While at the Central Illinois Woodworking Expo in Arthur last week I watched as two companies whittled away at their own reputations without even knowing it.
Shows have an interesting dynamic. The groups of people flow in at different rates and near the end of the show hardly anyone is walking the aisles. The vendors start to get frustrated with the lack of attendees near the end and start to pack up early. The vendors want to get home, but the show doesn't want the vendors to leave early. If vendors leave early, the last attendees however few, will have a sparse show to attend. The shows try to find incentives to make the vendors stay the assigned show hours, but the call of getting home on a Saturday afternoon is bigger than any incentive.
I watched as two companies in my aisle left the show early: One was a new sales rep with his line of carved parts and the other, a significant supplier of coatings. The rep was out of there by noon. The coatings company started packing a bit before 12:30 p.m. and was gone before 1:30 p.m.
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Now, I am no saint in this area myself. Many times over the years, I have left shows before their final hours. As a sales rep that didn't own a booth I was always able to leave early because I knew the factory staff was still manning the booth after I was gone. (Lucky Me) Later on, when running my own company, my staff stayed for the allotted hours after I left. So, I plead guilty. In my defense, I think a few staff leaving when the traffic is down is a lot different than packing up the whole booth.
So, what is the Big Deal? The vendors wanted to get home just like I had. The Big Deal in this show was that the entire show was run not by a separate company, but by the Amish cabinet shops of the area. The volunteers, forklift drivers, cleanup crew, kitchen staff and show board were all made up of customers. Customers who specifically asked you to sign up and stay for the full show. Customers that left a letter at the booth on Saturday morning detailing why they felt it was wrong to leave early. Customers that cared enough to offer free raffle prizes to the vendors just to keep them in the booths until 2 pm.
At around 1:45 a group of the customers walked around looking at the empty booths. They were not happy with the early exits, and took note of who the companies were.
The morale of the story is to follow through with what you agree to. If you agree to do the show, leave enough staff behind at the end to pack it up and handle the slower crowds. It takes years to build a good reputation. Make sure that at the end of the show your reputation is not being torn down with your booth.