Thursday, April 24, 2008

Optimistic Fools

Everyone has a few guilty pleasures. One of mine happens to be trade shows. I love nothing more than milling about a vast exhibit hall, stuffing a canvas bag full of coupons, brochures, business cards and pens. It’s like Halloween for grown-ups—because in addition to useless paper products, there’s lots of candy dropped in your bag.

To that end, I slipped away from the office today to bob like a bubble in a stream around the aisles of the Salt Lake Chamber Business to Business Expo at the Salt Palace.

First of all, might I exclaim, what ever happened to the Salt Palace? I used to know my way around that joint but man, it’s become huuuugggge. The expansion we’ve heard about for the past few years is for real—you could practically run a marathon from one end to the other.

Secondly, might I ask, who wants to be found out for their guilty pleasures? At past B2B Expos, I could move around the room anonymously with a handwritten nametag, gather my info, enjoy some delicious food and drink and leave without incident.

However, this year, they got my number. Literally. The registration booth scanned my business card which fed information into a name-badge-printing machine. Presto-chango, I had a professional name badge.

But the chamber also has the goods on me, which they’ll probably sell to the 250 vendors who paid at least $875 per booth to attend. One business even scanned my business card before I dropped it into a bucket for a door prize.

Yes, I said door prize. Another guilty pleasure. Despite what I know about odds and my awareness of how businesses generate leads at trade shows, I still can’t resist trying for a free set of steak knives or an overnight hotel stay.

In the end, I guess that’s what trade shows are, an orgy of optimism. It’s the chutzpah of one business to rent a booth; staff it with shiny happy people; buy enough candy and banners to lure in a few of the 4,000 attendees; and brag about what it can sell you. And it’s the curious, open-to-possibilities mindset of attendees like me. I’m not really shopping for a new investment firm or a water-cooler service. But who knows, maybe someday I’ll will be.

In the meantime, I just hope I win that gift basket filled with Western Nut’s world-famous peanut brittle. (Jerre Wroble)

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