Tradeshow Me The Ropes
Reflections from a first-time tradeshow attendee
Louisville, Kentucky—AKA “The Big Stable” (as I like to call it)—is an unassuming, historic, and rather charming city perched along the Ohio River, and home to arguably the world’s most famous horse race, The Kentucky Derby. Louisville is also the birthplace of Muhammad Ali, home of the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory, and (you guessed it) the annual destination for Equip Exposition (Equip Expo), one of the country’s largest landscaping and hardscaping trade shows!
The journey is as important as the destination
While jetting off on my first business trip sounds dreamy and idealistic, I’d choose a road trip to Louisville again over flying in a heartbeat. Like any great road trip, the drive is often the most fun and memorable part. Whether it’s buying a smorgasbord of Combos for the drive down, recalling brilliant movie scenes, or stopping for lunch at an abandoned-looking White Castle, there’s no better team bonding experience than an eight-hour EPIC caravan.
After arriving at our riverside hotel in Jeffersonville, Indiana, a welcoming suburb nestled along the northern shore of the Ohio River, I realized this was also my first time having my very own hotel room! After parting ways with my coworkers as the elevator dinged at the 3rd floor, I scanned my room key, kicked off my shoes, threw my duffle bag in the corner, plopped onto the king-sized bed, and found a marathon of The Office playing on Comedy Central. Luxury.
Feeling a bit antsy in my solo hotel room, I went out to explore Jeffersonville at night. There’s something special about being on your own in a new city. Every twist and turn down foreign streets and sidewalks feels like a novel discovery, something only you know. Whether it’s racing down a seemingly haunted and endless stairwell in our hotel, walking from Indiana to Kentucky and back along the Rainbow Road-esque Big Four Pedestrian Bridge, or playing billiards with some local Louisvillians at Losers 812.
The sea of signage
Arriving on Wednesday morning at the Kentucky Exposition Center, my expectations and excitement levels were through the roof. This would be my first time not only working at, but even attending, an industry trade show. Walking into the massive exhibition hall for the first time, I couldn’t help but chuckle. First, at the nearly billboard-sized company logos and company graphics hanging from the rafters, blurring together to synthesize a nearly perfect corporate rainbow (minus the color purple, no purple-branded landscaping companies for some reason). And secondly, seeing some of the most amusing brand names that roll right off the tongue (most of which I never knew existed). A few of my favorites included GeoRipper, Green Climber, Ditch Witch, Leaf Burrito, and my personal favorite, Mulch Mate. Turns out the indoor section of the tradeshow would pale in comparison to the even larger outdoor demo area, where the same corporate rainbow manifested into a sea of company flags and banners by the thousands.
While the sheer size and scale of everything felt dizzying, the reality of Equip Expo truly set in once the gates opened to the public. Over the course of three days, Equip Expo reported a record-breaking attendance of more than 25,000 people. Among the massive crowd, I had the chance to meet project managers, engineers, writers, editors, brand ambassadors, influencers, and consumers. Seeing all of the different reasons someone might attend Equip Expo helped me discover one of my greatest takeaways of the week.
Seeing our work in real life
After working at EPIC for nearly five months, I was finally able to realize just how important and relevant my job is within the professional lawn care industry. Spending hours upon hours researching, learning, and writing about sod cutters and tractor attachments, convincing myself this product is the coolest thing since sliced bread—it can sometimes feel like you’re working in a tunnel. But the scope widens significantly when you see a small crew from an independent lawn care company with stars in their eyes and jaws on the floor after seeing and inspecting a brand-new Bobcat mower up close. Or seeing hundreds of people by the hour occupying the Bobcat/RYAN booth asking questions and waiting eagerly to talk to company representatives or social media influencers as if they were A-list celebrities. When 90% of my friends and family haven’t heard of the brands I work for, it’s refreshing to be surrounded by people that realize you work for some of the biggest players in the game.
Networking is all about real relationships
While I got to assist in setting up the Bobcat outdoor exhibit, the majority of my business at Equip consisted of networking. Since college, I’ve always regarded networking as a “gateway drug” of sorts. I heard endless anecdotes from professors and industry professionals alike that said networking was almost always what opened the door to their next big opportunity. A mystical form of conversation shared between business professionals about…business? For me it was always a little daunting, knowing there’s no right or wrong way to do it, and that so much of my professional success could be riding on these conversations with strangers.
But as our Content Director Scott Covelli showed me around and introduced me to industry professionals, writers, and editors, I learned networking isn’t so scary after all … BECAUSE there are no rules. Scott taught me that networking is really just treating people like people: Asking where people came from, how they got there, if it’s their first Equip Expo, and how they’re enjoying it. If you’ve met them before, ask how their family is doing or what they’ve been up to this year. After breaking the ice, it’s easy to have a brief discussion about what’s new in the field and share any relevant information regarding your client, then wrap it up with more light stuff.
Attending Equip Expo taught me that networking is all about fostering REAL relationships, not awkward fake ones focused 100% on business.
If COVID has taught us anything, it’s to enjoy each other’s company while you have the chance. Be genuine and empathetic, and embrace every relationship—personal or professional. Keep it light and friendly and then, once you return home, use a follow-up email to nail down the business side of things. Attending Equip Expo taught me that networking is all about fostering REAL relationships, not awkward fake ones focused 100% on business.
Keep it fun!
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t give EPIC Account Supervisor Cory Bogenschultz a shoutout for making networking a walk in the park, after bringing a backpack full of EPIC “fun meter” buttons and giving me a handful to wear and hand out. “Here, you want some fun-meter buttons?” he asked. “People love these things.”
Dude was NOT wrong. I had at least 20 people stop me in my tracks with a smile on their face, pointing at my button. Thank you EPIC and Cory for the easy conversation starter!
In just 48 hours in Louisville, I felt myself transform from a first-timer into an industry insider. In the months leading up to Equip Expo, my work days were fun and fulfilling but at times felt a tinge aimless. Writing pitches to publications I’d never heard of, boasting about products I’d only seen online renderings of, while attempting to establish relationships with people I’d never met.
In just two days I absorbed a wealth of knowledge pertaining to the lawn and landscaping industry. I conversed with clients, competitors, editors, and influencers. I got to SEE what sets our product apart from the competition, while learning that it can actually be beneficial to maintain professional relationships with competitors. And most importantly, I finally got to take the oscillating and articulating Steiner 450 for a joy ride!
I started the week as Scott’s PR sidekick, learning the ropes as to what smooth and successful interactions with the media and industry partners look like. By the end of the trade show I was flying solo and making inroads with a couple of editors at an international publication that we’d never worked with before—who would have thought?!