• Want a competitive edge? Attend a pizza tradeshow

Did you catch the Northeast Pizza Expo in Atlantic City a couple of weeks ago?

Oh, you didn't.

Missed it on purpose, eh? Didn't want to go because you think Atlantic City is tackier than a plaid tuxedo.

And, let me guess, since you don't gamble, there's nothing fun to do, right?

Well, I hate to tell you, but you missed a good time.

No, a great time.

Steve Coomes, Editor

Don't worry, though. We covered for you. That's right: I and about 1,800 of my closest friends there at the Expo. In your absence, we soaked up all the great info, made a lot of key contacts and even made some new friends while you were at work.

Think of it this way: While you were back in the shop browbeating that dim-bulb dough maker of yours because he didn't follow the recipe again, we were at expert-led seminars learning how to make dough consistently good every time.

And about the time you were adding up your already-scary food cost for the month, we were listening to a former operator teach about how to lower it by using portion-control cups. He claimed that when he ran his own shop many years ago, he dropped his cheese usage 20 percent in one week just by cupping pre-measured amounts of cheese for quick use on the make line.

But you didn't hear about that -- though you may have read about it on our site -- because you weren't there. You were back at the base, wondering whether your staff poet/starving artist delivery driver would show up to work that night. And because of that, you missed an excellent seminar on finding and retaining great employees.

Bummer for you, dude.

What's that? You say not going to Atlantic City at least saved you the money you'd have spent on your hotel and flight?

I guess I can't argue with that, but I will drag out the old saw, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."

Staying at home and saving all that money kept you from picking up a new marketing tip, a trick of the trade that might have made you some money instead.

Sure, working the make line those two nights saved some you some labor dollars, too, but you didn't hear a thing about creative ways to expand your menu.

But at least you were on hand to fix the conveyor oven when it stopped in the middle of the Wednesday night rush, right? That surely saved you some money -- dollars you might have spent on one of those snazzy new ones on display at the Expo. Boy, one of those would have cost you a bundle. Good thing you didn't go.

But here's the best part that you missed: hanging out with me after the show. Now that's a loss that'll hurt you.

No, not because you missed out on time with me, rather because of the time you could have spent with my dinner guests: a leading pizza industry consultant, four different product manufacturer's reps, and a husband-and-wife team that owns two successful pizzerias.

I was just the sponge at the end of the table soaking up their collective wisdom, which was a seminar in itself -- only they served eggplant Parmesan and strip steak with roasted portabellas at this seminar. If you'd have come to the Expo, you could have joined us.

Feeling left out? Kicking yourself for not going?

Well, don't beat yourself up too much about it. You weren't alone. Attendance at all three Pizza Expos, plus the Mid-America Restaurant, Soft-Serve & Pizza show was down this year.

And that puzzles me, because it seems that in a time when competition is so fierce, every operator with any sense would do all he or she could to find a competitive advantage -- which is precisely what those tradeshows are for!

What's that, you say? You've been in this business longer than I've been out of diapers, and you don't need my suggestions or some stranger telling you how to make pizza?

Well, I wish I could say you're right about the first remark, and I hope you're right about the second one.

Regardless, I still think you -- and any pizzeria operator for that matter -- should plug in to pizza-focused tradeshows to boost your exposure to this vast industry.

No, not every seminar will address your every need, and you'll likely be familiar with a lot of the products on the show floor. But I'll guarantee you'll never meet enough operators who just might have some answers to your problems, guys and gals who've been there burned that and want to help you escape the same fate.

Remember, there are more than 60,000 pizza outlets in the U.S. alone, so odds aren't good that you'll cross paths with your competitors. Just take a chance and make some new friends, maybe even grab some dinner together -- preferably at a place that doesn't serve pizza. Sometimes when you get outside your normal surroundings, your perspective on your business sharpens.

So take a chance next year; visit a pizza show. You'll be astonished to see what you missed this year.

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