The late owner of Jackson Limousine Service started the now annual event in 1982.
As a former medium fleet operator, I’ve been through all the challenges of figuring out how to maximize the return on a trade show investment. Here’s a guide to making the most out of networking time, affiliate appointments happening, and planning your time at the three-day event, Feb. 29-March 2.
If you’re the little guy, I know it can be intimidating. But this industry is a small world with exceptional operators who love to talk about how they make things work. Your job as an attendee is to ask questions.
When I first attended this Show, I was a bit petrified. To our benefit, we were introduced to people who influenced us greatly, including the late industry consultant Tom Mazza, who made every newcomer feel like an old friend. The LCT Show is still a place that welcomes new attendees with gusto. Your job is to get people talking about what you want to hear.
What happens in Las Vegas is all worthwhile. The International LCT Show offers the ideal trifecta of education, networking and show-floor business solutions. This combination will improve your business if you know what you want to achieve before you go.
But how can you make the show work for you when you’ve never been, or not been often? Smaller and growing operators can barely get away. Every penny counts and the return on the show must be real, right? Well, yes and no. You can return home with measurable results if you plan your time, certainly. But it is an investment in the future strength of your company that really pays out.
How To Do It Right
First, know your hand and your limits. You have three days to find solutions and ideas that you need, so assess your business, and focus on a performance indicator in each functional (or dysfunctional) area of your operation. Choose something you need to improve operationally — maybe hiring or billing. Plus focus on finding an affiliate in your top travel cities. And perhaps fine-tune your client satisfaction rates. Or consider expanding your fleet. Know the top areas to focus on that matter to you, and you’ll be rewarded at the Show.
Show offerings are extensive, but try to limit yourself to the things that meet your goals. So as you plan your time, target those things that matter to you and keep them at the forefront of your schedule and planning. As an operator, we always tried to tackle several potential areas simultaneously to grow quickly. We took a team from the office to each Show. As the female figurehead, it’s easier to be recognized, but the Show was always a greater success with a key operations person and an affiliate manager to ask the tough questions. The team approach really worked. Even one other person to divide and conquer is valuable, so consider taking a second set of eyes and ears with you — someone with a different skill than yours.
Place Your Bets
Now, pull out your show guide and get to work marking it up!
Key advice: Arrive at the beginning. The first day and evening have high energy and fresh conversation. It’s easier at the start of the Show to say hello to a stranger, shake a hand and offer a card. Be ready to ask other operators how they handle business challenges. For example, you don’t have to explain your high loss runs; just ask them how they keep worker’s comp costs down. Ask for solutions at every session and opportunity.
Of course, go to meetings that apply to you, but also use your downtime wisely. If you want affiliates, these hours are important for making connections. Before you leave for Vegas, plan a simple dinner or quick meeting with a key person, company or organization. And have your questions ready! People love to talk about themselves and their successes. You’ve identified your specific areas of need, so leave every conversation with more knowledge of things to apply back home. Ask the same question of a few people, and you’ve created a personal brain trust of successful operators to guide you.
Finish each day with more networking. Every. Single. Day. From benefit dinners to cocktail events sponsored by the exhibitors, the end-of-day chatter puts together faces and names of key industry personnel. Most affiliate relationships develop after official Show hours, so you must show up! This is the time to have your affiliate manager very visible. Those first nights often become the talk of the Show and cement relationships. Be a part of those shared stories.
If you’re a first timer, go to your first-timer meeting! Maybe you have attended a hundred shows in other industries, but these are like-minded operators who want to grow, so you have a room full of immediate friends like yourself. Every single one is new to the show, so learn names and regions of everyone within reach. You will be seeing each other again throughout the conference. These connections will be the ones you can call any time for advice as you expand your network and your business. To get the conversations going, ask these people their goals for the Show and how they handle your pre-identified challenges.
As the overlapping sessions begin, you’ll be glad for a second team-member to help divide the schedule. But stay focused — you already know which ones to attend because you have clarified your targeted results for each department in your organization.
Not everything is about sales and affiliates. For example, while they are usually engaging, the keynote addresses also give you more conversation material with strangers at the Show. I always attended these because I was always asked by others for my opinion, so be ready with a comment or takeaway that you can share. The worst answer is, “I didn’t go.” You have things to offer others, too, so arm yourself with topics.
Finally, the Show floor opens. Here is where operations concerns play the lead role. Your improvement goal for operations might be software changes or fleet servicing. Find the booths you need before the Show. Seek solutions to your dilemmas or constraints; they are there, all in one place. In my previous company’s history, the Show floor yielded branding solutions, software upgrades, vehicle decisions, insurance savings and many other benefits over the years. Just attack what matters most first based upon pre-Show self-assessment.
Networking Is Top Of Mind
The value of interpersonal relationships in building a business is clear. Using the Show for this important work is the most-common reason that smaller businesses attend. That means aside from the late-night revelry (every night, remember), the established networking meetings are calling you. From exposure to international operators to the exhibitor-sponsored cocktail party, you should strike out with a hand and a hello. Put your team to work at these events, too. All hands in the game. You’ll know it works when each year others ask about your work colleagues or tell you their stories of meeting them the night before. Maybe you don’t need international affiliates yet, but they know everyone domestically who is growing and make excellent contacts.
Take It to the Bank
Each session provides knowledge-building opportunities. So unless you have a pre-set meeting with a vendor or prospective affiliate, attend everything you can. Eventually, you’ll need the information, and you’ll be further ahead when the time comes. Besides, you’ll probably see someone you’ve met already and can continue building those crucial relationships.
If you’ve identified your needs ahead of time, the end of the show is just the beginning of the returns. On the flight home, sort your contacts and write up a specific to-do list before you get caught up in the office’s demands. Follow-ups keep the relationships alive. All the information gleaned over three days will take your business to the performance levels you identified. After all, what happens in Vegas cannot stay in Vegas — take it home to cash in on International LCT Show winnings.
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