“I was an exhibitor for 20+ years in the metalworking industry where I discovered the pervasive problem of lead follow-up after a trade show. I solved the problem with a very practical solution. At the time, I was also the chairman of the National Machine Tool Builders Association (now AMT) and showed my solution to my committee members. When they too admitted they had the same problem it gave me the idea to start a business that would provide the solution to other companies. So in 1986, I founded and managed (until 2009) a national trade show marketing services organization that American Airlines named ‘One of the most innovative companies in the country,’ and a ‘Best Practice’ in trade show marketing.” My company processed more than 1 million trade show generated sales leads for other exhibiting companies, and my company generated more that $10 million dollars in sales. In 2009 I sold the company to one of its customers, and I began teaching the sales lead response and management process that I developed.”
ES. Please share with us some excerpts from your recently published book? Please share some highlights of your career in army and your war days.
Richard Erschik. I was an everyday kid, living an everyday life, in the everyday world of the tumultuous 1960’s until Uncle Sam came calling. I was inducted (drafted into the military at age 20 and served 2-years in the Army on active duty. My recent book is a story about my time served. It’s available on Amazon.com. I went from Chicago, IL, to Ft. Knox, KY, to Ft. Hood, TX, where I was assigned to the largest weapon system in the United States Army. Simply named – Honest John, which was a nuclear capable rocket that traveled 2-times the speed of sound. In the 1960’s that was quite impressive. I adapted quite quickly and well to the military. Along with hand to hand combat and extraordinary weapon proficiency, my shiny boots were partly responsible for my promotion to SGT E5 and the rank of a Non-Commissioned Officer.
ES. As an expert in exhibition industry what subjects/initiatives are close to your heart which you are closely advocating?
Richard Erschik. There are many reasons to exhibit in a trade show. But the most important reason is to generate sales leads that eventually result in SALES and the Return On Investment (ROI) necessary to offset the cost of exhibiting. In my company (that I sold in 2009) I developed a way to generate a positive ROI and was teaching it to exhibitors before COVID-19. Trade show organizers around the world (Including IMTMA) hired me to present an education and training webinar to their exhibitors. All that has come to a halt as my business was paralyzed from COVID-19.
ES. What are the main activities of your business these days?
Richard Erschik. Just because trade show organizers and their shows have been stopped by COVID-19, it’s not to say exhibitors have stopped marketing and selling. Therefore, I now work with exhibitors (directly) and teach them how to conduct their own Online Trade Show. Or, I do it for them. Why wouldn’t they? They can do it at much less cost than a traditional trade show. They have better names for attendance than any trade show organizer could muster. And they get the option of me managing it for them, or me showing them how they can do it themselves.
ES. How is the trade show industry reopening in USA. Please update us?
Richard Erschik. Very slowly and with cautious optimism. I feel that ‘attendee’ behavior will control the pace of any return to normalcy (if there ever will be.) Attendees have to be comfortable riding in strange cars, flying on crowded planes, sleeping in hotel beds, eating at restaurants, registering at a show, walking the show floor, talking to exhibitors, and repeating all that to return home. Spouses and family concerns for bread-winner safety is a major deterrent to travel and company management is getting comfortable with their employees working from home and online. I’m not sure about India, but as I’m tying this I am still sheltered in my home and fearful of going anywhere. I’m sure that translates into fear-of-travel for prospective trade show attendees, not to even mention exhibitors.
ES. Please share with us your take on this situation and its effects on the exhibition industry in USA?
Richard Erschik. Trade show organizers once enjoyed a revenue and profit stream that has disappeared almost overnight. I can’t speak from organizer experience but I’m sure they are now looking to replace that model. Personally, I think it’s gone forever and downsizing will be their new normal.
ES. What do you see the roadmap ahead for the exhibition industry?
Richard Erschik. I see exhibitors looking for, and finding, other go-to-market methods to replace traditional face-to-face marketing. I have one that I developed and will be introducing very soon. It still does everything a trade show does, but at a fraction of the cost. Pre show marketing invites prospects to the online show. During show presentations identify and qualify potential customers. And Post show follow-up produces sales results and maximizes ROI.
ES. What can be the recovery guide for tradeshows?
Richard Erschik. I don’t see recovery to normalcy. Instead, I see more of an effort to salvage whatever can be used from the old model, to try to establish a new normal. Consequently, the word ‘hybrid’ has crept into the industry. I’ve seen a few photos of today’s trade show model with social distancing in front of registration areas and people stacked in long lines. Everyone on the show floor was wearing masks and spaced in the aisles per the new protocol. People will remember what it was, and no doubt criticize what it is. I wouldn’t want to be an organizer today trying to satisfy everyone’s expectations.
ES. What do you see as the upcoming trends?
Richard Erschik. An attempt at virtual shows, only to eventually realize that poor attendance and engagement will discourage exhibitors and force them elsewhere. I see many organizers trying to duplicate the on-site experience on-line. They have reproduction so of aisles, booths, floor to ceiling pillars, even carpet. To me, as an exhibitor, all I’d want is a forum that brings buyer and seller together and a way to facilitate the process of telling and selling.
ES. What is the silver lining of this pandemic?
Richard Erschik. Creativity. Forced innovation. Changes that were Richard Erschik. Creativity. Forced innovation. Changes that were desperately needed to benefit exhibitors. It has forced critical thinking and more focus on exhibitor needs instead of organizer wants.
ES. What do you suggest to entrepreneurs who are facing stress in these times?
Richard Erschik. Ideas are plentiful, while those who can implement ideas are rare. Step back and get a different perspective. Don’t look to repair, but replace. What has been effected by COVID-19?. I came up with an idea in 1986 and turned it into a $10 million dollar business. There isn’t anyone reading this that can’t do the same thing. Opportunities are all around after COVID-19. Look for them.
ES. What is your take on virtual events?
Richard Erschik. As I previously mentioned, virtual and hybrid shows will be an interim solution. Exhibitors will eventually realize that poor attendance and engagement will be discouraging and force them elsewhere.” As you have been an exhibitor, yourself, please take us into the mind of an exhibitor in these times “I always think like an exhibitor. I would be looking to save myself and make myself relevant by being part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. at this crisis hour as an exhibitor. Trade shows are simply a means to an end. The end being SALES. There are other was to put buyers and sellers together, which I will be introducing to exhibitors very soon.
ES. Would you like to participate in shows going ahead or you would rather spend your money in marketing elsewhere?
Richard Erschik. Yes shows. But not traditional shows.
ES. How do you see travel gradually opening up and what are your suggestions in this regard?
Richard Erschik. People here are very reluctant to travel. Airline pricing incentives and safely assurance will bring travelers back, slowly. After more than 2 million miles, I for one, am in no hurry to travel. Especially with on-line alternatives to in-person meetings.
ES. Which regions do you feel will pick up first and by when?
Richard Erschik. Here, everything is being managed locally, and by regions of the most and fewest cases of COVID-19. Those with the least will pick up first.
ES. What is your outlook towards India and its exhibition industry?
Richard Erschik. From those I talk to, there, the situation is very similar to the USA – so most of my comments also apply to India.
ES. Your message to the industry?
Richard Erschik. With my exhibitor hat on I’d say the times of organizers overcharging exhibitors for services is gone. “With my service company owner’s hat on, I’ll say, I can’t wait to show the industry what I have as an alternative to traditionally expensive trade shows.