The SCTE Great Plains Chapter Vendor Day has run the full gamut, from a moneymaker to barely breaking even. We’ve learned many lessons over the years with one of the most important being the necessity of teamwork. Think of Vendors Day like a sport—it all starts with a great game plan. Without everyone working together, and understanding what needs to be done, you’re not going to win the game. Not one Great Plains Chapter board meeting goes by without some aspect of Vendors Day being discussed. Last year three of our nine board meetings were devoted solely to the topic. Each meeting was followed up by countless e-mail discussions and phone conversations. Post-Vendors Day, we talk about everything that was said and heard during the day and get ready to start planning the next year’s event. Great Plains Chapter:
Humble beginnings
Don’t be discouraged or disappointed by a meager turn out for your first few vendor shows. The Great Plains Chapter originally did not have a show of its own, but rather scheduled meetings and seminars to coincide with the Nebraska Cable Communications Association (NCCA) annual show. However, the NCCA show was aimed more at management and programmers with little or no thought toward engineers and technology, so we branched out on our own. The Great Plains Vendor Day started with only four or five vendors, who also presented seminars. After the seminars, we set up tables for them in the hallway. Now there are over 70 tables at our events representing more than 100 different manufacturers and distributors. Planning the plays Pay careful attention to vendor requests as they are footing the bill. Ask for as much information as possible on your vendor registration form. Find out what products they are promoting, the number of people planning to attend, if they need AC power or RF signal, and whether they require space for a pop-up. The more organized the show, the more vendors and attendees will benefit. And the more they get out of this event, the more likely they will be to participate in the future. While many of the vendors will tell you they would like to see the exhibit area open for the entire day, feedback from our shows has demonstrated that an entire day is too long. Splitting the day into a few hours in the morning and a few in the afternoon is too disorganized. When we opened the exhibits only after lunch we lost a number of the attendees who could only attend in the morning. The formula that seems to work the best for us has been to open the exhibitor area at the end of the last morning seminar when we also open the lunch area. We then keep the exhibit area open for the rest of the day. With this arrangement, the morning attendees can visit the exhibits before they leave, and the people who have to work in the morning can see the exhibits in the afternoon. Remember the more attendees the vendors get to see the better. An added benefit is that we can set up lunch a half hour before the morning sessions end and the exhibit floor opens. Exhibitors can eat before attendees arrive at the exhibit area. However, while this works well for us, you will need to determine what schedule works best for you. Choosing the facility We selected Harrah’s Casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa, because it is one of the larger facilities in the area, has reasonable rates and is accommodating to our needs. Plus, the casino helps attract the vendors. They may not admit it, but I know they enjoy it. If you have a facility available with an added attraction like this, my advice would be to use it. Certain requirements exist besides space. The facility must include adequate power and RF signal. Does the facility have cable? Many of the vendors need it to properly display and demonstrate their products. Are you providing lunch? If not, are there eating establishments on the premises adequate to accommodate the number of vendors and attendees you anticipate? If attendees leave the facility, there is a good chance they will not return. In our case, the rate for renting the facility hinges on the food and beverages ordered. If we order a minimum amount of food and beverage, the cost of renting the facility is almost cut in half. Even though the cost per person for a banquet meal may seem high, the reduced facility expense makes it cost effective. Also, you create increased sponsorship opportunities for the breakfast, lunch and reception, which provide additional exposure for the vendors and help you achieve your ultimate goal of making your Vendors Day pay for itself. Choosing what type of food and how much to order, proves to be a balancing act every Vendors Day for the Great Plains Chapter. While our show has been profitable every year, in 2002 we were in the black just over $200.00 even though the show churned over $20,000 in receipts and expenses. The reason? We had not kept an accurate count of attendees and had been a little too extravagant in our choice of hors d’oeuvres and refreshments for the reception. Choosing a date This is not as easy as you would think. Two years ago we changed the proposed date of our show three times to accommodate vendor schedules. We constantly check the calendars of as many possible participants as we can. You do not want to butt heads with another major show or event in your area. This year, we decided on April 1 for the 2004 Great Plains Chapter Vendors Day. We had to change it to accommodate our board members’ ability to attend SCTE’s Chapter Leaders Conference. As soon as you pick a date, get the word out. That way someone else might choose to schedule their event on another day. My best advice is to choose your date early, but stay informed of what others are doing. Attracting attendees One of the main things to remember is that the vendor’s goal is to show products to potential customers. The vendors want to see as many attendees as possible. Remember that the person that may have the greatest influence on purchasing a new vendor product is not always the manager or even the purchasing agent. Field personnel, technicians and installers often can better understand the impact that a product can have on their productivity. These field personnel can be the best spokesperson for a vendor. Our job is to bring in as many attendees of all job classifications as possible. The Great Plains Chapter does this by making our event