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The Value of Participating in Trade Shows

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The Value of Participating in Trade Shows – Interview with Becky Jacobson

In this episode of Small Business Big World, we’re joined by Becky Jacobson, representing HospitalityMaine, to dive deep into the world of trade shows and details the immense value they offer to small business owners. From networking opportunities to showcasing products and services, Becky shares invaluable insights and practical advice on how to maximize your presence and ROI at trade shows. 

Chris Cluff (host): Welcome to Small Business Big World, our weekly podcast talking about all things small business. Today’s a really special episode for us. We are here at the Hospitality Maine Expo, which is really cool. I have Becky Jacobson here who is the Executive Director of Hospitality Maine. Welcome.

Becky Jacobson (guest): Thank you.

Chris: Thank you for joining us today. It’s really exciting. You know, today’s one of your biggest events of the year.

Becky: Right, it is the biggest, the biggest event of the year.

What is the goal of this trade show for HospitalityMaine?

Chris: So, you know, certainly you know talking about trade shows. We all have probably been to them. You know what’s the goal for Hospitality Maine in terms of, you know, having this event every year. You know, we talked a little bit yesterday about it, but I think the landscape has changed a little bit, right.

Becky: The landscape has changed, but I think one of the goals of this trade show is it gives our hospitality industry a single source location to find everything they need to run their businesses. And we say everything from your napkins to your point of sale system, your uniforms, insurance, you name it, right.

Chris: Everybody’s here, right, everybody here. If we need a nap later, Cuddle Down’s down there.

Becky: And you know, in this day and age, when everybody can order online, the face-to-face piece is harder to come by. So this is a great opportunity for the vendors to see some of their existing customers without traveling all over the great state, right, and for the customers to find things they didn’t know they needed.

Chris: Yeah, so you know, it’s easy to order what you know you want, right, what you know you need. But how do you find the things you don’t know about.

Becky: Absolutely, and these kind of shows are really good for that, yeah.

Networking at trade shows

Chris: And we were talking yesterday, since you know everything’s changed since COVID and all of our industry, certainly in hospitality, and I think you said it. That you know we don’t necessarily see our clients every day, right, because now everything’s on Zoom, everything’s by phone, everything can be ordered online and being able to be here and see those vendors that you may only see once a year, or the friends in the industry you may only see once a year. You know the networking is probably really good too.

Becky: So the networking is kind of fun to watch because the show hasn’t opened yet and what you’ll see down on the show floor is all the vendors talking to each other. So some of them have been doing this show for over 20 years. So they come in and they’re like, hey, it’s the only time I see you every year. And then when we do open the doors, there’ll be a lot of interaction amongst the attendees, because it’s a small industry in some ways, so they know each other.

Chris: My family’s, in the hospitality business and I always say if our neighbor restaurant runs out of straws, they can come over and see us. And I think that’s one of the really great things about hospitality in the state of Maine is everyone’s friendly competition.

Becky: Absolutely, and especially in a year like we’ve had in the last 12 months, with Mother Nature wrecking havoc in all sorts of ways, everybody has stepped up to help everybody else, which is awesome.

Providing value through education at trade shows

Chris: Not only is it visiting the vendors, visiting your peers, getting to know everybody. You deal with a lot of the folks that come here every day that you’ve never met either. But you guys do a lot of education here too, which is is kind of unique to a trade show because today we all have to learn new things every day. And you’ve done a really good job assembling different subject matter experts to do classes, right?

Becky: Right. So it’s one of the things that we try and add is that educational component, which gives people another reason to come, and so we’re doing four seminars this morning. The first one is an active shooter type training.

Chris: Which is crazy that you have to think about it.

Becky: Yeah, it is crazy, but it’s real. Yeah, and we are doing a tip pooling and tip credit, so very industry-specific training. We have somebody doing training on how to maximize additional revenue in your properties by doing events and unusual ways to capture. You’ve got the property, you might as well use it. And um, we’re also doing a seminar on the new paid family medical leave law, which is going to be, you know something.

Chris: We’re very intimately involved in that. There’s great opportunity to get to learn more about all those things. Some of those things we have to worry about in business, and some of those things are fun opportunities, right? And I think that’s a great balance which is always super unique.

Becky: So before we go further in terms of the educational, we’ve also got the folks from Flyte New Media here and they’re going to be doing some drop in training. So if any of our attendees have a question about digital or how to maximize SEO, yeah, those folks are here and available for free, and so it’s a great opportunity.

Most beneficial thing about attending a trade show

Chris: What would you say the most beneficial thing about coming to a trade show like this really is? If you had one takeaway.

