Four years ago, I attended my first AHR Expo in Chicago. And no matter how many times my colleagues warned me to bring my walking shoes, I was blown away by the sheer size of the event. I put in my daily 10,000 steps — and then some — walking back and forth between the halls learning about ductless mini-splits, cooling towers, boilers, water heaters and more.

Actually, pretty much every technology was new to me and presented a learning opportunity, since I was a newbie editor only six months into my position with The Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration News.

Now, as I sit here writing this column, I’m getting ready to attend another first for me — the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show and International Builders’ Show, part of Design and Construction Week in Las Vegas. This will be the first event I’m covering in my new role as chief editor for Plumbing & Mechanical, so once again I will be the newbie on the floor, learning about some products and technologies for the first time. 

Industry events like these are priceless because they present the opportunity to learn about new products and technologies from thousands of exhibiting manufacturers, oftentimes before they are released, allowing contractors to get in on the ground floor and get a step up on their competitors.

These shows also boast dozens of free educational sessions covering a wide array of topics, including current market trends, economic outlooks, hiring and recruitment strategies, succession planning, new product demos and more.

While the educational opportunities at these events is nothing to sneeze at, perhaps one of the most important things about industry tradeshows is they give exhibitors and attendees the ability to network with each other. In fact, one of the things I most enjoy about attending industry events is being able to meet people I’ve only spoken with on the phone or through email. It’s extremely satisfying being able to match a name with a face.

Personal interactions are often disregarded in today’s increasingly digital world. However, don’t disregard the power of a firm handshake and engaging conversation, because they can lead you to stronger business relationships.

Understandably, not every contractor has the time or resources to attend these annual national events held in various locations around the country. However, many industry organizations and associations, such as Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors (PHCC), Service Roundtable and Nexstar Network, offer online learning platforms as well as regional conferences and meetings. These local events offer unlimited networking opportunities for contracting owners to learn from some of the best minds in the industry.

In my time spent covering the HVAC side of the skilled trades industry, I’ve heard repeatedly from successful contracting business owners all over the country that the best thing they did was join an industry organization, get involved and attend events.

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with one gentleman at one of these events. He said, “The companies I consider successful, I continue to see at tradeshows, conventions and things like that. The ones I hear complaining and struggling the most, I never see.”

As you plan for 2019, consider attending more tradeshows, meetings and conferences. Or maybe look into joining a peer group. It’s never too late to learn new tricks.

In the wise words of Henry Ford, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80.”