I just returned from ProMat 2009, North America’s largest material handling show. Held every other year, in January (yuck!), in Chicago (double-yuck!!), this show has always had a “weather be damned” sense of machismo and daring.
This marked my fifth visit in ten years and this year was no different, with the added sense of “the economy be damned” thrown in for good measure. Don’t get me wrong. I love the city of Chicago. Great restaurants. Friendly cab drivers. And unlike Vegas, there’s not someone every few feet ready to prey on the drunken conventioneers. But this year was a challenge.
For starters, we had the one of the coldest, snowiest weeks on record. And then we had the economy. But a strange thing happened on the way to the show. Since they had committed to exhibit over a year ago, exhibiting companies cut back on who they sent rather than what they sent. So the exhibits were almost to a tee staffed by high level executives and sales directors rather than a bunch of juniors out for a junket. The attendees also cut back, to the figure of around 30% less booth traffic, according to the exhibitors I spoke with. But funny thing about the attendees. They too saved money by only sending employees who had a reason to be at the show. Hardly any tire kickers.
But the folks that did trade cards and leave names were genuinely interested in doing business. So here we were, in a down economy, with everyone worried about saving money and (somehow, anyhow) getting leads into their pipeline, actually talking about doing business. Even some startups.
Yes, we are probably entering a depression.
Yes, there will be continued tough times. But there will also be business. You just need to look a little harder, work a little longer, and deliver a little more. No, I didn’t see a recovery in sight. But I did see survival, and beyond.