free for attendees, including a continental breakfast, lunch and evening refreshments. Therefore, cost of admission is not a deterrent. I have heard that many vendor days across the country charge an admission. While most are quite successful, I also have heard about a vendor show that almost was destroyed because the main company in the area would not pay to send anyone. Although our Vendors Day and workshops would be worth the price of admission, we have kept it free to attract as many attendees from all levels as we possibly can. Seminar choices Having timely seminars is a must! It is still the seminars that attract many of the attendees. Many times management cannot visualize the benefit of allowing their personnel to attend a vendor show, but most do realize the value of the training their employees receive at one of our seminars. The way the industry is evolving, it is not difficult to come up with timely topics, but remember you are trying to attract all levels of technical, service, installation, telephony and engineering personnel, so you have to try to provide something for everyone. We set up two seminar rooms and present six to eight different topics throughout the day. We have at least one seminar targeted to each attendee level. Building a contact list Look to the vendors on your chapter board and for those listed in the industry links section of Normally they will have card files filled with the names of other vendors. Check also with the purchasing agents at your cable and telephone systems. They can be a good source of who is doing business in your area. Finding attendees is a little more challenging. When I first became a board member of the Great Plains Chapter, we were in a state of flux as far as contacting either attendees or vendors. A local vendor had underwritten our chapter for a number of years. We paid all the bills, but the vendor made the arrangements. They booked the facility, took care of the printings and the mailings, etc. All the board had to do was run the event the day of the show. The year I came on board, this company was being sold. Preceding the sale they switched computer operating systems from Mac to Windows and eliminated all the computers that housed the Vendors Day information. They saved a copy of the mailing lists, in Mac format, onto a floppy disk. That floppy disk was corrupted, and the lists were gone. We needed to build a new attendee contact list. I contacted SCTE national and NCCA for a list of current members in our region. Another board member got a list for Iowa and Nebraska public utilities and cable companies. We contacted all the companies on these lists and asked for contacts. With a lot of time and effort, we recreated a list, and actually had an increase in attendance. Since then one of our main goals has been to move into the computer age. Now we contact all of our attendees via e-mail. The last two years attendees only could register online at our Web site. They filled out a form, and we e-mailed them a personalized admission ticket. The main objective of this process was getting their e-mail address. We now have over 800 working e-mail addresses in our database. This ticket idea also facilitated the check-in and registration process, which is no easy task. Over the years we have experimented with several different methods. We’ve tried laying all of the badges out on tables in a “help-yourself” style. We’ve organized the badges by company name, and we’ve also placed attendee names in alphabetical order. These methods did not give us an accurate head count. Now we use the admission ticket, and it seems to work well. I make the ticket the same size as a dollar bill and suggest attendees print it out and put it in their wallet, so they are sure to bring it with them the day of the show. The ticket is exchanged for their name badge. Listed on each badge is their name, their company’s name and their company’s location. All pre-registered attendee name badges are in alphabetical order in file boxes, but it still takes several people manning the registration table to get everyone checked in. Registration is a difficult job and not a very glamorous one, but it is one of the most important tasks of the day. This especially is true if you are providing lunch because the lunch count is based on the number of attendees. At $12 to $15 per head it does not take a large error to add up to a substantial loss in revenue. Exhibit hall layout Space requirements can be a real nightmare. Do not arrange for more activities than you have space to handle. One year we scheduled too many seminars, and had to wait for the last one to end so we could remove the partition and use it for the Cable-Tec Games. Needless to say, when the games finally concluded, after seven o’clock that night, there was no one left except the participating contestants and the judges. Another time we had to remove the partition between the exhibitor floor and the lunch area, because the vendor tables required more space than we originally allotted for them. In this case, very few vendors or attendees realized our oversight. However, some of the vendors mentioned they liked it better when the exhibit area was closed off during the setup period. Another consideration is the proximity of various vendors to one another. Some vendors want to be next to each other, while other vendors want to be on opposite sides of the floor. When they make this known to us in advance we try to accommodate them. But, for the most part, our show is first-registered, first-served, with the exception of sponsors. They get the best locations on the floor. The seminar rooms present an additional set of problems. Many end up being filled to capacity, with some attendees missing out. You are limited by the room size available at your facility, but most of our seminars attract between 60 to 80 attendees. Cable-Tec games You need to decide if Cable-Tec Games are going to be part of your event. I recommend that you include them because they are one more way to attract attendees. They provide a venue for testing and measuring technical prowess. The first step is to select competition categories. Some of the categories we use are MTDR operation, coax cable splicing, signal level and cable jeopardy. You can contact SCTE National for a list of available categories or simply visit for more information.
