THINKING BUSINESS
a blog by Chris Barrow

Dental trade exhibitions and networking for SMEs

Having completed another three days of conference at the BDA last week I have been reflecting on the services supplied to the smaller enterprise owners who see the trade shows as a chance to network with strategic alliance partners, suppliers and clients. At The Dentistry Show we invested a lot of money in a BKH stand, complete with private office and a ubiquitous door that kept falling off its hinges! The ‘BKH office’ was in constant use, primarily by Al Kwong Hing to hold meetings with suppliers and potential partners. The rest of the BKH team held just as many meetings, mainly at the coffee stations around the floor. At the BDA last week we took the view that the expense of a similar stand would be extravagant – and we simply arrived at the trade show with plenty of meetings booked. Those visiting will have seen me spend 2 of the 3 days with my backside firmly rooted to a chair in the coffee area – carefully chosen on Thursday morning because it has a power socket close by. Thursday and Saturday were about back-to-back meetings – and huge progress was achieved. We even used the Hilton Deansgate on Saturday morning. Later on Saturday you may have even seen me with our FD Simon Trobridge and our Director of Clinical Services Manish Chitnis, populating a 36-month cash flow forecast for a prospective private squat (which we ultimatley decided not to proceed with – the numbers didn’t stack up). The trade shows are a wonderful environment in which to meet with those who don’t pay you fees – billable time is precious but strategic development time is essential. It occured to me that the various conference organisers are missing a trick here. Why not create ‘networking centres’ around the periphery of the halls, where SMEs can hire a table, 4 chairs, free wifi, power and unlimited coffee – perhaps a small partition to create some privacy (although the general hubub of the conference floor provides the same) and a shelf to store a few brochures or handouts. The ‘butchers, bakers and candlestickmakers’ of dentistry include accountants, lawyers, IFAs, asset finance brokers, trainers, consultants, coaches, graphic and web designers, media specialists and, I’m sure, plenty more on the clinical side. Just think about the extra revenue that could be created in a market for expensive stands that is suffering in the current economy. I’d be more then happy to pay a competitive price for a meeting point in a networking hub – but without all the hassle and expense of a full stand or booth – just a flag on a table would do the job. We have a stand at Dentistry Live! Much smaller than the previous one – but the team of 13 people attending from BKH will not be swarming all over it or standing around like lost sheep – we will be networking on the conference floor and scouting for coffee tables near power! I wonder whether a conference organiser will read this and catch the spirit of the idea?

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