To some people, the answer to the question about this annual pilgrimage is easy: “I have always gone and always will.” While this is noble and loyal to SCAA, is it a thought out strategic decision or just an afterthought? Business school 101 would suggest that you should have an actual REASON to be in Portland this year. This article will help you not only to make that strategic decision, but also give you a guide to get the most value out of the trip.
Why go? Who pays? What’s the business proposition?
In order to answer these questions, it helps to look at who actually goes to the event. There are VENDORS, CONSUMERS, and COMPETITION PARTICIPANTS. Let’s answer the question for each group:
VENDORS, it can be assumed, have something to sell and think they will be in front of many potential buyers. The business shells out a ton of dough to send a team of people, a fancy show booth, and pay for a slot fee on the convention floor. (And the extortion money of the union convention workers, but that is a whole other article!) The weekend can quickly run the average vendor over $10,000, which their company grudgingly pays. This is a huge expense with the risk that no one will show up and no sales will result. In that case, it is just a company perk/boondoggle that a couple of employees can use as an expensed mini-vacation. However, with the SCAA event people do come, lots of people, so the risk is lowered. There are two types of outcomes for the vendor.
The first and obvious one, is immediate sales as well as a full pipeline of opportunities. If sales from the show surpass the cost of the event added to the goods sold, it was a massive success!
The second is something more ethereal called ‘branding’. Some would argue that branding is just an excuse from the marketing department as to why there were no sales generated:
“It was ‘BRANDING’ sir! Now when people browse the grocery aisle and they need a portafilter screen brush they will think of our company and product first! We will never know how much money was actually generated from this branding, sir and that is why our team is needed to translate data collection into success numbers for the branding program.”
OK. So that is a bit tongue-in-cheek but it can happen that sales are not generated and other metrics are used to justify the cost of participation. Branding and messaging are in fact desired outcomes and a convention like this one targets a specific audience with high impact.
CONSUMERS are those folks that come to get information from the convention participants. Unless they are local to the convention site, there is also an impressive expense to attending. There is airfare, hotel, show pass, and time away from the business to consider. It is easy to rack up $1500 pretty quickly. The company they work for often pays this for, but just as often it is the small business owner that is making the trip and removing themselves from the business for four days.
The reasons consumers attend are varied but come down to two groupings: To LEARN something or to BUY something. Both reasons lead to the desired outcome of MAKE A BETTER BUSINESS and therefore MAKE MORE MONEY. This convention caters to both groupings extremely well.
If you attend to learn something, you can plan your learning early. Later in this article, you will see some planning questions to help get the most learning possible. There are several exemplary classes that are put on by volunteers from the coffee community (including the author of this article). Some are presenting the SCAA class materials and some are conducting lectures to inform and stimulate conversation. They are also identified by their intended audience such as roaster, barista, grower etc. Now you can focus on the classes and lectures that will have the most impact on yourself and your company.
If you intend to buy something, you can find all of the vendors that make or grow the thing you want to buy and you can talk to all of them in one weekend before making the final buying decision. A piece of advice for this consumer; the vendors appreciate knowing that you are a serious buyer and that you are shopping around. This allows them to focus immediate attention on you rather than just getting info to follow up later.
COMPETITION PARTICIPANTS are often also VENDORS or CONSUMERS that have chosen to show their skills at the espresso machine, roaster or somewhere else. There is glory in victory that surpasses the cost of attending. There is an unlimited amount you can learn from your peers by being a contestant, even if you are great at what you do. If you think you are ‘all that’ but cannot afford to go, find a sponsor and show everyone what you know. But also use the opportunity to expand your knowledge in other areas of coffee.
How to get the most out of your conference
No matter what your status going in, you must have a plan for the trip or it is just a bunch of noise and a waste of time and money. Here is the strategy that can be used to help facilitate your time at this or any trade show.
Answer the following questions thoroughly:
1) What are my metrics for a successful conference? What would make it worth attending?
a. Number of sales / prospects?
b. Items learned?
c. Purchases made?
2) What do I want to learn?
a. Can I get that in a class? Which ones?
b. Who is exhibiting that might have that knowledge?
3) What MUST I make a buying decision on while there?
a. Which vendors have what I am looking for?
b. What do I need to ask each one?
4) What are some items I am CURIOUS about but don’t NEED to buy?
a. Which vendors should I visit?
Now it is time to structure your timeline and action plan.
First: Sign up for all of the lectures, classes and competitions you need, to learn what you need to learn.
Second: Build a spreadsheet of the times available from Friday-Sunday. Plug in the class / lecture / competition times and do not overbook. Third: List the MUST vendors and the CURIOUS vendors and find their booth numbers. Make a map and a visitation plan so you get the information and purchases you need.
Fourth: Schedule time each night to review the day, enter business card contacts into your organizer that you want to remember. Review the next day’s plan so if you need to change it you do not do it on the fly and miss getting something done.
Lastly: Leave your mind open to finding at least five “AHA’s” and write them down when you find them. They could be a new product, new potential business opportunities, or just something you learned that forced you to unlearn something else. (Like fire is a good roaster cleaner although it is not a suggested technique, which was learned at the first SCAA attended by the author.)
See you in Portland!
Rocky can be reached at rocky@INTLcoffeeConsulting.com