There are no do-overs in business. You have an opportunity. You take your best shot at it. You live with the results. That’s just how it is… A fact that I was reminded of at last week’s GIE+EXPO 2016 show (GIE) in Louisville, KY.
As we’ve done for the past several years, we went to this year’s GIE to display our software under our Go iLawn brand. GIE is our biggest show of the year. We rent twice the floor space, send double the staff, and bring more than twice as much demo equipment as we take to other events. It’s kind of a big deal for us, so we want our GIE presence to be great.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other ideas; a storm rolled in at about 10:00 Thursday morning, and lightning took out the power on the show floor. While most of the building got back underway in under an hour, our section (us and 100 or so other exhibitors) remained dark and without power until the show floor closed down at 5:00 that evening.
In The Dark
It’s not easy to tell people a story about your software when you can’t show it to them. We did have some literature on hand and some signage we could show people. We even had a video that continued to loop on a battery-powered laptop screen (not the 32” monitor we brought)… at least until the battery crashed early in the afternoon.
We had enough light to talk to people, but after the rain passed and the outdoor exhibition area re-opened, they simply didn’t come. With most of the event lit and operational, few ventured our way unless on their way from the lit South hall to the similarly lit North hall. Almost none of them stopped.
What to do “IF”…
The problem is that we didn’t think for a moment that a huge venue like the Kentucky Exposition Center (KEC) wouldn’t be able to deal with a fairly normal weather event in an effective way. Apparently, neither did they. And with this (apparently misplaced) confidence in the venue, we didn’t immediately scramble to figure out how to recover, (The lights will be back any minute, right?), and we never took the time beforehand to make plans for what we’d do “IF”.
We learned a few things from this experience, and next year we’ll be better prepared for this kind of event. Hopefully the event venue is better prepared next year too, so we don’t have the problem in the first place.
For us, having at least two pre-tested laptops available with charged batteries and access to an alternative wireless internet connection (our wired internet went down with the power) would have at least enabled us to maintain minimal functionality. And being a beacon of lit electronics in that sea of dark booths might have worked out pretty well for us.
Taking a Lesson
There’s a great lesson in this for us and for anyone in business. Are you prepared for unforeseen events out of left field? What will you do if something unthinkable happens?
Fortunately for us, a power outage at a trade show is only a lost opportunity, not a long-term threat to the company. But the problem it caused us is a bit of a wake up call… we’ll have to do better if there is a next time. Hopefully if you face such a random problem, you’ll do better than we did and do better than KEC did, but it’s hard to predict what kinds of random disruptive events can happen in a complex business environment.
But you can take steps to protect yourself. Here’s a couple that come to mind:
- Insurance: Make sure you are insured against all kinds of incidents, accidents and losses. When in doubt, over-insure your business.
- Redundancy: Save multiple copies of your important hard-copy documents and save all your electronic files to backup drives, cloud storage, flash drives or other media. Multiple copies are better. And store these copies in multiple places, where one event like a fire, flood, tornado, or hurricane can’t wipe them all out at once.
- Contracts: Write all your contracts with customers, providers and partners to give yourself ample time to react to changing conditions. A small landscape business owner I knew rented his nursery space from a friend until the friend sold his business. The new owner wanted that space for his own operation and, without a written contract, my friend was lucky to get 30-days notice to vacate. Unable to find new space and transport all his stock in time, he had to destroy an acre of sale-ready landscape trees because he couldn’t move them.
- A plan: Big Companies call it a Disaster Recovery Plan, or a Crisis Response Plan, and every business should spend at least a little bit of effort creating a plan for how they will react in different kinds of crisis. (KEC sure needs one for a power outage). This lets you think about your priorities and goals ahead of time and create a plan of how you will react Effectively. You don’t want to have to do all this planning and execution on the fly while you’re distracted by a disruptive event.
Too often, we take it for granted that existing conditions will continue and that the things that have worked for us in the past will continue to work for us in the future. But that’s not always going to hold true. Take some time to think about the unpredictable things that could hinder your business now, and you’ll be better prepared to deal with them in the future… I know we will be!