’s already noon. We’ve already had several meetings, the room is always full – it’s a good start. I’m running to an offsite lunch with a partner. The few minute drive is enough time for a quick call with the family back home, lunch, good discussion, new partnership, driving back quickly, trying to focus on the upcoming meetings and schedule…

The more time someone spends in an industry and the more people he/she knows, gives a lot of confidence. It’s like a school reunion, but bigger and for some reason there are always new faces. The stronger confidence delivers recognition and exponentially grows the network. Everyone knows someone who meets with someone and will introduce to others and so on. At a show like this, it’s even more concentrated.

A surprise guest arrives – a top management member of my main account. Time for an improvised top management meeting in the room – thanks to my colleagues back home, we’re prepared. The excitement and tiredness is mixed in all eyes. But excitement wins, as always. Open and friendly discussion, but all parties know the importance and seriousness.

The first day is over. However the nexus is not strict, but the networking event definitely helps to discuss with others in a more open and friendly way. What could be a non-PC statement half an hour ago is now a joke. You definitely need humour to build relationships and grow the network, but you have to be careful and never go over the top. It’s still the exhibition, and you have to remain professional.

Day 2: The Show Continues

Head start on day two with meetings and guests in both the meeting room and the booth. The day is a bit slower than the first – as usual – which gives a bit more time for discussions and focusing on details.

Meeting new people is always interesting for me. I love their first reactions to my speech, watching how they express themselves or consume what they hear. Sales skills can be learned, but you have to have some natural born addiction towards people in order to be really be successful. At a show, you meet new people every 10 minutes. Finding the tone, the message, and the keyword is always a challenge. The goal is business, but the prompt award is “only” a handshake, a smile, or a nod. It’s not a quick business. You have to be patient.

4pm on Thursday, we take some time walking around and checking on people we haven’t met with yet. We stop at friends as well as partners. Chips, software, complex solutions, etc. – it’s an automotive event. It would be fascinating to take Ford, Benz or Otto here and see their reactions. The industry has changed a lot and we’re still at the beginning of a new era. As a petrol head, I cannot say that I’m happy for all of the changes, but innovation cannot be stopped and more importantly, it shouldn’t be!

The first groups are already started tear down their booths. For them, it probably wasn’t the best show, or maybe they just have a dinner appointment. Who knows.

We still have guests, no rush. The last guest is leaving the room, and some of us are already heading to the airport. We turn the lights off at the booth. Back to the room, suits off, again in shorts/jeans. Yes, it’s definitely finished.

It’s 7pm on Thursday. Tear down done, boxes are all closed, the room is empty.

Until the next one! I look forward to having a chat with you.