SCTE National also can help you locate local vendors who might be willing to provide the MTDRs and/or signal level meters for the competition. These vendors often have pre-built test boxes, with known faults and losses, and testing worksheets, which make the competition go much easier. If you choose cable splicing as one of your categories, make sure you have plenty of cable and all the different tools and fittings that will be needed. We were scrambling one year, because we did not prepare. Our chapter finds the cable jeopardy games the most fun. They also have the most spectator appeal. NCTI has two traveling sets of equipment. Each set includes four hard hats with red lights mounted on top that are wired to buttons. The lamp of the first person to press their button is lit. NCTI also has the question and answer software to run the game. It is a lot of fun to watch, and the competition always draws a crowd. After you have chosen the categories, you need to determine how the winners will be selected. There is a scoring software program available from SCTE National that tallies the results from all the different games. Medals are awarded for first, second and third place in all categories, as well as for the overall Cable-Tec Games Champion. Contact the National Cable-Tec Games Committee for the medals. They cost between $100–$150 total. In addition to a medal, the Great Plains Chapter also awards our overall grand champion full registration to SCTE Cable-Tec Expo, including the cost of travel and hotel. At Expo, he or she competes in the National Cable-Tec Games competition. The games are an exciting part of Vendors Day. Make sure you start them early enough, even concurrently with other activities, so that some attendees still are there when you get to the award ceremon. It usually concludes our Vendors Day. Make your Vendors Day pay for itself It is a balancing act to make sure your vendor show will break even. Getting sponsorships is a must. We do a lot to ensure sponsors are rewarded for their participation and get their money’s worth. We start by including their company logo on posters located around the facility. We also have a PowerPoint presentation running throughout the event thanking them for their sponsorship. Whenever an announcement is made, we ask everyone to visit the sponsors’ tabletops, and thank them for their help in putting on the show. Their logos appear on the exhibit floor map. We also give them a plaque to display on their tabletop recognizing them as a sponsor. To determine the number of sponsors you will need, calculate how much the show will cost. Include the rental cost of the facility, setup expense and the cost of printing and mailing. Add an additional amount for miscellaneous expenses and don’t forget to include a profit margin.
With your cost analysis complete, try to figure out how many vendors you might be able to attract. Divide all the expenses by the number of vendors you anticipate, and this should give you an idea of what you need to charge per vendor space. We charge $275 for a six-foot skirted tabletop. We also try to get around $7,000 in sponsorships for food and beverages, as well as a vendor to sponsor the team T-shirts for the Cable-Tec Games competition. As I mentioned earlier, our one-day event churns over $20,000. But remember, we started on a shoestring, and you can too. Have a seminar discussing all the different types of test equipment on the market today. Ask all the equipment vendors if they can bring samples of their test equipment to demonstrate during the seminar. They will all want to come. After they all agree to attend, ask if they would be interested in displaying their products, on a table, in the hallway or outside the seminar room. Humble beginnings: You’ve got to start somewhere. This article is adapted from a paper presented at SCTE’s Chapters Leaders Conference 2004. For more information on CLC, visit Richard Longwell is lead technician at Time Warner Cable in Lincoln, Neb. He also is secretary on the board of the SCTE Great Plains Chapter. Reach him at [email protected].

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