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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Time and place

We're at Construct Canada, booth 3027.

Today is the first day of Construct Canada, the largest Canadian construction trade show. After a five hour drive to Toronto yesterday, we completed the booth setup and will be ready to go when the show opens at 10 a.m. this morning. Our booth number is 3027.

This is approaching our first decade at the show, and there is some symbolism about the booth location, a spot near where one of our former competitors had a regular space.

In the earlier years of our business, I didn't think of participating in the show, but received a phone call out of the blue from the show organizers asking us if we could generate some positive advance publicity for the event. With no association with the event (and no advertising commitments from the show organizers), my initial thought was "Why should we do this?" but a sixth-sense instinct took hold and I treated the show organizer's request with respect, producing a really positive story for them.

Then I learned that one of our then-new competitors had a booth at the show, and decided that I would see if we could match the competitor's presence.

The show organizers had red faces. They had unwittingly entered into an exclusivity contract with the competitor, barring us from the show. (They thought the restrictions would apply to another publisher, not us -- they didn't know about us until shortly before their request for publicity.)

In other words, we had provided the show a favour without expectation of return, and the show, bound by a conflicting contract, had to favour only our immediate direct competitor.

One rule of business is that any situation which is obviously unfair and unreasonable will "correct" even if legal contracts suggest it shouldn't be possible. This is the art of interpretation and is how judges work around messy situations in the court room, and how honorable business people work around messes in practice.

The show organizers quickly worked with us on some special co-operation, including granting me a special "unofficial" presence on the show floor as an exhibitor without a booth! Next year, they discovered a work-around; the show had another section where we could participate. The location wasn't quite as good as our competitor, but they threw in free carpeting, electrical and other goodies, reducing our costs and making the whole experience worthwhile.

This year, our competitor is not at the show. And we now have the competitor's former space.

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