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Spring Renewal

Given what we’ve all been through over the past six months or more, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as I walked on the show floor at last month’s EHX trade show. I had been anticipating an ugly scene. After all, no one, I was told, could afford to attend or exhibit at trade shows anymore.

Well, although it was not a “great” show by traditional standards, I was nonetheless pleasantly surprised to see so many familiar faces working at booths and demo rooms and walking around Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center during these challenging economic times.

Replacing the caffeinated feeding frenzy and hype-fest product “one-upsmanships” typically associated with trade shows of the past was a more subdued and cooperative spirit that was a welcome change in these days when neither unrealistic spin nor a paralyzing attitude of gloom and doom will serve us well. Chalk it up to the renewal in spirit that the annual transition from winter to spring, cold to warm, and gray to sunny can offer the human psyche, but what I witnessed went deeper than that.

Instead of bemoaning a lack of foot traffic or dissatisfaction with “quality leads,” everyone seemed to be making a concerted effort to do the best with what they were given. The slightly more cynical interpretation could have been, “We paid to be here, so let’s be as productive as possible and talk about the future instead of dwelling on the negative.” Whatever it was, however, it was a positive step forward.

During my two days at the show, nearly everyone I spoke with expressed their interest in turning the page on the last six months, choosing to focus on fresh ideas for assisting their dealers with education and innovation, rather than sitting back and waiting for a turnaround to take place.

This new spirit was profoundly refreshing for me, especially after the mostly sobering tone of the prior week’s CEDIA Management Conference, a well-designed event where “tough love” seemed to dominate the three-day event. In contrast, my impression from EHX was that all of us have been beaten down enough already by the overwhelmingly dire situation that our country (and much of the world) is facing every day. Many of us are choosing to take charge of our own destiny going forward.

A lot of manufacturers are touting the need to return to Sales 101, in a market where business leads are no longer handed to us on a silver platter. One concern was that our channel has gotten by too easily in

the past on referrals from past clients, builders, and architects. As a result, ESCs have never really learned to become great sales people. But as times change, we all must find new ways present technical solutions and value to a less-enthusiastic client base. One manufacturer described the concept as “painting a picture” in the minds of homeowners who may never have considered hiring an integration professional in the past.

The message was a simple one, to be sure, yet it wasn’t Pollyanna-ish in any way. Everyone acknowledged the harsh reality that many ESCs have faced as they have been forced to cut payroll or even close up shop altogether. Manufacturers, in turn, have reduced their investment in marketing and advertising or even gone bankrupt as a result of the market correction.

A renewed focus from manufacturers on business and product education for their dealers seems to bode well for the sustainability of our industry. Success will always require hard work, but an optimistic and more humble attitude can’t hurt as we all work through these challenging times.