When Derek Snavely first attended GIE+EXPO in 2015, he had no clue what to expect. Snavely had just started his own landscaping contractor business, Snavely Outdoor Solutions, in Hinton, West Virginia, and was looking to grow his small business.

“We’d been around since about 2013 and we do primarily lawn maintenance and landscaping,” says Snavely. “Recently, we’ve branched out to provide tree service and also snow removal.”

During Snavely’s first time experiencing GIE+EXPO, he treated it as a small vacation to learn about all the offerings available in the landscaping industry. He walked away from the 2015 show with amazement.

Photos courtesy of GIE+EXPO

And for him, what wowed him most was the show’s outdoor demonstration area. “There’s products in there that you didn’t even know existed,” he notes. “It’s like the amusement park for landscapers.”

The 20-plus acre outdoor demonstration area certainly serves as one of GIE+EXPO’s more attractive features for exhibitors and visitors alike. After exploring all the offerings inside the Kentucky Exposition Center, attendees can walk outside to get some real-world experience. Some exhibitors even host competitions or games in the demo area to encourage spirited use of products on display.

It should be noted that attendees who plan to check out the demo area might want to come dressed in their more comfortable work clothes.

Buying decisions.

Perhaps one of the biggest perks of GIE+EXPO’s demo area is that it helps landscape contractors make an educated decision on buying equipment. It’s one thing to see a new stand-on mower in a brochure online or talk to a dealer rep about it over the phone, but it’s a wealth of knowledge to get the chance to test drive equipment before shelling out hard-earned cash for it.

During Snavely’s second year attending GIE+EXPO, he knew he wanted to go to the demo area to test mini skid-steers. He wanted to buy one, but he felt he needed to test drive a few more of them beforehand to help him gauge what would work best for his business.

While he didn’t end up purchasing a mini skid-steer last year, he is near ready to make a purchase this time around. “I’m definitely going to go back out again, concentrate on the mini skid-steers and make my mind up.” And, as his company is expanding into tree work, he also plans to test out any aerial lifts in the demo area.

In general, the demo area can also allow businesses to see equipment they never considered before. Michael Villwock, owner of Garden Creations by Mike in Berrien Springs, Michigan, had rented out mini excavators in the past, but he never considered purchasing one until he tested one at GIE+EXPO’s demo area. After seeing one in action and driving it at the show, he opted to purchase one from a dealer near his operation’s headquarters in southwest Michigan.

“Today, that’s one of the first pieces of equipment we’ll take to a jobsite, incredibly,” Villwock says. “To me, the demo area offers the opportunity to hop on some stuff you otherwise wouldn’t think you need.”

Come with a plan.

Although the demo area can be fun to explore, Snavely recommends show attendees go in with a plan instead of blindly wandering the exhibits.

“You really need to plan your day or you won’t get to see all you want to see,” he says.

His first year at the show, he admits he didn’t plan his first day at all. “We just walked around, checked everything out.” After the first day, he and his colleagues came up with a show game plan for their second day at the show. His second year at the show in 2016, he made sure to plan before going. That way, he managed to test all the equipment on his priority list, and then hit secondary equipment later.

Villwock agrees there is value in having a strategy when exploring the demo area. Each year, he likes to make sure he tests equipment on his priority list, and then check out equipment he’s borderline interested in afterward.

With hundreds of show attendees, there will be many people all looking at the same exhibits. Snavely recommends arriving at the show as soon as doors open, especially if attendees want to wait their turn to test equipment in the demo area. He notes to be ready to stay at the expo center all day because there will be a lot of demo area exhibits to cover in two days, as well.

For first-time show attendees, Villwock encourages them to not be apprehensive about testing the equipment in the demo area. His first year at the show, he recalls spending way more time walking and looking at equipment in the demo area than riding it.

“I think some people are apprehensive to jump on and use the equipment. Spend more time on the equipment,” he says. “That’s the point of it.”

To register for the show, click here.