By Ronald Y. Pérez, WC&P Managing Editor
What better time to escape April showers than to head indoors and enjoy one of America’s growing pastimes—home shows and county fairs. Before running off to practice that “patented” ring toss, reverse spin on the softball-in-the-peach-basket trick or try to figure out why you had a second colossal, open pit barbecue sandwich, I’m talking about something closer to home—namely new water treatment customers.
But, you ask, where can I find more information about these events? At the risk of listing all 50 states’ websites here in a typical 3,539-result Yahoo! search (see FYI for a more regional flavor), I’ve selected three that encompass 1) the world, 2) the United States, and 3) the Northeast.
First thing I notice is an opportunity to register free to receive news and updates. Why not? If you have an email address, consider it done. Next, the site is broken into regions/countries and industries. Presuming you’re seeking information about water treatment products, scroll down and click on the “environment” category. Here, you’ll find “water treatment” and nine links to related websites, although I quickly discover this is a “hit or miss” proposition. Of the nine sites, only five offered complete connections. In addition, the shows listed here—Air Pollution, GLOBE, IFAT, World Water Forum, among others—are on an international scale. In other words, I don’t see any local TV or radio stations holding raffles for a free pool at these shindigs.
So, instead of selecting industry categories on the home page, I search by region, particularly for U.S. county fairs and home shows. To my delight, all 50 states pop up on the screen. California leads the way with 38 listings while several states have only one each. Let’s go straight to California. All 38 county fairs and shows have links to their websites in alphabetical order from the sublime (Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee) to the ominous (Modoc—The Last Frontier Fair). The key here is to search by region, and not necessarily by industry.
OK, I know what you’re thinking… is this site about breeding cows, goats, sheep and pigs? Uh, actually, yes. Have you ever been to a county fair that didn’t have some type of tie-in with farm animals? This site proves it. Much like Expo Central, it covers all 50 states with a link to each fair/show.
Visitors looking for definitive information should be forewarned—if you’re looking for water-specific exhibitors and products, it may be a tough find. First off, many of these fairs are months away and haven’t finalized their exhibitor lists yet. Secondly, county or state fairs aren’t geared around filters and softeners and instead carry a “family” message rather than an industry-driven theme. This works to the advantage of water treatment dealers in that they can stress the importance of water quality for the whole family.
Cost is also an important factor. Booths at the state fair, for example, are a lot less expensive than, let’s say, a display booth at Aquatech with a couple of nights at an Amsterdam bed-and-breakfast. It also builds on your local customer base. Word-of-mouth is more apt to prosper in this type of setting. Who knows, considering the water quality issues of fairs in the past (think E. coli and salmonella), you may even want to think about contacting your local fair’s organizers to maintain their H2O supply.
Once at the home page, you’ll want to click on the “home show” button located near the top to bypass bridal, auto and pet shows. This particular site covers a small area—northeastern states of New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania—but provides a good representation on what other geographical regions may have on the Internet.
A list of about seven shows, in chronological order, is shown as well as a link for each show. Each link gives the necessities—what, when and where with some pricing and, in some cases, what the TV ad looks like to the locals. Of course, at these shows, a reference will be made to the familiar suspects (Home & Garden TV hosts and the Duct Tape guys… no Homeland Security joke here) who serve as special guests.
Each listing also contains a “press release” link that gives visitors a run-down of what to expect at the show. It reads something like this: “The impressive list of exhibits will include building materials, contractors, decorators, doors & windows, pools & spas, heating & cooling systems, kitchens, baths, cookware, security systems, banks & mortgage companies plus so much more!” What else is there to know? Water treatment can be best described as “home improvement.”
Judging from what I’ve seen in the industry and interviewing dealers for the Dealer Profile section of this magazine, I can tell you franchises, by and large, leave it to the little guy, i.e., the independent water treatment dealer, to fend for customers at fairs and home shows. This is opportunity knocking for one who needs to grow his/her customer base and, at the same time, add cherished recognition to your business. It also serves as a chance to expand on some of the marketing techniques (giveaways, promotional items, raffles, etc.) that may not work as well at larger trade shows.
Taking in the sites
Breaks down fairs and home shows by region or industry worldwide. A site with a multitude of links around the country doesn’t necessarily make it a valuable source for water treatment dealers. If you don’t mind dialing or emailing, see where it takes you.
An unlikely source for fair info, but it suits a purpose for fair-goers and exhibitors. Take away the international angle, and it reads almost exactly like ExpoCentral. But the latter site can’t get you a Navajo curro sheep on the cheap. Something to keep in mind when traffic is slow at the fair.
Most informative of the sites, it also has less ground to cover. For those working out of the Northeast U.S., this is a must for home show finders. It can’t be stressed enough… franchises leave this open for independent dealers, so don’t ignore when customers are passing through your own backyard.
FYI: Affairs of the states
A few other sites that may be of interest to those in specific areas of the United States include:
• www.pafairs.org (Pennsylvania State Association of County Fairs)
• www.pigwings.com/fairs.html (Oregon County Fair Information and Links)
• www.mostatefair.com/county.html (2003 Missouri State Fair)
• www.mfcf.com (Minnesota Federation of County Fairs)
• www.tnfairs.com (Tennessee County Fairs)
• www.maba.org (Madison, Wis., Area Builders Association)