Notes from the National Restaurant Association Trade Show

by Josh Pringle, Director of Marketing,

I was on the phone with a customer and mentioned that I was going the NRA Show in Chicago.

“Why the heck is CO2Meter going to a trade show for the National Rifle Association?” he asked.

"They need CO2 for their pellet guns,” I said jokingly. Actually, I was going to a much “tastier” venue - the National Restaurant Show.

If you haven’t been paying attention, compressed carbon dioxide is used in virtually every bar and restaurant in the US, and is used in hundreds of plants that produce the food you eat every day. If your apple looks fresh, it was probably shipped in a container filled with CO2. And that cup of coffee you had this morning was probably roasted – or decaffeinated – using CO2.

I was off to Chicago.

If you’ve never been to McCormick Place in Chicago, imagine 25 football fields under a single roof, banners dangling from a 10 story ceiling, and barkers every 10 feet encouraging you to try their new sauce or potato fryer. It’s a carnival on carpet, with every restaurant apparatus, linen, pot, e-menu, candy, beer tap, and gizmo you can imagine. I was mesmerized.

However, beyond all the glitz and hoopla, after miles of walking, I realized that the NRA trade show is actually a valuable place for restaurants to find the latest products to make them sparkle in the eyes of their customers.

Day 1

I started the day off with a run through Chicago by Northwestern University Law School and the Hancock Tower. A beautiful way to start the day. However, it was not a good idea to run several miles before walking the country’s largest restaurant industry trade show. I would regret that later.

Over the years, I’ve learned that in order to walk a trade show, you have to develop a plan of attack. I started weeks earlier researching several new companies that use CO2, as well as our current customers that would be at the show. Then I plugged them into the trade show’s online planner. It generated a custom walking map based on who I wanted to visit. Very useful.

After my run, I met up with a member of the International Beverage Dispensing Equipment Association (IBDEA) for coffee, and we discussed opportunities for CO2Meter to get more involved in their member training. Ironically, an IBDEA employee had recently been overcome by CO2 in a beer cooler, so they are searching for better alarms for their clients.

Next I stopped by to see our friends Tom and Jesse from Green Air Systems. They were exhibiting with Helget Gas. I got to meet Jim Helget, the owner. We discussed some potential business, as well as an idea to promote CO2 safety to larger groups of customers.

The guys from Big Ass Fans were also exhibiting so I stopped by to see them. BAF is a great customer for us, and we continue to work on some interesting projects that combine their ability to effectively move air and our ability to sense gases. Future cool stuff to follow.

Did I mention that at the NRA show you could pack on 5 lbs. per day just eating the free samples as you walk the trade show floor? There are literally thousands of food samples for you to try. I avoided all but one…a sip of my favorite Bloody Mary Mix from Zing Zang.

Day 2

The day started off with a run down to Grant Park this morning. It was good to stretch after the previous day’s pain.

In the morning, I had some great conversations with some of our current partners about future plans, and adding an educational component about the “science behind CO2”.

Unrelated to CO2, but as I walked the show floor, I was getting a feel for the future of the restaurant business. Alongside the technology to create a meal were point of sale systems, marketing systems, and e-menus. It all relied on collecting customer data. Everywhere you eat, someone wants your cell number to remarket to you. Everyone is pulling in feeds from Trip Advisor and Yelp to better inform their customers. The future of the restaurant industry is divided between “make it taste better” and how to get restaurant customers to tell other people online “it tasted better.”

Wrap up

This trip was very valuable for our team. It gave us a clear look at how others see gas detection and monitoring in this industry. People ARE talking about gases. I fact, most of the talk is about “what is my state going to do next?” With minimal Federal regulations, many states are drafting gas safety regulations of their own.

If you come to the National Restaurant Association Trade Show in 2015 look through the guide book – you may just see CO2Meter, Inc. listed.

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