Expert tips on how to get the most out of your Precast Show experience.
By Bridget McCrea
In today’s hectic business world, it’s easy to let new business and networking opportunities slip through the cracks as you navigate through your day-to-day schedule. But there’s one opportunity that you shouldn’t miss out on – The Precast Show. Held annually (and taking place this year March 2-4 in Cleveland), this event features an impressive lineup of exhibitors, speakers, networking opportunities and a wide variety of educational offerings.
The value of attending industry events like The Precast Show goes beyond just “seeing and being seen” in today’s business world, where face-to-face opportunities can be few and far between.
“In our busy, social-media crazy world we often forget the importance of being in a live face-to-face setting with others from the business community,” writes human engagement expert Thom Singer. “Being active in your industry trade association can bring with it many benefits. There is power in being connected to other people who are active in your line of work, but it can also be easy to talk yourself out of committing to that annual meeting year after year.”
Big opportunities, short timeframe
While attending industry conferences, seminars and/or educational opportunities has proven to be one of the best things anyone can do for the future of their businesses, many professionals ignore these valuable resources.
“Conferences offer the opportunity to be introduced to several industry experts in a short amount of time – typically over a two- to three-day period – and most importantly allow you to network with others who work in your field,” writes Zach Bodack. “, an industry expert who’s a good seminar speaker – which most tend to be – will provide you with a magnitude of usable content that will be beneficial to your work and industry insight almost immediately.”
Ron Sparks, general manager at Columbia Precast Products in Washougal, Wash., concurs. He’s been in the industry since 1991 and has attended The Precast Show nearly every year since 2002. He explained that a prompt from his manager at the time pushed him to check out the event.
“I’ve pretty much been to every one ever since, with the exception of the one or two that took place during the most recent economic recession,” Sparks said.
Early on, Sparks gleaned the greatest benefit from seeing firsthand the many different pieces of state-of-the-art equipment NPCA’s supplier members and other exhibitors displayed and demonstrated.
“I was able to interact one-on-one with a large number of vendors and within a short period of time,” Sparks said. “And while we talk on the phone with these suppliers on a regular basis, seeing them in person helps us develop more camaraderie with them.”
Sparks says the “live” product demonstrations and being able to ask questions help him better understand “what’s coming down the pipeline,” and then take that knowledge back to his company to share with the rest of his team. On the educational front, Sparks said he’s sent numerous employees to NPCA courses both at and outside of the annual trade show.
In 2016, Sparks sent two employees to St. Louis to take live Precast University courses. He said he plans to enroll even more employees in the program this year.
Ultimately, he noted NPCA’s educational offerings – both at the show and year-round – are extremely valuable because they cater specifically to precasters.
Leveraging key opportunities
As president of Shea Concrete Products in Amesbury, Mass., Greg Stratis has a lot on his plate at any given time, but that never stops him from attending The Precast Show and other NPCA events. On most occasions, he arrives at the annual event prepared to meet with various suppliers and business partners. Stratis also leaves time open to meet new people, share ideas and cultivate relationships that help both he and his company work smarter, better and faster.
In the interest of “giving back” to the industry that he’s worked in for more than two decades, Stratis also shares his own best practices with colleagues in hopes of helping other firms achieve their productivity and efficiency goals.
“If we’re doing something as a company that we feel would benefit either the association as a whole or its individual members, we bring it to the table at The Precast Show and share it with others,” he said.
Stratis, the current NPCA Chairman of the Board, said attending the annual show helps him realize the value of participating in the group’s numerous committees. Initially, he joined the Stormwater Product Committee because the firm he was working for was deeply involved in that segment of the industry.
“I learned a lot from that experience and was able to take that knowledge back to my company,” said Stratis, who also leverages the educational opportunities offered at the show. “Regardless of where I was at in my career, I’ve always taken educational courses at NPCA’s conventions and shows.”
If you think it won’t pay off, think again
Dean Wolosiansky, general manager at Lindsay Precast in Canal Fulton, Ohio, said he started attending NPCA shows within a year of joining the industry. Intent on learning the ropes from other precasters and getting a “broader view” of the industry, Wolosiansky explained that the experience gave him a good idea of where his company was positioned in relation to other firms.
“There are a lot of very knowledgeable people who attend the show and very good educational opportunities for all employees – from the production employee to the ownership level,” said Wolosiansky, who has taken everything from entry-level precast courses to more specialized classes on industry regulations and compliance at the annual event. “It’s never dull. There’s always something new and fresh to learn.”
To producers and suppliers planning to attend the upcoming Precast Show, Sparks recommends reaching out to vendors in advance to see if they’re attending and to set up one-on-one meetings, dinners or coffee breaks.
“I’ve found that the networking and meetings work best when you reach out and set at least a few things up in advance,” he said. “But don’t forget to also leave some time open to meet and mingle with new people and explore new opportunities.”
Asked to share his best piece of advice for new or prospective show attendees, Stratis shared a simple message: If you think you don’t have time to attend the show, think again.
“Some people may feel like this takes time away from their businesses, but in reality, they’ll be able to gain so much back by attending,” he said. “Whether it’s a new idea, a best practice or an answer to an efficiency problem, the networking alone will cover the cost and time associated with attending the show.”
Bridget McCrea is a freelance writer who covers manufacturing, industry and technology. She is a winner of the Florida Magazine Association’s Gold Award for best trade-technical feature statewide.