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As someone who has attended a number of tradeshows, I can easily – and honestly – claim that the annual CEDIA EXPO is my favorite. (It's held each year in September, and will be in Indianapolis from the 5th to the 8th this year.)

As someone who has attended a number of tradeshows, I can easily – and honestly – claim that the annual CEDIA EXPO is my favorite. (It’s held each year in September, and will be in Indianapolis from the 5th to the 8th this year.)

While the other events have their plusses, the EXPO is the one industry event that I consider a must attend for anyone truly serious about the industry. Since I became a custom installer in 1998, I’ve only missed a single EXPO, in ’99. (There was a watery, panicky moment when I thought this year’s EXPO might conflict with Lauryn’s first day of school, but fortunately CEDIA and the South Carolina board of education sorted their schedules out for me.)

But what makes the EXPO so special? Here’s four reasons why I love it and look forward to attending each year and why I think you should to.

The Content
Yes, CES is bigger – WAY bigger – but that’s also CES’s major problem. You will never, ever, NEVER be able to see all of the things that you want to at CES. Make a list of what you want to see at CES, cut it in half, then pick half of *those* items and you’ll have a realistic expectation of what you can expect to see at CES. (Here’s some other lessons learned from attending my 7th CES.) In fact, just making it out of the labyrinthine Samsung and LG booth’s alive is actual cause for celebration. At that point you should probably just consider yourself lucky and retire to the safe confines of your room and spend the remainder of the week drinking in quiet, reflective isolation. (That is if you or your expense account can afford Vegas room service.)

Plus CES is spread ALL over Vegas which is another nightmare. (Pro Tip: Being able to see it does NOT mean that you can walk to it in Vegas. Consider any building that you see to be a mirage — and not The Mirage — that will constanly waver in the distance just out of reach.) At my first CES I dropped about $300 and spent countless hours in cab lines traveling from one hotel to the next to meet with a variety of appointments.

Yes, CES has more show floor space and more items on display, but a HUGE majority of those million-plus square feet is filled with hall-upon-hall of people hawking the latest plastic doo-dads fresh from Guangdong province. CEDIA boils down all of the content to the stuff that you actually WANT to see and then puts it under one roof. Halls filled with batteries? Gone. iPhone/Pad cases and other paraphernalia in bright colors and/or with unicorn/princess/Hello Kitty themes? Outta here. Car audio or computers? Not on CEDIA’s watch. Other trinkets, doo-dads and gizmos and – let’s be honest – crud that none of us care about because we’re not running a $.99 Website? CEDIA is ONLY about the cutting-edge audio, video, control and automation products that will be driving the future of this industry and which matter to us most. Plus it’s all under a single roof and you can walk to *everything* and see it all in a three day period.

The Access
Another thing I love about EXPO is the ability to talk to “the guy” at a company. You know who I’m talking about. “The guy” is that person – that ONE person – at a company that is actually able to answer the obscure question or solve that one in a million problem that only you seem to have encountered. He is also the guy that you can suggest an improvement to; the guy that will listen and actually have the power to implement this suggestion. He may be an engineer or a product manager or even the CEO, but this is your chance to actually be heard by a person that can do something.

I love CEDIA for this.

I can’t tell you how many times I have met an invaluable manufacturer contact at CEDIA just by walking through a booth and asking a question I’ve been unable to get answered. The weird programming issue, the odd bug you just can’t resolve, that suggestion that you know would make a product better? CEDIA is the place to share these ideas with the people that have the power to implement them.

It’s also a great time to put a face to people that you’ve probably traded phone calls and e-mails with. “Hi, I’m John. We’ve talked on the phone a few times and I just wanted to come and meet you in person.” That brief bit of face time can often go a long way to helping you the next time you need to call with an issue.

