Beyond Here There Be Dragons

To the manufacturers out there who were ICAST first-timers in 2015 and to those who will be rookies in 2016, this one’s for you. Please know that I am not picking on you here (except, of course, that I am most definitely picking on you). I understand that your first big trade show is a new and even scary proposition. In a sense, it’s unchartered territory.

Sometimes I feel that as you walk through the doors of your first ICAST, you should pass under an archway that reads, “Beyond here there be dragons.”

Being a newbie at the industry’s biggest and most important trade show is not for the faint of heart. It’s the big leagues — The Show — and should be viewed that way. ICAST is no time to “wing it.”

Since I’ve been spending a lot of time talking with ICAST rookies lately, the subject — and these ideas — have been on my mind.

Be prepared.

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It’s your first ICAST. It’s exciting. Maybe you’ve never been to Orlando (or Las Vegas or wherever), but ICAST is no vacation. Your trip should not be filled with surprises and wonder. It should be filled with plans and execution.

Study and learn the ICAST schedule — setup and breakdown times, seminar times and locations, New Product Showcase rules and deadlines, media center opportunities and more. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to assume that if you get your booth all set up, everything else will fall into place. I assure you it will not. After three days, you’ll leave enthused, confused and wondering what just happened. You’ll have met some great people, some people who wasted your time and some people you’d like to reconnect with if you could just find their cards or remember their names.

You will sell some product (perhaps not as much as you hoped). You will make some contacts (likely more than you’ll actually use). You will have seen a great deal (probably not as much as you should have). You will be tired.

And rookies suffer every disadvantage. It’s all new, so it’s all unfamiliar. Nothing can replace preparation, and the more important ICAST is to you, the more important it is to be prepared. For some rookie manufacturers, that first ICAST is also the last ICAST.

A lot of first-time ICASTers are manufacturers with a new product they believe will shake up the fishing industry. They might even be right. So they enter their brainchild in the New Product Showcase in hopes it will garner some attention and votes. It does. In fact, it wins its category and the next day media stops by the booth for interviews, photos, press kits and more.

But a lot of rookies are not ready for this.

They got their entry into the Showcase, but they didn’t prepare beyond that. They don’t have flash drives with a press kit ready to hand out that contains a news release on the product and plenty of hi-res images. They fail to effectively get their message out, and an opportunity is squandered.

No worries, though. They’ll have another game-changing product next year … right? I probably don’t need to tell you how unlikely that is. Most small companies are built on a single big idea. Too often they’re one-hit (or even no-hit) wonders. Missing out on the opportunities generated at a first ICAST can be fatal to a small company.

Trust, but verify.

There are a lot of friendly people at ICAST. It can be a lot of fun — almost like a reunion once you’ve been to a few. But that doesn’t mean that everyone is looking out for your best interests. Many are not. Many want what you have and will try to take it, whether it’s market share, a design, branding … whatever.

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Know who you’re talking to when you’re talking to them. Know who they work for and what they do. Are they in your booth to help you or not? What’s in it for them?

That said, when you’re in doubt about someone’s motivations, I think you should err on the side of openness. There’s a great deal of camaraderie in the fishing industry and real power doesn’t come from working alone. Friends may be the greatest asset you can develop at ICAST.

Keep your eyes open.

At the end of ICAST, a lot of manufacturers (especially small manufacturers) will tell me, “I didn’t have time to look around.” This is a mistake. You owe it to yourself as a businessperson to see all you can see on the show floor and to learn all you can about what your competition is doing. It’s the only time of the entire year that everyone’s in one room. Take advantage of that.

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While it’s true that few people have the time to walk the entire show floor, you can selectively check things out if you plan ahead. ASA makes it easy by publishing a list of exhibitors with their booth locations and links to their websites. You already know who most of your competitors are and you can find the rest. Make a list of the booths you really need to check out. It’s probably not more than five or 10 or 20. That makes it manageable. It’s also smart. You are not too busy and you cannot rely on what other people tell you about what they saw. You need to see it for yourself.

It’s painful to go to ICAST and see a lot of “rookie mistakes” being made. Don’t let them be your mistakes.

A rising tide lifts all boats. Let’s be that tide.