LAST MONTH, I strongly recommended you go to the national convention of the appropriate industry group important to you (July, pg 22). For most of you this is the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association convention Oct. 12-16 in Boston. The PHCC-NA convention is combined with the ISH North America trade show, which means there will be much to see and much to learn.
There was a long string of years in which I never missed one of the national contractor meetings and, at the peak, attended 22 state meetings in one year. There were so many meetings and so many people that for years I was accosted by strangers in airports saying, "I'll bet you don't remember who I am." I bet they were right, even if I thought I recognized them.
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I tell you this only so you know that I have credentials for my recommendations about conventions. I firmly believe you should attend this annual convention, and take your spouse, even if you have to borrow the money to get there. I am convinced that if you do go, and work at it, you'll learn enough and gain enough contacts that it will improve your business and personal life for years to come
And now for an assortment of advice, in no particular order of importance.
If you come by public transportation, resist the urge to rent a car. Take a taxi to the hotel and a shuttle bus to the show. Boston remains one of the worst cities in the nation in which to drive.
Concentrate your time on learning and seeing.
You'll need to pack one nice suit or sport coat, because you'll want to attend the dress-up things. For all other activities I would suggest tourist casual. Be comfortable but be sure to reflect that you can afford nice clothes. If you come wearing a work uniform or the equivalent, don't be surprised if you are treated as if you came to fix something rather than as a valued member of the association or a potential customer.
Use the schedule of events to plan the best use of your available time. Your mission is to learn as much as possible and to see as many of the exhibits that apply to your business as energy allows. Use an exhibit floor plan to mark the locations of all the exhibitors you would like to visit to best plan your route. Concentrate your time on learning and seeing. Resist the urge to impress the young guy manning the exhibit that you know more about his products than he does.
The Top Brass of most manufacturing companies will visit the show at some time or other but they will be elusive. I can assure you that the middle management and troops of the companies attending will be just as eager to spend quality time with their bosses as you may be. The company game plan in all cases is to protect and apply their VIPs to the best possible purpose. This may mean a quick look at the exhibits and intensive scheduling of important (i.e., high-dollar mechanicals) customers in the company suite.
This is Boston, and there will be much convention eating and drinking. I learned early, and I will admit I learned it the hard way, that drinking all the free convention booze was one of the worst business mistakes I could make. If you go, and if you listen and learn, you will be able to afford all you can drink and do it in a time and place that will cause you less public embarrassment.
Don't expect the banquets to be the best food you have ever eaten. Menus at these convention gang-feeds are usually fiction writing. Do get away from the convention for at least one great, overpriced, seafood dinner, which for me means lobster, at least a 2-lb. critter.
One of the very special missions that I assign to you in going to the convention is that you should be searching for what I will call a "mentor." You need to find someone who is more successful than you, who is not in your trading area, who you can call or visit to discuss your problems or problems of mutual concern.
This is the toughest but most important part of your assignment. Not all of you will be successful the first year. It is worth the effort. You need someone who is willing to share his experiences, your only expense being the time and money for a visit or a phone call. Ideally, your mentor will be no more than half a day's drive away.
Almost without exception this mentor will not be one of the convention speakers. These people, if you have your B.S. filter in place, can give you good advice, but keep in mind they probably are on the program at a minimum honorarium because they expect to sell you something.
Your mentor will be one of the intense listeners, will be sober as a judge and will not be one of the convention talkers, including those who are on the dais and those who are running for national office.
Now, I must ask you to do me several favors. First, in marking your route through the exhibits, be sure to visit CONTRACTOR magazine in Booth 338. Tell them, "Joe sent me." They work hard to deliver an exceptional, quality product and they deserve your verbal encouragement.
The second favor is that you get a blank label and wear it under your badge with the message that "Joe sent me," so that other readers of this column will know you are looking for a mentor and may be willing to step up and get to know you better. All mentors have a right to expect to benefit from a mutual exchange of industry intelligence.
And, finally, if you ignore my advice about staying away from all the free cocktails, at least have the foresight to pack a bottle of your favorite morningafter cure. You can't afford any downtime on this trip.
For more information, visit the PHCC Web site at www.phccweb.org and download the extensive information available there. The CONTRACTOR magazine booth number is 338; circle it on your exhibitors map.