In Orlando, Florida, the energy was electric, the attendance was impressive (several thousand) and the headliner was Jay Leno. Florida Realtors marked their 100th anniversary with a bash that will be long remembered, a hallmark salute to the accomplishments of one of the largest and most enduring state trade associations in America.
For me, it was a return trip to a convention I knew well, having been an architect of a major sponsorship by my one time employer, Great Western Bank, many decades ago. The quick trip I took from Seattle to Orlando was well worth the investment, and it brought a flash flood of memories: the convention at the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach, the UM marching band opening the Trade Expo, with the Hurricane Cheerleaders adding their spirit. Great Western was doing private, by invitation only, viewings of its new free video, “Understanding the Home Loan Process.” There was a line for no-shows.
Fast-forward to this year’s Florida Realtors confab. Same high energy, many of the same types of exhibitors, helping to illustrate the saying that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Here are my three takeaways from their 100th Celebration:
Takeaway #1- Technology is making things good – and bad: The Trade Expo was free to anyone who could make their way to the Rosen Single Creek Resort (an awful name for a hotel by the way; a nice space, but a pretty mundane property by Orlando standards). The big bonus was the free offsite parking with a frequent shuttle service in air condition buses. That was really good.
The technology at the Expo illustrates industry trends. Florida Realtors showcased its Realtor-built technology; both its Transaction Management solution – Form Simplicity (great new website, by the way) – and sister company Tech Helpline. Both had prime booth space in the main hallway right outside the main registration area, giving it non-stop traffic. Form Simplicity also hosted some hands-on training and their sessions were pretty packed, illustrating the thirst agents have for what has become a must-have versus a should-have. Tech Helpline had their own Apple-type Genius Bar open at their booth, and I watch their support advisors dive in to fix issues agents had, as well as teach them how to avoid problems in the future. That was probably the best thing I saw at the show.
Zillow has a lot of Realtors clamoring around its cramped space. It was interesting that the several times I circled by it was clearly a younger Realtor crowd they were drawing. Inside the Trade Expo, I found a friendly face: Jim Metz at VoicePad, whom I’ve worked with over the last couple of years. He was showcasing TeamPhone, a technology built specifically for teams. Just like the most recent Inman Connect, Teams are dominating more than speaker topics; they are entrenched as the dominant business model for today’s top producers. Jim shared that VoicePad has a really good thing going with TeamPhone. This is for sure: their timing is red hot for an all-mobile lead gen platform that has inked deals with many large brokerages, like Keyes in Florida. With TeamPhone, they have found a unique way of taking an enterprise-featured solution to the masses.
Another familiar firm was Listingbook, which is quietly rolling out with MyFloridaRegional MLS in what may be one of the best new features an established real estate tech firm has debut in eons. Listingbook’s new Rate My Favorites feature brings immediate social sharing to the home buying process in a way that should make Millennials the most satisfied users. RMF also is designed to help agents secure new leads through this brilliant social tool. RMF allows home buyers to share properties with their sphere: friends, family, business colleagues. It lets them “rate” each listing they are considering, on a scale of 1 to 5 stars, then automatically rolls up the results for the home shoppers. This delivers more information from a buyer’s most trusted sources, quickly, which is vital in a hot market.
The bad? Technology is negatively impacting every trade show I have been to in the last several years, including this one. It’s not Florida Realtors fault; it’s their exhibitors. Despite preaching about this (read “Whatever happened to Trade Show Etiquette?”), I saw dozens of firms who spent a lot of money to be at the Trade Expo, staffed by people sitting at their booths, looking down at their phones as dozens of potential conversations simply walked by. You can’t engage someone if you are looking down at your phone!
One staffer at a well-known firm was working on his laptop set on his display table every time I walked by him; and I walked by a half a dozen times over several hours. Not once did he ever look up! Another top real estate brand left their booth unattended for more than an hour. Why? They were attending the Jay Leno event. Good for them, but not for the all the people that were still in the Trade Expo hall during that time and it was busy even then.
Takeaway #2 – Not a lot has changed at Real Estate Trade Shows, including this one. Other than the technology exhibitors showing some of the industry’s bells and whistles and things coming next (like Happy Grasshopper’s new product they developed for Keller Williams), the Trade Expo fundamentally hasn’t changed a whole lot in 20 years or more.
One change was how technology has displaced the massage chair exhibitor: a handheld device does the job to relieve stress. And there were two firms with competing handheld stress reduction devices. There also were the usual suspects: sign companies, home warranty firms, insurance companies, brokerages focused on recruiting, and a ton of mortgage firms I have never heard of touting everything, from hard money lending, to loans with features that sound spookily like what was being done back in 2004.
What hasn’t change? All the printed marketing handouts, many poorly designed – even from companies that are supposed to be real estate marketing firms. Most of these will make it only to the round file. Dozens of glass bowls are still set out to collect business cards for gift basket drawings, and there were lots of chotskies. There were so many pens that you’d think you were visiting a Bic convention. I overheard one attendee on the bus from the parking garage to the hotel say that she collects all the freebies for her kids, and that may well be the most common use of these.
A note to real estate Trade Show planners: Try to think more outside of the box. Inman Connect has tried to reinvent the trade show using kiosks to bring people in close so no one can hide behind a draped table or podium. Inman doesn’t charge any less for the much smaller space, and they can pack a lot of exhibitors into a smaller hall, lowering overhead.
And remember that trade shows used to be more about the trade – actually doing business and taking orders. For some time, almost all of them feel like it is more about the “show” – just exhibiting to show the flag and create top of mind awareness. I’m not sure awareness is enough for this level of investment anymore.
Takeaway #3 – Hire Jay Leno for your real estate convention. Speaking with Eric Forsman at Florida Realtors, it was clear that Bill Martin, Florida Realtors CEO and his convention crew scored a grand slam by securing the former NBC Tonight Show host to headline their 100th Anniversary. It wasn’t just that Jay could connect with this crowd of real estate folks and keep them laughing nonstop; it was how he ended his performance that put him in a class of his own.
He asked the audience if they were familiar with his collection of cars – his garage holds some 130 cars and motorcycle. He then asked how much the audience thought it was worth to actually tour his garage and take a look at his famous automobile collection: “$2,000?” a slew of hands went up high in the air. “$3,000?” more hands went down. “$5,000?” Several hands were still in the air. Leno then said, “That’s seems fair,” pointed at the attendees who still had their hands raised and announced that all of them would be able to come see his car collection when they were visiting Los Angeles. And then the kicker: Leno will donate the $40,000 raised at the end of his performance to help organizations, which Florida Realtors supports, provide assistance with housing and homeownership opportunities.
Now that’s a way to make a 100th Celebration memorable.