Another thing that helps with the access at CEDIA is the fact that there are far fewer people in attendance. Over 153,000 people attended this past CES (78 percent of which I believe held some kind of press credential) compared to around 17,600 for CEDIA 2011. If you’ve ever tried to navigate the hallways of CES — with its unusual melange of international body orders and spices and germs — then you know that you have to fight your way everywhere and actually talking to someone or seeing something often means standing bodies deep in a crushing throng that would make a Brazil vs Mexico World Cup socceer match seem poorly attended. Plus, it’s generally a foregone conclusion that you are going to come home with some post-CES sickness bordering somewhere between Bird Flu and Ebola.

The Camaraderie
For me, one of the biggest things about the entire CEDIA experience is making connections. Sure, the new products are great and the demos are fun, and I’m not gonna act like getting taken out to dinner at fabulous restaurants isn’t every bit as awesome as it sounds, but when you cut through all that fluff, what CEDIA is REALLY about it making new connections and reconnecting with the people that you often orbit the same galaxy with for several years and only get to spend actual, non-virtual face time with once or twice a year.

Custom installers are a pretty unique bunch. And where else can you go to a place filled with roughly 20,000 others that know and perfectly understand every complaint, success, gripe, struggle, and triumph exactly the way that you do? Nowhere. These guys and gals have all been in the attics and crawlspaces with you; have crimped till their hands bleed and programmed till their brains locked and understand what you do and go through on a daily basis. And that is the basis for creating a lot of friendships.

CEDIA is a yearly reunion of friends that I have made over the years of being in this business. Every year, I rekindle old friendships and make new ones. And some of the most productive meetings you’ll have at CEDIA actually happen off the showfloor, over a cold beer – or single malt – discussing this industry, sharing things you’ve learned, but far more often tapping into the immense knowledge base of others.

CEDIA lets you see that no matter how big or small your company, no matter how urban or rural your location, no matter how new or old you are or how long you’ve been in business, no matter how unique your problems, that things are pretty much alike all over. Someone else — probably multiple someone elses — has gone through what you have/are and is likely willing to share a solution that helped them resolve it.

The Education
Every year CEDIA offers tons of classes taught by industry experts on the subjects that are most pertinent to the continued success and survival of installation companies. Other classes are given by specific manufacturers that are great for dealers to get some intense hands-on training on the best practices for systems they sell and install. It’s a way to recharge your mental batteries and get new ideas and inspiration for plotting your company’s strategies going forward.

Some intriguing sounding classes offered this year include:

• Service Contracts With Teeth – Do you use them? Do you know how to use them? This class can give you the guidance and answers.

• Selling High Performance Solutions & the Luxury Market – Think the high-end is dead? Want help knowing how to sell higher-performing systems that are worth the cost? This is the place to start.

• 20 Ways to Earn Recurring Revenue – Recurring revenue is the Holy Grail for many firms, but most companies don’t know how to go after it.

• Are You Losing Money on Your Service Calls? – Service calls are an important part of business, but are they actually profitable? Count the costs, especially the hidden ones.

• Designing Control for Mobile Devices and Tablets – There’s a new thing out there making a big splash in our industry called iPad. Maybe you’ve heard of it…?

• Future Technologies – The Inside Scoop from Silicon Valley – Get a sneak peek into the technologies that you’ll be selling and installing in the months/years ahead.

• You Are Not Alone: Small Business Owners Peer-to-Peer Round Table – Ever wish you could share ideas and issues with other business owners in your same shoes? Find out what works for them and how they handled the same challenges that you face?

• Designing HDMI Distribution Systems that Work – HDMI doesn’t have to be a four-letter word.

• Home Theater Design All-Star Panel – A class featuring the combined wisdom of Sam Cavitt, Anthony Grimani, and “the father of home theater,” Theo Kalomirakis? How could you NOT want to attend?

For a full list and description of the courses offered at EXPO this year, click here.

I covered the 2011 Expo pretty extensively in my blog. To read more of my EXPO experiences and about what you might have missed from last year’s show, click this link.

If you’re on the fence about attending EXPO this year, here’s a nudge; click this link and use code CT07 at check-out and you can register to attend for FREE! (FREEDIA) Hope I see you in the halls!