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Last February while at the Manufactured Concrete Products Exposition (MCPX) in Anaheim, Calif., I took one of the plant tours organized by the National Precast Concrete Association (NPCA). These visits always provide me great insights on what's happening in our industry and give me great story ideas that eventually make their way into the magazine.

At this particular operation, I was impressed by the way the plant manager encouraged his team to help control product costs. Every day as employees enter the casting building to clock in, they pass a large display of the supplies and materials used in the operation. It's a wide array of inserts, anchors, ties, and caps. Next to each, the plant manager has posted their costs.

When asked about the display, our guide said it's a graphic reminder of the hidden costs of business. “Since we placed that board up there, there's been a lot less waste around here,” he explained.

Producers, like this manager, have a great aptitude for controlling costs and waste in their operations. That's why I'm surprised that there hasn't been more than a minor grumbling about some of the recent announcements about the future of the MCPX show.

Beginning in 2009, the two lead associations that currently share in revenues from the MCPX show will separate to have their own shows. Indications are that NPCA will continue its path through a new show called IconEx. There's the rumor that the National Masonry Concrete Association will reunite with the Masonry Contractors Association of America to help revive Masonry Showcase. And with still other associations sprouting their own trade shows, soon we'll find one exhibition followed by another.

Why are we seeing this explosion of association-sponsored initiatives? Associations use these galas to hook up with their members. Successful shows can also help establish the association as the perceived leader of its part of the industry. But in reality, association management leads their members to believe these trade show efforts can bring in a lot of operating funds.

It's ironic that while our industry is lumbering through one massive consolidation after another in both the producer and manufacturer ranks, our associations' leaders are urging its respective members to allocate more money, time, and staff to more stand-alone trade shows.

Who really pays for these trade show expansion efforts? You do through various hidden costs.

Each manufacturer is under great pressure to participate in each event to “support” the association. I'm certain that they just increase their marketing budgets and pass the cost to producers in their products' cost.

Then there's the cost at the association level. Managing a trade show is a big job. Key staff members who were hired originally to facilitate important projects and initiatives are drawn into show operations. How cost-effective can it be to have a senior technical engineer be a floor monitor for a week or so? The result is the continuing request for more staff funds and increased dues to accomplish the work items of the association's various committees and task groups.

And consider your business costs. Producers can't afford to take the time to attend every worthwhile event. And as this happens, there will be fewer and fewer quality leads for the exhibitors who attend. And then there is the added expenses of attending the association's national convention, which is often held at a different time and place.

But these worries are for the future. I look forward to seeing you at MCPX. Hopefully, you'll be interested in learning more about our editor's trip to bauma in April. We'll have information at our booth, or you can turn to page 13 in this month's issue.

ryelton@hanleywood.com