Photos courtesy of GIE+EXPO

Jerry Schill, president of Schill Grounds Management in North Ridgeville, Ohio, vividly remembers his first trip to GIE+EXPO about two decades ago.

“My brother and I and one employee and a spouse drove down in a little Ford Escort – and we broke down along the way,” he says. “We were dirt poor at the time. So, when we got there, I remember walking into that trade show and the outdoor area, and I was blown away by the sheer size and all the things available to us that we had no idea existed.”

Schill and his brother were just starting their business at the time. He says the show really opened his eyes to the size of the green industry, and it encouraged him to network to grow his Cleveland-based business.

“It opened our eyes to so many things beyond equipment,” Schill says. “GIE+EXPO is where people go to learn. Education there led to consultants. Consultants led to improved processes and improved processes led to higher profitability.”

The size of the show impressed Schill upon his first trip down in the 1990s. Today, the show has grown significantly. This year’s GIE+EXPO is expected to be bigger than ever before, with more exhibitors and education offerings than in past years.

With all there is to see and do, it can be a lot for first-time attendees to take in.

“For first-time attendees at EXPO, it’s overwhelming,” says Bob Clements, president and CEO at Bob Clement International. “It’s like Disneyland. Where do I start?”

Schill and Clements have both attended numerous GIE+EXPO events over the years. They offer the following tips for first-time visitors:

Schill’s advice for contractors:

Network with professionals.

Above anything else, Schill recommends all contractors meet contractors from other parts of the U.S. at GIE+EXPO. He says networking at the show is key for a company’s growth – and he says it was key for Schill Grounds Management’s growth, as well.

“You have to network with like-minded professionals, people in your industry who love and have a passion for what you do,” he says.

While schedules during the trade show can be busy, Schill says to make time for networking in the evenings after the show floor closes. He says there are many opportunities to connect with other landscapers on 4th Street Live! during the GIE+EXPO concert series.

“Some of my most memorable moments have been at the networking opportunities, like down on 4th Street Live!, getting to know and form relationships with people,” Schill adds. “Absolutely go with a mindset to work hard and play hard.”

Prepare for the trip ahead of time.

After Schill’s first trip to GIE+EXPO, he says the one thing he did differently the second year was prepare ahead.

“We realized how overwhelming it was to go unprepared,” he says.

Before going to GIE+EXPO, he says to answer some vital questions: Why is your business going to the show? Why are you personally going? What do you hope to take away from the show? How will that takeaway improve your business or your employees? When you return from the show, how are you going to implement what you learned?

He adds that if an owner or manager plans to bring others from their team to the show, make sure to get a clear reason from them on why they want to go.

“For my staff to go to the show, they have to answer those same questions,” he says. “We just want to make sure they have a thirst for knowledge and challenge why they want to go.”

Book hotels near the events.

Since GIE+EXPO is a growing show, Schill recommends booking a hotel and travel well in advance of the show. “Don’t book late,” he says. “Hotels can be a nightmare.”

He notes that his first year at the show, his team booked a hotel too late and had to stay pretty far away from the show and networking events. “If you don’t commit to booking early enough, it gets to be a challenge and you isolate yourself,” Schill says. “So sign up early.”

Clements’ advice for dealers:
Look for new technology.

With exhibitors showcasing new equipment at GIE+EXPO, Clements recommends first-time dealers spend some time at the show looking at emerging technology featured at manufacturer booths. He says dealers should also prepare ahead of the show to check if there is any new technology their dealership might want to offer.

“If you don’t have a line of robotic mowers or battery-powered trimmers, go to EXPO and look at what’s available from that perspective. Start having conversations from that standpoint,” he says.

While a dealer might not be ready to embrace new technology, Clements says to look at it anyway, remembering that decisions don’t have to be made right on the show floor.

“Take a look at future technology, but that doesn’t mean you need to sign onto it right then and there,” he says.

Sign up for training.

GIE+EXPO offers many training sessions specific for dealers, so Clements says owners and managers should check out those sessions. Clements is also offering a Dealer Boot Camp Wednesday through Friday morning at the show.

Also, the show offers some training for technicians. Clements advises dealerships invite their technicians to take advantage of educational offerings, as well.

“The best trainers in the industry are at these,” he says. “While you’re going through a training session, encourage your technicians go through advanced training at the EETC.”

Make changes back home.

At the end of the show, list things learned and enjoyed at GIE+EXPO and then figure out which of those things can be applied at the dealership.

“When you leave, sit down and determine one thing you can do starting next week that would move you to becoming a better business,” Clements says.

He says don’t try to change everything at once – pick a few things that were impressive and feasible to work on first.

Take pride in the industry.

For dealers making their first trip to GIE+EXPO, Clements says the show should give them a better idea of the size of the industry.

“When you leave GIE+EXPO, you have to be impressed with the industry you’re in,” he says. “There’s no show in the world like GIE+EXPO. People all over the world come to it. It’s the place to be if you’re in the green industry.”