The Importance of Attending Industry Events

For those of you who have read my sales articles the past few years you might remember the ones I’ve written about going to Neocon (Getting the Most from Your Trip to Neocon and Did Anything Catch Your Eye at NeoCon?).

I thought about them recently because we are starting to ramp up for our two 2019 INDEAL events. The first one is the INDEAL | WPF Conference - Together Toward Tomorrow, from March 24th – 27th in Tampa, Florida and the second is our 4th annual Champions Conference from April 15th – 18th.

As a former member of OFDA (Office Furniture Dealer Alliance), I learned the value of these events. There were always a lot of vendors showing product and giving demonstrations. Unlike NEOCON, however, it was less crowded and lot easier to look at the products and have an opportunity to talk to the factory representatives; often senior managers and owners. Another important element of an industry event is attending the presentations and panel discussions.

These offer an opportunity to learn, not just from the speakers, but from each other. I’ve often heard attendees say that they enjoyed listening to the speakers, but they got the most out of panel discussions or by speaking to people from other companies and finding out the way they do things; learning and sharing their best practices and bringing the information back to their dealerships.

I’ve also heard it said that some of the best networking and information came at night, after the official meetings were over for the day; either at dinner or having an adult beverage (within comfortable reason) with others. Having the opportunity to meet and talk with people from other markets and dealer types in a more relaxed setting can be very educational as well as inspiring.

I recommend having a goal in mind when attending an industry event. At NEOCON, one of my primary goals was to learn about any new products or innovations that might be introduced. I was curious to see if there might be a manufacturer showing a product that will set a new trend or fill a great need? Will one of these new products change the face of the industry? Sometimes I was interested in seeing if other dealers had a solution for something we hadn’t figured out. I always try to choose which events to attend by considering the R.O.I.

Something else to consider…we may like to think we’re on the cutting edge, but a great deal of what our industry develops, sells, and uses is often just a response to changes in other industries, technologies, legislation, and sometimes, even the economy. I do believe there have been great innovations in our industry, but few that weren’t the result of external forces.

The basic configuration of a cubicle hasn’t changed, but the equipment inside it continues to evolve. Desktop computers continue to be replaced by laptop computers, smaller towers, tablets, and smart phones. One user with multiple screens is no longer unusual. More and more people are checking their e-mail on their cell phones and tablets; foregoing the computer. Although it won’t disappear for a while yet, the computer mouse is starting to be replaced by touch screens that don’t require one. The keyboard and the mouse are becoming old technology as more computers operate through direct touch, voice commands, and gestures.

I remember reading that in 2014 less than 10 percent of workplace computers had touch screens, so the mouse and keyboard would still be in use… but consider this… a study from Gartner predicted that tablet sales would surpass laptop purchases by 2015. One technology consulting company predicted that by 2015, 50 percent of personal computers purchased for users under age 15 would have touch screens compared with just 2 percent in 2009. These will be the office workers of the future. How will the products we offer address these new realities and the needs of the new decision makers who will use this new technology?

Today… According to the latest figures from Statista, the number of mobile phone users in the world will reach 4.9 billion in 2018. This will be driven by the increasing popularity of smartphone usage which is set to reach 2.5 billion next year. That means next year over half of all mobile users will be smartphone users for the first time. What will this mean in terms of the types of products office furniture companies will purchase? How will this impact our own communication?

What else will impact what dealers sell?

Workstations…Cubicles vs. Open plan? Conference rooms vs. Phone booths? Privacy vs. Collaboration? Sitting vs. Standing?

These are all topics for discussion, because they all impact what dealers will be selling. How will they decide on the right showroom samples? What types of services will the dealers be able to offer to help customers maintain these products? Will these products and services lend themselves to a sustainable business model or be a short-term fad? It is important to hear from other people, even though they may be in other markets or different size dealerships, because they will be having the same challenges.

Go to an event with your questions ready to ask. Seek out people or groups talking about the issues you’re experiencing.

The INDEAL events offer members a blend of all different types of industry gatherings. Enjoy the meetings and all the great people and products there…just take a little time to prepare and ensure that you get a return for the time you invest there.

Jim Heilborn is a business consultant specializing in the office furniture/products industry, working with dealers, manufacturers, and service providers. He has been conducting training on behalf of INDEAL since 2011. He can be reached directly at 716.828.8235 or