When Atlanta Meets Chicago: 9 Lessons Learned at ProMat 2013

Written By: Will Smith

ProMat 2013 Material Handling TradeshowI am quite certain that Southern hospitality was struck a fatal blow with the invention and implementation of the revolving door.

This realization came to me when I tried, as taught in my mannered upbringing, to hold open a door for a woman following behind me. A moment of pause was followed by a moment of fumbling as I realized there was absolutely no possible way to assist this woman through the revolving door and inside the building.

I walked through the door ahead of her feeling a bit rude. (I could have continued my revolution and perhaps aided in her effort against the door, but that hospitable solution just came to me). How then, can Southern hospitality survive in a city with revolving doors! This statement is comically dramatic, but it is one of the realizations that occurred to me as I traveled to Chicago for my first ever ProMat experience.

I am from Georgia; a genuine Delta Airlines, Chick-fil-A, Coca-Cola kind of guy. I have been in the material handling industry for just over a year now and that Delta plane has flown me all over the country. I thought I had seen some things, I really did, but nothing prepared me for the information overload that was ProMat. Below is a list of the top 9 things a first-time ProMat attendee should know.

1. Chicago is cold in January. Come prepared to see single-digit temperatures and side-ways snow. The wind isn’t exactly a warm breeze either. Always consult your most trusted weather source when packing for the trip.

2. Wear comfortable shoes. You will be on your feet all day, and it is important that your feet are sufficiently supported. When the feet are misaligned in “stylish” shoes, the knees, hips, and lower back are easily fatigued. You may even notice your shoulders and neck muscles relax when you finally sit down for the cab ride to your hotel.

3. Cab drivers drive like, well, cab drivers. I had never ridden in cab until this trip. The first ride was full of excitement with pedal-to-the-metal acceleration and squealing brakes. I thought that was a one-time experience until I hailed another cab with a driver who had perfected similar driving skills. Cab drivers also have the finely crafted skill of applying the brake and horn in the same instant. There may be safer cab drivers in Chicago, but I didn’t find any in my many rides. However, I’m still here to write this, so it must not have been too bad.

4. Meet your core vendors. As an Application Engineer for Bastian Solutions, I call on these vendors on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. They help me design solutions for my customers and teach me the tricks of the trade. The vendors are eager to show off their booth, and both parties are glad to finally put a face with a name.

5. Strategically walk the floor. There is so much to see at ProMat that it is very easy to just wander around. Unfortunately, when you wander around, you skip over some areas. I would recommend starting in one corner of the show and working your way up and down the aisles. This method proved successful for me until I came within range of the cafeteria area where my nose and stomach overpowered my structured routine. All was not lost, however, as I managed to strategically walk up and down each row of the buffet.

6. See the show from your customers’ eyes. Speaking from a sales standpoint, it is important to view the new technology from your customer’s perspective. It is so easy to stand mesmerized in front of the Perfect Pick module or the card dealing MOTOMAN robot. Yes, you may have a customer that could benefit from this cutting edge automation, but each booth holds a possible solution for one of your customers.

7. Walk around with a material handling veteran. The phrase, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” is a true statement in this industry. Don’t get me wrong, technical facts and product benefits are essential, but you will never know everything.  That is when it’s important to know who to go to for the answers. A material handling veteran will have a lot of insight to offer as you walk around, but most importantly, he or she will introduce you to the people you need to know in order to be successful in this industry.

8. Walk away humble, yet determined. Speaking once again as a sales engineer, it was amazing to see the rows and rows of material handling technology, especially the automation. It is at this moment as a sales person that you realize your peddling bag is quite small and simple. I now have a desire to learn more about the cutting edge technology available and to look for applications on every sales call I make. You would be wise to do the same.

9. You will die in the material handling industry. If you attend ProMat, you have a 90% chance of never leaving the industry. I jokingly say this (and without statistical evidence) because over the course of ProMat, I heard this story time and time again. It goes something like this, “That was so-and-so. He used to work for such-and-such, and then he went to so-and-so. But they were bought out by such-and-such and changed the name to this-and-that. He worked there a few years before moving here-and-there, and now he’s back working with so-and-so.” This industry really is a big family, and if you are in it long enough, you know everyone and everyone knows you.

That wraps up my list of top 9 things a first-time ProMat attendee should know. I will leave you with a warm thought, a thought of a nice Spring day in Atlanta, Georgia in 2014. MODEX will be returning to the Georgia World Congress Center, and I hope to see y’all there. I will be the one holding the door.

I graduated from Southern Polytechnic State University with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering Technology. With a background in sales and engineering, I have combined to two skill sets to provide a warm, yet professional presence to Bastian Solutions of Atlanta. I enjoy spending time on the water whether it be boating, kayaking, swimming, wakeboarding, fishing, or duck hunting. When not on the water, I enjoy running 5k races, produce farming, playing church softball, photographing wildlife, and spending time with my family. I play guitar and write songs, but I sing them to no one. “No one” has the prettiest blues eyes I’ve ever seen.

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2 comments

  1. Michael says:

    I had the whole “how do you not be rude when you can’t open the door” conundrum when I first moved to Chicago too. Etiquette dictates the man goes through first to get the door moving, but not at too fast of a pace.

  2. SPS Chauhan says:

    Good one on Etiquette. As far as revolving door its a tricky one. I suggest to make way for the lady and let her go first :-)

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