It's that time of year again—time to prepare for one of the most important events in our industry: the 2023 International Builders’ Show (IBS) taking place Jan. 31-Feb. 2 at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas.
Over the years, my IBS investment totals about 28 weeks of time and well over $100,000 in costs. Has attending IBS been worth all of that time and money? Honestly, sometimes it has, and sometimes it hasn't. But that’s my fault, because the return on investment was up to me and my preparation, and (as is the case in almost all aspects of home building), the devil is in the details.
IBS has more education, new products, displays, networking opportunities, and events than any person could hope to digest in a three-day visit … and going to IBS without a plan and goals would be the equivalent of trying to build a house without blueprints or specifications. To help you maximize your IBS ROI, here are my top 18 productive secrets and 10 common convention mistakes I’ve learned over the past 20-plus shows I’ve attended.
When Attending IBS, Know Your Mission
The first lesson I learned in home building was that earning only comes before learning in the dictionary. In other words, if you want to earn more money or be successful, first you have to grow your knowledge and skill base. This is as true today as it was 30 years ago, and IBS can be instrumental in that pursuit.
Two other goals should be to look for processes and thought leaders that challenge the way you currently operate. Don’t make the mistake of only looking for the things that reaffirm what you are already doing. And finally, despite what Curly said in the movie City Slickers, your IBS ROI will not likely be based upon “one thing,” but actually on a lot of little discoveries, so keep a list of these little things that can add up big over time.
Now, here are the secrets ...
International Builders' Show Pre-Show Prep
1. Set specific objectives (e.g., research new specifications, explore new products, learn about customer service and sales training options, etc.). All staff members going to the Show must have several goals in mind to justify attendance. An “I’ll figure it out when I get there” attitude is less productive than committing to specific activities.
Also, keep in mind that many staffers would prefer a week of education, growth, and learning at IBS over a salary increase. This can work out as a win-win-win for the staff and the company, and ultimately provides better service to your homeowners. Never underestimate the value of taking a promising staff person to IBS. I can’t tell you how many staffers excitedly left IBS with a new appreciation for the industry and an incredible sense of scale (suddenly 45 homes a year wasn’t that many, after all).
2. Create daily plans for each of the three IBS days from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. Remember, this isn’t a vacation; it’s some of the hardest work of your year. Also, be sure to leave an out-of-office voicemail and email so you do not have to deal with fires back home while you’re away. Oddly enough, many of these fires somehow find a way to extinguish themselves by the time you return four to five days later.
3. Review all the programming and download the IBS app to your mobile devices for real-time updates and a handy schedule. The event coordinators have great online tools to help you evaluate, sort, and plan your activities. When it comes to the educational sessions, pick a first, second, and third choice for each time slot. If choice No. 1 doesn’t pan out or is full, then immediately head for choice No. 2. For critical No. 1–rated sessions, arrive at least 20 minutes early. Most rooms have strictly enforced capacity limits and I have seen 100-plus frustrated attendees standing outside their desired program.
4. Research networking groups prior to the show, such as Builder Partnerships and software user groups. Many have meetings at IBS. Looking into these groups provides another great way to both leverage your IBS investment and expand your networking opportunities.
5. Fill in the holes in your educational sessions list by exploring the exhibitors’ space or arranging one-on-one meetings with fellow builders, consultants, and manufacturers. Some builders report the best sessions were held on the exhibit floor. These sessions were informal and allowed for more questions. Invest some time reviewing those offerings and selecting any that resonate. Take advantage of the fact that the best suppliers are there to educate as well as sell.
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What to Do While You're at IBS
6. Meet each morning with your team at 7 a.m., a mandatory “Breakfast of Champions” to discuss your daily plans. If you are attending with others, split up educational sessions to maximize coverage. Have everyone keep notes/handouts and plan to share the information. If you are not taking other staff members, then arrange to meet each morning with an industry peer to compare notes.
7. Consider turning on your phone’s location sharing feature or download a “find me” app for each of your attendees. I have spent HOURS wandering around the show space, meeting rooms, and restaurants searching for a pre-defined meeting—the convention center’s 7 million(!!) square feet and hundreds of aisles of exhibits can be both a blessing and a curse. Some find friends’ apps may help, but one thing is for sure … don’t forget to bring your phone charger!
8. Reconvene with your team at 5:30 p.m. each day to share findings and adjust the following day’s plan. Say, for example, a purchasing manager made a great contact with a window manufacturer that may be a perfect solution to one of the pre-show objectives. Adjusting your educational program list to meet with a vice president of national sales may be a better option to enhance your overall IBS ROI.
