How Dscoop adjusted my attitude (or, Why I used to hate conferences and trade shows)

From: Label & Narrow Web (http://www.labelandnarrowweb.com/articles/2011/03/association-news)

By Thomas Moyer

So I’m on the long flight home from my first trip to Dscoop in Orlando. I got invited by our HP rep, who has been diligently trying to convince us that now is the right time for our company to invest in a digital press.

Before I continue, I should say (as the title of this article alludes), that for as long as I can remember, I have absolutely hated trade shows and business conferences of every kind...but I’m REEEEALLY trying to get over it, which is why I agreed to go. It’s not that these events are not informative and great for networking; they are. And it’s not that the people in our industry aren’t wonderful people; they absolutely are! It’s really all in my head. For example, in my deranged head, it always seems like everyone knows everyone, and I don’t know anyone (even though I do), and I end up standing at all the networking events by myself, drinking a beer, thinking about how the heck I’m gonna strike up a conversation with the guy next to me (not true either). In my head, I walk around the exhibit floor like a flippin’ zombie, aimless and avoiding direct eye contact, not sure which booths I want to check out (only partially true). And when I finally see something I’d like to learn more about, as soon as I find a sales rep, I sometimes get lock-jaw and have no idea what questions to ask (okay, that’s still spot on). And since I’m relatively new to the converter side of the business, I’m often wondering how much I should ask industry colleagues about their business, the market, and business challenges we all face, without sounding like I’m trying to hijack their top customer or obtain the recipe for their “secret sauce” (which I most definitely am NOT).

At Dscoop, I don’t know if it was me or if it was the users group itself, but this time it was different. I actually didn’t have a terrible time.

First off, it was free; well, for me at least. Since we’re on the verge of being on the verge of pulling the trigger on a digital press, HP was kind enough to fly me out there, put me up in a hotel, and pay my registration fee. Not a bad start, but I’m sure we’ll pay for it in the end, if you know what I mean. Next, they served damned good food and drinks throughout the affair: from pastas to payaya to potstickers to mashed potatoes with shallots and mushrooms, beers, wine, mixed drinks...the whole enchilada (so to speak). They also had a pretty killer celebration party on Friday night with Cirque de Soleil type performers and a jammin’ live band that had everybody shaking their corn-fed booties on the dance floor.

But perhaps most important, the community of people there was very friendly, and very open. Folks were freely sharing their experiences since their decisions to “go digital.” There were several breakout sessions every day that were specific to the label and packaging industry, and not just about digital printing. Everything from managing sales compensation programs to direct mail campaigns to Lean Manufacturing and a bunch of others. I think what was most impressive was that there were panels of label industry business owners and professionals who were very candid about how, in some instances, they’d made big mistakes in integrating digital. And (it seemed like) they were sharing their knowledge to actually help prevent other converters (i.e., competitors) from falling into the same traps. That’s pretty cool! They also opened the books on how they’ve been able to delight their customers in many ways, tap into new markets, reduce waste, increase throughput, and streamline their process. Which, in my mind, was them essentially inviting us to “Jump in! The water’s fine!” Again, very cool.

Not only were the attendees great, but the vendors and exhibitors were also noticeably non-salesy. I originally thought that HP was putting on this conference, and it would essentially be an advertisement by HP for HP. But this is truly a users group, and all the vendors and exhibitors, HP included, seemed to respect that fact. They were engaging and informative, but none of them were over-the-top selling all the time. The vendors were having a ton of fun, too. I heard through the grapevine that there was an impromptu “moment” led by the team over at GPA (a former employer of mine) at the close of festivities on Thursday night that turned into a regular guitar-sing-a-long- jamboree. Nice goin’ Ronnie P!

Now, I’m sure that other industry events could have been just as fun for me if it wasn’t ME in my head. So, was it a change in my attitude, a “moment of clarity,” or just a great conference? As they say on our shop floor, “Quién sabe?” (look it up). But after Dscoop6, maybe I can start calling myself a “recovering” trade show hater? Man, I’ve been living in California for too long!

Whatever the reason, I’m very grateful to be small part of such a great industry. So, TLMI Converter Meeting in Palm Beach … here I come!

Thomas Moyer is president of Western Shield Label Company, Rancho Dominguez, CA, USA. His email address is thomas@westernshield.com.

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