Becky: I really do think it’s how you find the things that can benefit your business in one place.  Those things you didn’t know could make your business better, whether it’s a specialty product you were totally unaware of but you use to boost your soups, or something. Yeah, it’s, it’s, that’s. That’s the big thing, it’s what can you discover here and that’s what people seem to take away.

Chris: Which is really unique, I think you know. Certainly, with any event that I go to anyway, I think there’s certainly things that you know. Some things are going OK I knew that, I’ve seen that person 20 times, right, but then you find that needle in the haystack and that, I think, is really a huge benefit for sure.

About HospitalityMaine

Chris: So let’s talk about Hospitality Maine. You guys are an amazing organization. You’ve been around for a long time, formed from two separate organizations to kind of come together. You know, what do you think the biggest benefits of being a member of a trade group are?

Becky: You know, from their membership perspective it sort of depends on which group of members we’re talking about. For our traditional restaurant and lodging properties, we’re a resource.  They can call us with a question. If I don’t know the answer, I can call you and say my member’s got a question, can you help me with it? A lot of times we tell them that it’s faster to call us than to Google, because who knows what you’ll find when you start Googling it. And the other thing is that we advocate for the industry. We got a staff member who spends a great deal of time.

Chris: Right, Nate’s, probably in Augusta today.

Becky: Actually he’s on his way down today. Thankfully they didn’t set up any hearings that he had to be in. Yeah, but he spends all of his time monitoring what’s going on. What do we need to make sure our members know about? What law has changed that’s going to impact them, and those kinds of things can trip businesses up if they aren’t paying attention. And who has time to pay attention to all of those details?

Lobbying for members

Chris: Certainly who knows what’s happening in the legislature, either locally or at the national level, and certainly you guys work with National Restaurant Association too to lobby federally. But I think that’s a huge benefit, because we don’t have time to pay attention to what’s going on in the legislature. Nor do you want to.

Becky: No, of course not.

Chris: I had to go testify a few weeks ago at a hearing and I saw Nate there and we’re just talking and you know it’s incredible. It’s incredible. We have a citizen legislature in Maine, which is wonderful. It’s incredible the things that they do. But a lot of times you don’t realize how that could impact your business, something that you may not think will. You know, maybe there’s a caveat in there and I think having that representation is really important.

Becky: Well, and a lot of times, because of the volume that those you know, representatives and senators, deal with, there are unintended consequences that they don’t see because they’re not familiar enough with the particular industry. So those are the kinds of things. Nate spends hours poring over documents to make sure that a proposed piece of legislation is not going to harm the very people it’s supposed to be helping.

Chris: Absolutely, and I know it’s hard when you go to those committee sessions. Sometimes you may only have 20 minutes or less to get your point across and explain something really, really complicated. Having someone like Nate can go in and talk to the representatives outside a session. Again, we have a citizen legislature, which is great because you can stop them in the hall and say hey, so-and-so. Can I really try to explain this to you? Because in the hearing room we only had 10 minutes or I only have three minutes. I think you’re only allowed to speak for three minutes in most sessions, right? So I know Nate does great work with that.

Becky: He’s very good at what he does and has a lot of great connections with people that are made in the halls. So you can have a real person-to-person conversation about something where you’re not standing up in front of a room a committee room full of people, some who are more friendly than others so it really does make a difference. So that’s a big piece of what we offer membership.

Getting the most value out of participating in trade shows

Chris: I think that’s the biggest piece that I see. I think that’s a tangible thing, right? You know, I hear a lot of times people say, well, they didn’t do anything for me, right, that association didn’t do anything. You know, what do you say to that? How do people get involved and get the value out of their membership?

Becky: Yeah, we spend a lot of time trying to communicate what we are actually doing. So we have a resource guide that talks about all of our member benefits and in that and it’s kept, it’s live, so it’s kept up to date, and so we’re constantly saying, okay, this is what we’re fighting this session, this is what you need to know. We send out weekly e-briefs to our members and if there’s anything hot that gets in there, Nate sends out weekly updates to membership as well to let them know what’s going on at the Capitol. So we try really hard to communicate all of those behind-the-scenes kind of work to let them know what it is we do.

Chris: Right to get that value. That’s the thing. You have your member guide. What would you say is the one thing in there that people probably don’t know about?

Becky: We actually have a couple of new products, so our members are just getting up to speed. One is a product called Healthiest you and it’s essentially a Teladoc product, but it has a mental health component. So if you have employees who are struggling, it’s very reasonably priced and they can call any time, as many times as they need, when they need a little bit of support or a lot of support.

