Hasta Las Vegas, Baby

As I’m working through phone calls and emails these days, I’m getting one question a couple of times a day: See you at StonExpo in Las Vegas?

The answer is yes, and thanks for asking. And you?

As anyone who’s read my work through the years for Stone Business, I’m a believer in trade shows. I’ll argue about the location, or the time of year, or the length or whether there should be free coffee at the door, but I’ll make the case for having the events.

And, of course, you’ll find me there. For one thing, it’s part of my job. Given a choice of staying in the office or heading out for some convention hall somewhere in the world, I’d still opt for pinning on a badge and wandering the miles of carpeted aisles.

It’s no different with this year’s StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas (the rather long-winded but official handle) in Las Vegas on Oct. 21-24. The calendar’s marked and the room booked long ago, and my cat Denny has a reservation at a tony two-room suite at his veterinarian’s office.

This year’s event is admittedly a hard sell for a lot of people in the industry. The country may be climbing out of a recession, but times remain tough for most fabricators. It’s worse for sellers of large machines, as saws, edgers, CNCs and other pieces of equipment keep popping up weekly on auction Websites, signifying that yet another shop won’t make it to 2010.

I won’t lie to you, either; this year’s lineup of exhibitors is smaller than last year’s. Some familiar names aren’t going to be there, as vendors keep a tight hold on expenses. A couple of them are dead and gone, victims of the economic downturn. There’ll be a few new names, but no real surprises.

You’re certainly not expanding your shop, and it hasn’t been a stellar year on the bottom line. Why go?

For one thing, the travel odds are in your favor. It takes an hour or two of searching on the Internet, but cut-rate airfares are still available – Southwest Airlines makes sure of that – and Vegas hotels are still offering deals on general travel Websites and direct booking online.

More importantly, going to StonExpo this year is really to your benefit. The best business relationships with vendors aren’t struck in the high times, but when times are a bit rough both buyer and seller appreciate each other’s value. Maybe you won’t see as much Big Iron on the floor with huge machinery, but you’ll still see plenty of products you use regularly, and shopping for good prices and service will pay off tomorrow and next year.

There’s also the educational side of the show, where workshops and seminars address the need for new markets and business strategies. Every show likes to say that it’s offering courses relevant to your needs, but this year’s lineup reflects the state of the market to help you survive and grow. (I should also divulge that I served on the educational advisory committee for StonExpo this year, and there’s a lot of collective industry brainpower behind the 2009 schedule.)

StoneLive! also continues to grow with the free, on-the-floor exhibition coordinated by the Stone Fabricator’s Alliance. The SFA always offers on-the-mark ideas and tips that could easily save or gain you $5 a day in your shop’s operation. Add that up, and you’ve paid for the seminars, the travel and a bit of Vegas action of your choice. Anything else you gain is gravy.

There’s also the intangible return you get by being with thousands of other people just like you – fabricators, installers, restorers, business owners. It’s the best opportunity all year for a bit of give-and-take. Call it the study hall of the School of Hard Knocks, but learning from the experience of others – and offering some of your own – can result in some invaluable ideas.

You can get a lot out of a trade show, and this year’s StonExpo is a nice jackpot waiting to pay off. It’s there for you, but you have to do one thing to collect. You have to go.

See you in Las Vegas?

Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at Stone Business Online.

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