This is your chance to communicate with your vendors and find out what's new and exciting in the industry.

I personally look forward to it every year. In fact, I wouldn't miss being there. What am I talking about? The HVACR industry exhibition, which is co-sponsored by the Air-conditioning & Refrigeration Institute and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating Air-conditioning Engineers.

This year the exposition is being held Jan. 25-27 at McCormick Place on Chicago's lakefront. It's the biannual "big" show, which means that every manufacturer and supplier of any size or class will be there.

Why will I be there? Besides the fact that I write an annual column on what I find that's new, I just want to see where the industry is headed, although that often takes a little digging. Over the years I've quit two companies where management didn't see the need for my being at each year's expos, and I've been at every one since the early 1980s.

Opportunity knocks

Why should you be there? Unless you're completely satisfied with your current business, your company's future prospects and all your vendors (a sure sign of decay), you and your staff should be there stopping at almost every booth and asking tough questions. It's OK to attend a manufacturer's cocktail reception or two if you want, but try to make better use of your time. Be sure to stop at the booths of your current suppliers and pump the top brass to find out what plans they have on the table. You can often find out more at the show than through any other source.

Stop at competing manufacturers' booths and make the same inquiries to find out what they have that's new, where they're headed and why you should be interested in selling their product lines. Yes, believe it or not, you'll likely have to pump some manufacturers for information on what's new with their firms.

You'll usually find that they aren't very good salespeople and they're afraid to tell anyone about new technology they've developed for fear that their competitors, who already know, will find out.

I'm always surprised at the attitude of most people who attend the show. In fact, I often worry about the aloofness and lack of interest that I see in attendees who may have paid a lot to get there. Now, admittedly, some booths are just there to attract other manufacturers, some vendors don't use supply-house distribution and you may see some competitors, so it isn't necessary to stop at every booth. However, despite the magnitude of the displays and the bags full of junk you will accumulate, make a concerted effort to look hard and ask questions at as many displays as possible. And if you locate something interesting, ask to have a salesperson call. If you do this, you're sure to find many new products or new lines you should consider carrying.

If you've never been to an industry exhibition before, you'll be surprised to see how many foreign manufacturers are there. And while some may simply be feeling out the U.S. market or looking for domestic-manufacturer partners, others may be actively searching for distributors and offering interesting and innovative products. You'll also be surprised to see how many foreign contractors and suppliers attend. Interested in getting into the export business?

So, I hope to see you there. I'll be wandering the show every day. Please tell me what you found interesting and I'll tell you what I found. Believe me, it'll be worth the time and expense no matter where you're coming from.