What If they Held an Expo and Nobody Came?

Some good marketing lessons this weekend, from the trade show frontlines of alternative health care. As part of my new identity as C.A. [Chiropractic Assistant], I am venturing into the wacky world of convention centers to explore the labyrinth of booths. Cell phone chips to stop radiation, African safaris, the Nia Technique, death and taxes, new windows, retirement plans, acupuncture and magnet therapy – all these options available for the Baby Boomer this weekend at the convention center.

Last weekend’s Pet Companion Show was a two-tiered world of tails and noses stopping distracted “owners” at every conceivable corner. We put up a little sign saying “Human” on the Free Spinal Screening banner, so that people wouldn’t try putting their labradors on the SAM unit scales. It was fun and festive in the expo center – people are more open when their pets are around, and the chaos was full of fur and barking.

There’s a new doctor at the clinic where I work, and he’s pulled the old-school practice building cards: trade shows and going door-to-door. I’ve got backup duty, moral support, and I’m keeping my ear out for marketing gems among the many opinions that people inveitably develop when networking. It is much easier to be in this world of self-promotion when it isn’t my practice in particular that I’m building. This may be true in the same way that it is much easier to deal with organizing other people’s stuff than your own.

Nobody built much business of any kind this weekend, however, as exactly Nobody showed up on a sunny spring weekend to the Convention Center for a poorly-named and poorly-advertised Baby Boomer expo called B.R.E.W. [Boomer Resources Exhibition and Workshop] A few people did show up for microbeers, but they were sorely disappointed. There were maybe 60 people in the aisles during the talk from a charismatic scientist with Oasis Life Sciences. The Oasis folks, who are into regeneration on the level of DNA and who offer “a gift” of condensed packets of live organic greens and aloe from international farms, sound like they have made pyramid marketing work yet again.

Saturday was full of vendor networking, but by Sunday a third of the booths were empty and there were murmurs of mutiny, with the goodhearted exception of the woman in gold lame, who dressed up to “help everybody” and wandered the aisles with her aging smile, a longtime veteran of the world of self -promotion. A former PT whose career ruined her spine and her hands and was now selling life insurance suggested that we all leave our stalls and gather at the stage and each spend five minute marketing our position or offering. Not a bad plan, but the lethargy of an empty hall was contagious, and it was hard to imagine organizing anybody into a fervor of anything. All these vendors – people who thrive on connection – were starving for attention and playing imaginary russian roulette with each passing hour.

Into this calm pit of despair walked the woman in the blue and white flowered dress. The shoulder pads were military style, and she halted in her beige heels at our corner and stared intently at the SAM machine.
“Takes 2 minutes and its painless” I said by way of greeting, “Would you like to have your spine checked?”
She was intent also in her reply: “Yes.”
I asked her to fill out the top box on our form. She was as vague as possible. I asked her about her chiropractic history – vague again: “In the past.”
The young doctor came over to greet her and offered his hand. She returned his handshake and sent it back for changes: “Too soft,” she said “it feels fishy.”
Oh the control of a lone consumer at an empty trade show – oh the power. She asked me to shake her hand and pronounced my grip firm. The doctor tried to explain himself in terms of gentleness, but she wasn’t having it. She put him through the ringer. A man with a huge belly and an intriguing stone around his neck came up and I let the blue-flowered commander to her hazing of the new doc. So much for my role as moral support…

The big-bellied guy was very calm. His stone came from a trip to Peru about 7 years ago. We began to trade machu picchu stories while the doc stood the matron up on the scales and aligned the strips with her head shoulders and hips. He was solicitous, as he worked, asking respectfully if he could touch the top of her shoulders, her blue-flowered hips.
“Yes” she said, intent again. Then she stepped down and consulted the findings – the unusual distribution of weight across her feet, the tilting of spine and retilting to compensate. She believed the lines, if not the doctor informing her. I was deep in Peru conversation so the loud SMACK of her hand hitting the doc came out of the blue and at first I wondered if she had taken a sudden offense to his prognosis.
Both the the big-bellied guy and I looked up out the corners of our eyes at the moment that the Fly she had apparently killed with her sudden slap at the doctor’s shoulder, rebounded down the blouse of her dress. Such was the velocity of the killing blow, and such was the moment of surreal calm when she asked the doctor to retrieve the fly from its resting place. Nobody looked directly at the extraction, which was handled smoothly and quickly and without further incident. There was laughing and the doctor somewhat goodnaturedly gave her his card in case she should wish for future chiropractic help.

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