By Lynn Savage
Trade shows can seem like a necessary evil. Everyone goes to one eventually, but is anyone really enjoying themselves?
Maybe I’m an outlier (not the same as an outright liar!), but I like spending a lot of time at the CLEO trade exhibition. I compare a well-attended trade-show floor to an old-fashioned open air market: vendors presenting both their wares and their expertise, scientists and engineers trying to find the right equipment for the right price, browsers of various ages and professional statuses focused on their missions.
I enjoy a rousing good photonics-industry trade show. Mind you, I’ve never had to go in looking to purchase a $100,000 laser, microscope or even more expensive top-of-the-line piece of equipment for a lab or a factory. My lot has chiefly been to roam from booth to booth like an explorer in a vast wilderness. And what’s not to enjoy? Companies large and small fill the exposition space like the traders of old. Especially fun are the frenetic (and often oversized) displays by Coherent, Newport, ThorLabs, Edmund Optics, Ocean Optics, and others.
Personally, I enjoy browsing; one can learn a lot by examining the copious amount of lasers, optics, meters, light sources, power supplies, et cetera, and the white papers, spec sheets, and such that go along with them. Then, you get to talk with real, live people eager to discuss the merits of their company’s goods or services.
Browsers such as myself are only one type of person that you will see at CLEO’s expo, or any other trade show floor for that matter. In no particular order, you will run into:
- The Casual Browsers
Attending the convention on business other than selling or buying, the C.B.s have enough time to look around and maybe catch up with some old friends. Will talk your ear off if you let them, but tend to be polite enough to move along if you need to engage with someone else — like a paying customer!
- The Serious Buyers
They may not walk away with a handshake, but they are shopping with a purpose. Whether it’s to buy one big-ticket item or to establish a new source for a reliable stream of critical subassemblies, the S.B.s are eager to discuss their requirements with old friends and sales reps they’ve never met in order to match the specifications they need, within budget, of course!
- The Hunter-Gatherers
Often the first-time conventioneer, and sometimes the harried parent looking for a neat trinket to bring home to the kids, the H.G.s roam purposefully from booth to booth looking for the free swag. Related to the Candy Snatchers (below), the swag-obsessed are not mollified by logo-drenched bags (paper or plastic), pens or even mugs. No, they are searching for the best of the made-overseas treasures: T shirts, water bottles, ear buds. If they can score a laser pointer, that’s worth the entire trip right there!
- The Candy Snatchers
This isn’t their first convention, and their kids have grown — perhaps even moved out of the house! In other words, they don’t need swag; instead, they need a little bit more sugar in their systems to get through another long afternoon of pounding the pavement inside the exposition area.
- The Occasional Journalists
“Occasional” in that you don’t see too many of them inside the exposition area. When you do, they are almost certainly a member of the trade and academic presses — editors and staff writers attached to Laser Focus World or Physics Today, for example, or freelance writers such as yours truly. We don’t bite, and we usually love to chat.
- The Dashers
These people are in a hurry — almost always on their way to a meeting, a technical talk, a plenary, or anything else far more important than hanging out in the trade expo. They can be brusque, and might even cut you off in the food line, but they’ll be gone in a femtosecond!
- The Ubiquitous Salespeople
The optical table to your laser, the eyepiece to your microscope, the neodymium to your YAG — these men and women are the corpuscles that make up the lifeblood of the trade show. Sure, they tend to be on commission and eager to make the sale, but they are always knowledgeable, almost always friendly, and are there to start and maintain a relationship with you that will last for years to come!
Getting the most out of a visit
So, what is your plan of attack for this year’s CLEO? The smart money says that devoting a good amount of time to the trade expo will help expand your personal network as well as your base of knowledge, no matter what your professional niche may be.