Networking at IAAPA Expo

Tuesday, April 1, 2014 9:42 AM

I'm planning a trip to Orlando this November for the IAAPA Expo with the primary goal of making contacts and getting my foot in the door of the amusement park industry. I'm a mechanical engineer with 7 years of experience in the commercial automotive industry, and I'm ready to go after my dream.

I understand this isn't a job fair, but I'm hoping to learn a lot from the trade show and various presentations and lectures, and to meet the right people and get my name out there. I'm looking for some feedback and advice from my fellow CBuzzers whom have attended the event in the past.

Thanks!

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014 10:11 AM

I guess the best advice would be try not to look and/or act like an enthusiast.

IAAPA is all about fun for some and all about business for most. I've found as an enthusiast that some of the reps in the booths are willing to talk all day about their products, (provided I've taken a well dressed, polite and informed approach), and others shake my hand then immediately turn heel and continue to scout for actual paying customers. And that's fine, it is a trade show after all.

Most of the guys and gals that you meet there are sales reps, but occasionally you meet a designer. I had a lovely visit one year with a man at the Mondial booth, and once we adjusted to the language barrier I found he was the one responsible for the design and implementation of some of my favorite rides, Top Scan, Fighter, Rollover, and the like. I felt like I had met a rock star! Because we got along so well he gave me the skinny on the Windseeker ride, and this was some years before it actually went into production.

I went as an actual buyer one year- not for rides, but for food service items and ideas for our restaurant at the state fair. I noticed a big difference in how I was treated with a buyer's badge on, as opposed to previous visits.

But that's a side note. I've never attended any of the seminars provided by industry experts there, but I gather they're well attended and that might be an excellent place for you to start.

Regardless, you'll have a blast and it's an awesome experience for a first timer. Its also huge. You'll want a day just to participate in all the show offers and save another day for networking.

Last edited by RCMAC, Tuesday, April 1, 2014 10:12 AM
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Tuesday, April 1, 2014 12:06 PM

I understand your point, but you’d be surprised how many people are there looking for jobs (both overtly and on the D/L). Many of my colleagues in the industry got leads for job opportunities from attending the IAAPA expo, including myself. Sometimes it is just overhearing a conversation.

The seminars and tours are great places to network and strike up a conversation with someone. Tours are perfect because you have to sit next to someone on the bus to and from and that forces a meet and greet. Also the Opening Reception and the constituency (FEC, Zoo, Waterpark etc.) lunches and social events also provide great networking opportunities. You never know you might meet. A lot of networking is also done at “the bar” at the expo, so taking a stroll through the Peabody (Hyatt) lobby bars in the evening can never hurt.

I do agree that the actual show floor is probably the most difficult. Most buyers on the floor are there to buy and speak with vendors. And vendors are there to sell. But don’t sell short the seminars, tours and socials; in my opinion, those are the best places to exchange business cards. For most of the socials you do have to pay for a ticket, it is well worth it and consider it an investment. Most tickets are pretty cheap anyway.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014 12:40 PM

I was going to say, there is probably more potential at the parties, in the hallway, and to a lesser degree, in the conference sessions. When I've wanted or needed to connect with people, seeing them on the show floor was usually little more than an opportunity to set something up with them after hours, or even the next week.

And honestly, while it's a great chance to put faces with names, the sheer volume of activity between people and companies is enormous, so set your expectations low. You've got 7 months in front of you... start networking now. Ask people you know to introduce you to others, get to know people. Perhaps most importantly, remember that roller coasters and rides are a tiny fraction of the kind of mechanical engineering that goes on. There's plenty of more boring stuff, and they sell that boring stuff at the show.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014 12:43 PM

RCMAC said:

I guess the best advice would be try not to look and/or act like an enthusiast.

That's just good advice for life in general.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014 1:36 PM

I made several contacts last year by basically cold-calling people and introducing myself. I spoke with engineers from Premier Rides, GCI and The Gravity Group, and they were all very accommodating and helpful. I also interviewed with Disney last October. I didn't get the job, but it was nice to know that my resume was good enough to at least attract their interest to the point that they were willing to fly me down there.

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014 7:47 AM

I'm trying to attend this year as well. I went last year (or maybe it was the year before) and it was awesome!! Best of Luck!!

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Friday, April 4, 2014 3:04 PM

Bakeman31092 said:
I made several contacts last year by basically cold-calling people and introducing myself....

This.

If you really want to have a productive IAAPA show, make contacts first. Let those contacts know you're looking for work. And make plans to meet up with them, if only briefly, at the show. The real benefit to the show is that you have a chance to actually meet people in person and let them connect what they know of you with "the real life" you. In addition, the show floor becomes a way for those people you already know to introduce you to the ones you don't.

Now what do I know? I've never been looking for a job when I've gone to IAAPA, but I have had that almost surreal experience of walking the show floor and being absolutely astonished at the number of people there who actually knew who I was...and people who know me through other channels. So I have had a few of those "Have you ever met..." conversations.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

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Friday, April 4, 2014 3:41 PM

I went to the Las Vegas IAAPA for a similar purpose. The IAAPA show was incredible I must say. Please note it's more than just ride manufacturers. It's anyone and everyone related to the industry. From coaster manufacturers to cotton candy to stuffed animals. But, there was lots of booths. There were some manufacturers that I vaguely reconized. And one, Premier, I didn't know was still around.

I would definitely attend the seminars. Even if you don't meet anyone/ network, they're full of interesting useful information. I went to a seminar where they were inducting new members into the IAAAP Hall of Fame and briefly talked to a former Six Flags executive. Another seminar featured a handful of Disney Imagineering legends discussing working with Walt. Definitely glad I went to that one.

I talked alittle bit to the Gravity Group guys. Pretty nice to talk with, but one was "brutally honest" about the limited number of opportunites. Very limited opportunites in the industry. As we all know, there's very few coaster companies, fewer in the U.S.

I didn't talk to many of the ride manfacturers. It seemed the bigger booths had salespersons and not engineers or the company's namesake. They were all nice and polite, but they're there to sell. It's a good idea mentioned above to "network" before the show.

One gentlemen suggested I get involved with ride standards. I believe the ASTM F24 commitee. http://www.astm.org/COMMITTEE/F24.htm. I never did join, though. The show got me interested in waterparks. And I enjoyed a brief two year career in designing layouts and slides.

Blake

P.S. I studied Civil Engineering but was tempted to do mechanical.

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