Chris: Yeah, and certainly health care is atrociously expensive and certainly a huge barrier for a lot of your members. I’m sure you know. I think you know we deal with a lot of hospitality clients as well and I think everyone wants to be that good employer, wants to offer good benefits, and it’s financially it’s a huge barrier. Certainly giving any resources you can is a really huge benefit.

Becky: Yeah, this is a product that’s extremely reasonable. It’s nothing compared to what you’d pay normally for health insurance. Yeah, and so you do get both. You know the medical Teladoc kind of you know help. My kid scraped his knee. Do I really need to go to the doctor or not? Or I’m having a really tough week. What do I need? How do I get through it?

What is your favorite part of a trade show?

Chris: You know, and that’s awesome, yeah, having that, even that mental health piece, is huge. That you know, even a lot of traditional health insurance plans sometimes don’t cover, which is kind of crazy, so awesome. What are you looking forward to today here at the show? What’s your favorite part about today?

Becky: So I am going to spend most of my day. We actually have our own booth down on the floor and I will be down there answering questions with our membership director and meeting and greeting people. You know, like you said, I’ve been doing this for a while, so I know a lot of people. So you know, for me it’s just like everybody else. I get to see people I may talk to all the time on the phone, but maybe I’ve never met them. You know, maybe they’re members who, again, I’ve dealt with but I’ve never seen. And then there’s the opportunity to meet those folks who aren’t members, because this is not restricted to our members, it’s open to the industry and it’s fun just to talk to the folks.

Chris: Which that’s a really great point. I mean, you said this is open to everybody, right? So anybody in the hospitality industry, and certainly do you see people come to this and say, okay, I see the value, I want to become a member?

Becky: We do sign up some members here. We do a really. We work really hard to bring decision makers in the industry. So you know, it’s not open to the public, it’s not open to other vendors if they’re not exhibiting. We really try and bring in those decision makers owners, general managers, chefs, whatever because those are the people that our exhibitors really want to see here.

Other HospitalityMaine events

Chris: What other types of events od you do? I know you do a summit, I think it’s in the fall, right. You do the summit every year. That’s an educational event. Talk to us about that. What does that look like and what other events do you have going on?

Becky: So the summit was developed around the requirement to have an annual meeting, which is in pretty much everybody’s laws. But it’s also a networking event. Our members talking to each other, and we do our annual awards dinner in between the two days of the event. So it’s educational. Nate usually speaks to everybody, bringing them up to speed with what happened last year, what’s coming up in the coming year. The annual awards dinner is a big event and we give out Restaurateur of the Year and Innkeeper of the Year and Lifetime Achievement Awards.

So those are all fun, yeah, and a small annual meeting component, but mostly it’s everybody talking to their peers and again, it’s a small industry, you know. We do do a golf tournament every fall and, um, again, that’s just another way to get our members to network with each other and talk. We have done for the last two years and we’ll do again this year, a woman in house hospitality events. Yep, um, that’s still in the early planning stages but that will probably be in early October sometime and that’s a chance just for these women who have all been through this stuff, so it’s kind of fun for them to get together and a lot of them have worked together. So again, it’s all about kind of creating a community and what we really want is the industry is stronger if we as a community are stronger.


Chris: You know the rising tide floats all day. That’s really great, well, good, well, I know you have a busy day, so we’re going to let you get back to hobnobbing it on the floor and get to see everybody. But we are here at the HospitalityMaine Expo.  A great opportunity for us to chat with Becky, and we’ve got a second episode coming up here very shortly. Certainly remember like follow, share, subscribe, rate, review, all those fun things at Small Business Big World we’re there. If you have any questions for us or for Becky any of our guests actually you’re certainly welcome to email us at, and we’ll get back to you. So well, thank you very much, Becky.

Becky: It’s been a pleasure chatting with you.

Chris: We’ll talk to you very soon. Bye, everybody, we’ll see you next time.

Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Small Business, Big World. This podcast is a production of Paper Trails. We are a payroll and HR company based in Kennebunk. Kennebunk, Maine, and we serve small and mid -sized businesses across New England and the country. If you found this podcast helpful, don’t forget to follow us at @papertrailspayroll across all social media platforms, and check us out at for more information. As a reminder, the views, opinions, and thoughts expressed by the hosts and guests alone. The material presented in this podcast is for general information purposes only and should not be considered legal or financial advice. By inviting this guest to our podcast, Paper Trails does not imply endorsement of or opposition to any specific individual organization or product. or service.