As the world was flipped upside down in 2020, aggregate producers were forced to think on their feet and adapt to change.
One of the notable changes for much of last year was the absence of trade shows, which have long been a staple for an industry built on equipment and relationships.
With uncertainty about the road ahead, producers and equipment suppliers are left to wonder what 2021 trade shows will look like and how they might transform in the years that follow.
State of trade shows
Through most of 2020 and into this year, trade shows were postponed, made virtual or outright canceled.
AGG1 Aggregates Academy & Expo, for example, was slated to take place in Atlanta this March. But the show was canceled due to the pandemic.
“Given everything with COVID-19, I was disappointed but not surprised,” says Karen Hubacz-Kiley, vice president at Massachusetts-based Bond Construction Corp., commenting on AGG1. “It’s exceptionally disappointing that we’re losing the whole educational aspect of that because we all utilize that.”
Trade shows offer a variety of benefits to attendees, including those educational sessions and networking opportunities. But the most obvious component of trade shows that’s currently missing is the equipment producers can explore.
“If I’m going to a trade show, I want to see equipment,” says Mark Krause, managing director for North America at McLanahan Corp. “I don’t want to see fancy displays. I’m going because I want to see equipment because that, to me, is what draws people into a booth.”
With AGG1 canceled, Krause and his company are circling MINExpo International on the calendar this September as the first large-scale North American industry trade show that will take place. A question remains, though: How many people are going to attend?
“There’s a majority of our people right now saying ‘let’s not invest a ton of money because nobody is going to come,’” Krause says. “I am the exact opposite. I am thinking people have been cooped up for so long – and, again, we’re anticipating that aggregate is going to have some kind of infrastructure bill by then (September), hopefully, [and] that 2022 will be a pretty good year for our industry. So having a trade show in September 2021 should be a pretty popular one, more for the aggregate people than the mining.”
Future of trade shows
Consider, too, that producers performed admirably in 2020 despite the absence of trade shows following ConExpo-Con/Agg. Challenges ahead that trade shows will have to overcome, according to Krause, are the fact that people got used to not traveling and that businesses realized cost savings from a lack of travel.
While savings on travel are certainly helpful to bottom lines, what can’t easily be replicated for equipment suppliers right now is a physical environment where customers and colleagues are together in one place.
“We like trade shows because it allows us to get in front of, particularly, OEM customers all at the same time,” says Brian Vrablic, director of sales and marketing at Rulmeca Corp. “That’s a very cost-effective way for us to do that.”
As a producer, Hubacz-Kiley experiences similar benefits to the ones Vrablic describes.
“For me, it’s very interesting to see new and upcoming equipment,” Hubacz-Kiley says. “You get to see your equipment dealers all in one place. It’s just a whole other aspect that we enjoy. We all work so hard, so when we get to go out and see stuff like that – the big equipment – we enjoy it.
“A lot of times, you see something new that you didn’t even know was out there,” she adds. “That’s another great aspect of a trade show. It gives you ideas, things you hadn’t thought of.”
Hubacz-Kiley believes that, in time, trade shows will largely return to form. But she envisions alterations to future events.
“I think they’re (show managers) taking all of this into consideration and that there’s another learning curve from this,” Hubacz-Kiley says. “Maybe, from now on, it will always be hybrid. With AGG1 and some of the other events, you’re also going to allow people to virtually attend. That’s one of the positive things we’ve taken from this – you don’t necessarily have to attend.
“If something’s come up, you can do it virtually and get a pretty decent experience out of it,” she adds. “We’ll go back to the way things were, eventually, but I think it will always be hybrid.”
While a hybrid event provides flexibility for attendees, there’s no replacement for seeing new equipment in person at a trade show and directly connecting with suppliers.
“As an industry, we like kicking tires, we like talking to people, we like networking and we like seeing new products,” Krause says. “I really do think MINExpo is going to do well. Again, that’s assuming that sometime in spring we have access to vaccines, so by then the majority of the population can have it. If we don’t really see vaccines until midsummer, that’s a totally different story.”