The Truth About Dealer Attendance at GIE+EXPO

Why dealer attendance at GIE+EXPO has dwindled over the years, and why exhibitors and show management can't seem to figure it out.

I was reading another dealer magazine this morning and saw something that caught my interest. The editor was talking about a GIE+EXPO planning meeting that took place back in 2009. I, too, was offered a seat at the discussion table. And I, too, was honored—and eager—to help play a role in identifying ways to make the show more of an attraction for dealers.

However, I was not eager to drink the Kool-Aid. Having talked with dealer after dealer from all parts of the country, I knew why many dealers had given up on GIE+EXPO. I offered up this information to the manufacturers and distributors in attendance. The general consensus was, "Yes, but ........."

Give them credit for trying. To be fair, show management and many exhibitors have recognized the importance of dealer attendance. They're also trying to come up with ways of attracting dealers.

  • They moved the show to October so it wasn't so hot, like it was in July.
  • They have Bob Clements conduct fantastic educational workshops.
  • They created a service pavilion which appeals to not only dealership owners, but also their technical staff.
  • Stihl helps put on a great breakfast roundtable session.
  • The show floor continues to attract the major players in the industry.
  • Free concerts offer an opportunity for some fun time.


Louisville, Louisville, Louisville. The show continues to take place in Louisville year after year. The argument is that Louisville is within driving distance for a high percentage of the industry's dealers. It's also a cost-effective city in which to hold an event. But there's a flaw in that line of thinking. I use this analogy to explain it: Jack's Diner is within walking distance of my house, and their food is really cheap. But If I ate at Jack's day after day, I'd get really sick of eating at Jack's.

Many dealers are simply sick of going to Louisville year after year. That's why so many have made attending Louisville an every-third-year type of thing, or have quit going altogether.

Dealer Meetings. A second issue is the phenomenon known as fall dealer meetings. Some dealers have to attend several meetings every fall. This can become costly and time-consuming.

The major manufacturers have been resistant to hold their annual dealer meetings in conjunction with GIE+EXPO. Why? Because they like putting on their own meetings/parties. They like to wine and dine their dealers. They like the captive audience. They like the fact that they aren't surrounded by their competitors. You can't really blame them for that. But you also can't blame dealers for not wanting to pack up the station wagon and drive to Louisville in the midst of all of this dealer-meeting activity, either.

Dealers just aren't a focus anymore. That sounds harsh, but it is a fair statement. I'm not saying that most manufacturers don't view dealers as important. I'm just saying that most manufacturers are simply more interested in marketing to end-users (i.e. contractors).

Just look at the manufacturers that do not advertise in dealer magazines anymore, compared to those that advertise in contractor magazines. The manufacturers that aren't very interested in recruiting new dealers are pretty easy to identify. That's not a criticism. It's merely a statement of fact.

Dealers don't need a national show. Dealers stay in close contact with their manufacturers through rep visits, dealer meetings and service training. Most dealers tell me that they don't need to travel to Louisville every October for this very reason.

The educational opportunities at GIE+EXPO are outstanding, but many dealers don't care. They get plenty of business advice from free magazines and websites, not to mention their suppliers and related dealer councils. And if a dealer is really serious about making business improvements, he can hire a consultant like Bob Clements to personally visit his dealership. Hundreds of dealers are already doing that.

So why would a dealer attend? You tell me. What needs to happen so you will make GIE+EXPO a must-attend event every fall?

I believe there are still compelling reasons to go:

Number one, you can look at not only your own lines of equipment, but also competitive lines. GIE+EXPO creates a great venue to research all of the options your customers have.

Secondly, you can identify some niche products you could take on to create some competitive points of difference in your market.

Thirdly, hiring a Bob Clements could prove to be a very wise thing to do. But seeing his seminars while in Louisville is equally smart.

Finally, you need to maintain your relevance. If you don't attend GIE+EXPO, many factions will continue to look at you as this small segment of the industry that's disengaged, complacent, and really not worth worrying too much about. That's unfair, but reality.