I attended the AIA show in Atlanta and was left with two thoughts – Inspiring and Ineffective.
Whenever I get to spend time with architects, I get inspired. Unlike builders and contractors whose primary focus is how to make more money, architects are visionaries. They want to make the world a better place through their talents.
Yes, they have to make money to stay in business but when you talk to an architect they are more likely to talk about pushing the envelope to make a better life for all of us.
Architects are curious and never stop learning. They are looking for new and better solutions to today’s problems.
Being around architects helps me see where construction is heading as well as what problems we are facing today. This information helps me show building materials manufacturers where there is untapped opportunity for them. It also shows me how manufacturers use the wrong message to promote their product and wonder why their sales suffer.
Being around architects is a great idea, and we all should do more of it.
Why Is the AIA Show Ineffective?
While I believe the AIA show is very effective for architects. I think it is very ineffective for building materials manufacturers who exhibit at the show.
It is ineffective because, compared to other building material events, the show floor is relatively empty. There are not many architects visiting the manufacturer’s exhibits. Exhibitors that I interviewed all commented on how few architects stopped by their booth. Exhibitors spent more time talking to other exhibitors than to architects.
Of all the shows my clients attend each year, the AIA show is the one that they most frequently question its value. If they don’t eliminate it in the next couple of years, it will be one of the first things to go when the next downturn arrives.
The main reason the architects are at the show is to learn, to get CEU credits, to network, and to go on tours and to win awards. Architects sure seem to give out a lot of awards. One of their last priorities is to spend time on the show floor.
The AIA has taken steps to get more traffic to the booths by placing a number of classrooms on the show floor. What I observed was architects walking across the show floor to get to the class and then leaving after the class without visiting any booths.
I saw one booth directly opposite the exit door a classroom. I watched as the classroom emptied, and there was a rush of architects leaving the classroom. I thought what a great location for the exhibitor. I watched the sales people in the booth got ready in anticipation of some visitors, but not one architect stopped as they were rushing off to their next class.
Part of the problem is the exhibitors themselves. If their exhibit is not of interest to architects, then architects aren’t going to waste their valuable time to look at it. Exhibitors didn’t even capture enough interest for the architects to walk the aisles.
If there is any audience that asks you to “Teach Me and Then Sell Me,” it’s an architect. Too many exhibits are too sales focused as in, “Buy My Product, It’s Better Than the Other Guys.”
One company that did a good job of educating before they sold was AdvanTech and their ZIPsystem. They had several different areas of their exhibit where you learned something about a construction issue. If more exhibitors took this approach, we might see architects spending more time visiting exhibits.
Architects are also interested in seeing “What’s New” and I found a few companies that brought something new and exciting.
Unfortunately, the companies who did it right suffered from reduced traffic because the majority of exhibitors don’t have compelling enough messages to interest architects. They aren’t educating, and they don’t have anything new.
These companies are also guilty of using the “One Size Fits All” booth. They use the same booth at all of their shows and haven’t realized that what appeals to the audience at other shows, certainly doesn’t work at the AIA Show.
The sad fact is that most of the exhibiting manufacturers won’t change so it will fall back onto the AIA to find more ways to get architects to visit the booths on the show floor.
If nothing changes, the AIA show will become less and less important to manufacturers. Fewer will exhibit, and the ones that do will downsize their exhibits.
This will be unfortunate as I assume the exhibitors represent an important source of income for the AIA. It will also reduce the amount of contact between manufacturers and architects, a beneficial relationship for both parties.
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