Katie Rotella blogs from this year’s ISH North America tradeshow and Network ’08 conference … Day One: Half-Time.

Today the Atlanta sun woke me early, telling me it was time to learn something. Wednesday is Day One of ISH North America, and that meant 9 am seminars and the first few hours of the tradeshow.

The complimentary shuttle bus dropped me and editor Steve Smith off at the Georgia World Congress Center (a building that has actually undergone some interesting renovations). It is nestled in the heart of Atlanta’s city streets, where it’s hard to get your bearings straight since the skyscrapers and neighboring hotels rise pretty high and keep any panoramic views in-check. It’s a large convention center, so I’m really curious to see how all the green changes they’ve made have affected the utility costs of the place.

Perhaps moved by all the “green-ness,” Steve decides to take-in PM columnist John Siegenthaler’s morning session: “Why Hydronic Distribution Systems Are A Deep Shade of Green Technology.”

John is, of course, amazing. He told the room of contractors that they need to emphasize distribution efficiency just as much as they focus on the thermal efficiency of boilers. “Putting a highly efficient boiler into a poorly designed heating distributing system is like putting a Ferrari engine into a 1962 Volkswagen,” Siegenthaler said.

I, on the other hand, had a taste for marketing this morning. I claimed a seat in the meeting room of Melissa Galt, an Atlanta-based designer who promised “7 Marketing Secrets Every Designer And Contractor Must Know!” (with the exclamation point and everything). This was the first time I’ve heard Melissa speak ever. I’ve been around the conference circuit a few years now, so I was looking for something fresh. Plus, I have to admit, contractors and designers don’t necessarily have the best working relationships much of the time, so maybe I was looking for a fist-fight, too.

Let me just say I loved, loved, loved all she had to say. And while I won’t give all her secrets away, the few that I should definitely share had to do with giving the customer the unexpected. Melissa actually urged the room of plumbing contractors to Celebrate the installation process.

“Nobody does this,” she swears. And she says it will instantly make your company stand out from other contractors, and make your customers “Raving Fans” of your business. (Which leads to more jobs, which leads to referrals, which leads to more money, and on, and on.)

From the project’s initiation (send a bottle of champagne when the contract is signed), to a pre-install picnic (after demo and before the “pretty work” begins, provide a picnic meal to eat in the cleared space), she knows these little steps will make a difference. Afterall, during a kitchen remodel, clients could be out of their stove/refrigerator for weeks, even months, at a time. [Melissa also suggested a “demolition bash,” but warned against putting beers and hammers in hands at the same time.]

Now, I have never had a contractor care enough to send the very best in the form of a Thank-You note for my business, let alone a basket of bath salts and terrycloth slippers when my bath remodel was complete. But Melissa swears by these forms of customer endearment, and her business is a big success because of it.

I’ll cover more of the Seven Secrets in my Marketing Monday blogs, but at least you got a taste (should’ve been there!).

ShuBee shoe covers

Still glowing from my new-found treasure chest of Melissa tips that I can share with readers (and other attendees), I head down the escalators to the ISH tradeshow floor. The room is well-lit and (*trumpets sound*) the aisles are not confusing! Even the banners above match to the aisle you’re in, so perhaps I’ll actually be able to find my way through the sea of manufacturers and reps.

With no particular agenda for this day, I stop at what strikes my fancy. So my feet carried me aaaaall the way to the perimeter of the floor and I visit the folks at ShuBee. Randy Sutton shows me the latest shoe-coverings for service techs, complete with custom company logos and new-fangled colors. “Blue is our most popular color,” Randy says. “But I always urge people to buy the brighter colors. The brighter the better; you want customers to see them, and to see you put them on.” Good to know.

Also, ShuBee has answered contractors’ calls for a way to highlight the fact that their techs are drug-free or have passed a background check. With ShuBee’s "Seal Of Trust Patch," customers can trust that the service technician entering their house (and putting on hot pink booties) is one that has undergone a rigorous pre-approval from their employer.  

Liberty Pumps' Omnivore eats denim

After leaving Randy, I am drawn toward a strange sound. A deep, guttural sound. A grinding sound. Look over there! Liberty Pumps is pulverizing diapers, towels and work gloves with its new Omnivore grinder pump. I had to snap a picture, and Liberty reps Mike Rogers and John Cottrill were happy to give me a demonstration.

“It’s kind of hard to find pantyhose these days,” John told me, as he shoved large denim pieces into the vat (and Mike played catcher). “But I didn’t get even a look from the checkout girl as I bought 50 pairs at the dollar store.”

The boys had a large Rubbermaid container filled with a nightmare of various items: feminine products, clothes, rags, you name it! The machine took it all in stride. It's all in the cutting system, John told me. Made of hardened 440 stainless steel, it shears solids into small particles prior to being passed to the discharge by the impeller under high pressure. Its open volute means debris can't get jammed; it's either rejected or simply sucked in and sliced up.

Catcher Mike said they see a lot of Omnivore applications in schools, nursing homes, Targets, Wal-Marts and 7/11s. I want to get a video of all this grinding, so I’ll probably go back tomorrow with my camera. I asked them if they have enough items to shred for a repeat performance on Thursday. “We’ve got even more in the car,” John grinned.

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