Doing Time In A Booth

Published in the March 2017 Issue January 2018 Feature Brady L. Kay

“How ya doing?” I must have heard those three words uttered at least a hundred times…and that was only the first three hours on the first day of a five-day stint as I worked a recent boat show. It seems like it has become the preferred opening “line” for those working a show these days, but I can tell you with all certainty from my own personal observations that people don’t honestly care how your day is going. Shocking, I know.

At first I secretly hoped an attendee would reply back after being asked how he was doing and pour out his soul. You know, like truly let the vendor know how his day was really going, right down to the details of where he parked the car and what he ate for breakfast. Yet to my frustration and secret plea for entertainment, no one ever did. The typical response to this generic question is simply “Good,” and by answering the question they’ve now got you right where they want you—stopping at their booth and talking to them.  

A lot of people have come to realize this question is actually just a way to trap you into a conversation. Next thing you know you’re buying a marina time share or sucked into a 20-minute presentation on dock rugs. If you know someone who is lonely and just needs someone to talk to, bring him to a boat show. Seriously, if I owned a retirement or assisted living center we’d be scheduling a lot of field trips to boat shows. These vendors are desperate to talk to anyone as if their livelihood depends on it because, well, for a lot of them it actually does.

Now, I’m not making fun of people running booths, especially since I was one of these desperate booth workers myself begging to start up a conversation. I did notice that if you happen to be what is between a determined attendee and the beer vendor, there is no amount of free boat show swag you can offer to get him to stop. He’ll absolutely refuse to make eye contact with you, which of course tends to kill a lot of sales pitches when your only opening line is to ask him how he’s doing.

You actually learn a lot when you’re working a booth. For starters, I feel confident I could run any of the booths within earshot of mine after hearing endless presentations all weekend. I’m not in sales, but that didn’t stop me from conducting secret evaluations on my neighbors. I watched two attractive girls—who clearly were paid per sign-up and not by the hour—aggressively pounce on attendees walking the isle to the point where I think people started avoiding our row. Others sat back in the corner with either their noses buried in cell phones or scowls on their faces as if they were daring someone to try to engage them in a conversation.

Regardless of their preferred approach, it seems like every vendor who didn’t have a great show blames it on either the traffic or the lack of quality attendees. No one ever takes responsibility for their own failures as a sales staff or how lame the product or service they’re offering is. I guess it’s just too easy to place the blame elsewhere.

I manned our booth to the very end, successfully fighting off the urge to pack up early after I had run out of magazines to pass out with a couple of hours left to go on the last day. In the end I came away with a greater appreciation for those working the boat shows. I know the next time I walk a show as an attendee I won’t be so quick to pass by, but at least make a little effort to reply by saying “Good” when asked how I’m doing and to find out a little more about what is being sold before making my decision. I figure I at least owe that much to those vendors I shared time with, if only for five days.  

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