9. Complete the educational session surveys. The program selectors want to give the attendees’ evaluations their due weight in selecting future programs. Top programs and speakers should be rated highly and vice versa. Also, if the session is especially good, make a point to walk up to a speaker, introduce yourself, and exchange business cards. Many speakers at the Builders’ Show come on their own nickel as a way to give back to the industry. They may be interested in sharing more of their knowledge with you.
Going to IBS without a plan and goals would be the equivalent of trying to build a house without blueprints or specifications.
10. Tour the exhibition halls with a plan. Walking around aimlessly leads to impulse discussions that burn your valuable goals/objectives time. Many of the manufacturers’ booths also have their designers, engineers, technology staff, and executives in attendance, too. If you are having challenges with anything from creaks to leaks, the answer is out there. And, if you are really on top of your game, then pre-schedule meetings with exhibitors weeks in advance, and confirm meeting locations, times, and topics.
11. Eat a big breakfast—and take a snack for lunch. Long lines, lack of seating, and difficulty in coordinating lunch schedules can be a major time killer and a pain. And, speaking of pain, it would be a good idea to take some ibuprofen along, too.
12. Wear comfortable shoes. Some attendees have reported walking nine or more miles a day at IBS. Bringing multiple pairs of shoes can help you avoid foot pain and blisters if you’re not normally much of a walker.
13. Distribute and collect 25 business cards. Exchange cards with fellow builders, consultants, and exhibitors. Do not rely on the exhibitors’ booth card-scanning system. Sometimes the information you need arrives months later, or is not specific to your request. A lot of the exhibitors get overwhelmed with booth visitors and cannot distinguish urgent needs from general information inquiries. If you exchange business cards, then you can follow up on your schedule.
14. Visit the NAHB Bookstore. It is a repository of hundreds of specific books and other references on topics from land planning to customer service. The bookstore offers the opportunity to review the books before purchasing. Many of the Builders’ Show educational session speakers are also authors and have their books in the bookstore, for a deeper educational dive into their areas of expertise.
15. Check for pre- or post-IBS educational programs. There may be other opportunities for learning while you're in town. Don't miss out.
16. Visit the IBS show homes, including Pro Builder’s Show Village just outside the West Concourse of the convention center and The New American Home and The New American Remodel. These “show homes” can offer some trend-setting ideas you may want to incorporate into your own business.
IBS Post-Show Follow-Up
17. Teach others. When you (and other staff) return from IBS, organize your notes and handouts and prepare a group presentation of findings and outcomes to share with your office staff, salespeople, superintendents, trade partners, and bankers. The more you teach what you learned, the deeper it becomes ingrained in your own learning—not to mention increasing your ROI by sharing this newfound knowledge.
18. Send thank-you notes to each important contact you met at IBS. I can honestly vouch that the connections that started and were fostered from IBS were extremely valuable in my career as a home builder, consultant, and National Housing Quality Award judge.
To the best of my math reckoning, I believe my IBS time and $100,000 investment has produced well over $15 million in net profits.
This personal hundred-fold ROI illustrates the value of IBS and what can be gained if attendance is maximized.
What NOT to Do When Attending IBS
- Don’t go to IBS for half-days. IBS is a full-time, all-day job.
- Don’t meet your local trade partners at IBS. You can do that at home.
- Don’t bring your office work to IBS. The show is an important investment in growing your knowledge. Returning emails is a misuse of your personal investment. Even checking in with the office can lead to hours of disruption.
- Don’t stay out late or have bad health habits. Be well rested. Every day at IBS is game day.
- Don’t stay in an educational session that isn’t teaching you anything. If it doesn’t meet your expectations, get up and move on. Sometimes a program doesn’t match the description, which is why you preselected some backups. Also, if the program is no more than a rehash of the handout, take it and head to another session. You can read the handout when you get home.
- Don’t forget to fill out the educational session evaluations. And if a home builder is a speaker, the session should get bonus points. Learning from fellow builders was invaluable in my IBS learning.
- Don’t neglect your routine. Build your normal hours of sleep and exercise into the plan.
- Don’t develop conference guide tunnel vision. There are many learning opportunities in the education sessions, exhibitors’ space, and networking. Have a plan for all three.
- Don’t count on the Exhibitor space scanning system. For important information or networking, exchange business cards.
- Don’t forget to call home. Behind every successful person is a supportive family and home life.