KLM Expo brings industry together

Once the 2012 KLM Expo was over, Kristian Gragg figured life would return to normal around the Virginia-based marketing firm that serves as a manufacturer's representative for some of the nation's top security-technology firms.

No such luck. After about three months of nose-to-the-grindstone organizing with an "all hands on deck" spirit at KLM, the two-day event drew 220 participants for the March 6 edition in College Park, Md., and another 144 for the March 8 version in Norfolk, Va. Gragg discovered after last year's expo that the show goes on even after it's officially over, thanks to the cross-pollination that occurs between the distributors, system integrators, dealers and end-users who attend.

"I know it's a lot of hard work (organizing the expo), but I'm thinking if I can get to this show, I can slow down after the show," said Gragg, who became a KLM partner in 2006. "What I didn't realize was that it gave me about 45 days of work (afterward). It's a great problem."

Originally dubbed the KLM Road Show, the event has evolved. "We've done smaller shows, about 10 total shows," said KLM founding partner Paul Walter, "but the past three years we've done it on a larger scale like we're doing now where we pull multiple factories together."

At its heart, it remains a series of training sessions to bring attendees up to speed in such areas as fiber and network system design, wireless transmission systems, audio-monitoring legalities, and browser-based access control. But with about a dozen vendors manning displays of their products the past two years near the teaching area, the 2012 event was renamed the KLM Expo.

"It's very impressive," said Joe Byron, Network Video Technologies (NVT) eastern region sales manager and one of the presenters. "It's very rare to find a rep that has this much involvement and organization to put on something like this. It's really out of the ordinary. Typically, what I see out there are reps who do small-scale shows, nothing to this extent, so this is extremely unprecedented."

For someone like Byron, the Expo is a time saver. He looked out over the roughly 140 security distributors, dealers, sales people and end-users at the College Park event and pondered how long it would take to reach and educate them by conventional means.

"What we get [from the expo] is to reach a diverse amount of clients in a very short period of time," explained Byron. "There are some architects and engineers in that room, and there's also some end-users, some school districts around here. So to reach that much of a diverse audience with an eight-hour presentation, with all the factories there ... would probably take me a month. You're knocking down a lot of appointments. You're embedding information on how to use your product to that many people who can just take those ideas when they're out there next week meeting with the end-users."

Walter and Gragg are particularly pleased with the uptick in end-users this year. Between the two 2012 shows, an estimated 60 attended, representing such entities as universities, school systems and government agencies. A Maryland-National Capital Parks & Planning Commission representative spoke at the College Park session, giving an end-user's perspective. In Norfolk, a York County (Va.) School Division representative filled that role.

"It's a safe environment for them to come and learn about technology and not feel pressured to make a purchasing decision," Walter observed. "They can come get educated and see the technology, touch it, but they don't have a system integrator saying, 'hey, is this the one you're going to buy, or are you going to buy this one?' They can come and ask questions and touch it."

Presenters at the 2012 shows included KLM clients IFS, KBC, NVT, Louroe Electronics, Aiphone and Interlogix. But Gragg points out that at the Expo KLM takes a view broader than simply promoting its line card.

"The only way you're going to get people to come into these shows and continue to come to them is to give them information that's factory-agnostic," he said. "Solution-selling and showing them how this widget works with this widget, how they work together. And if you give them information that is agnostic, they can use it with anything that they're doing. Obviously, we want them to use our products, but it's giving them that vision of 'hey, this is where things are going, and this is how we're going to take you there.'"

By hosting the expo, KLM has gotten its share of leads, assuring Walter and Gragg of busy days ahead. But they also take pleasure in the enthusiasm they've seen generated for projects that might not fall their way.

"[The expo] really energizes a lot of people because they start thinking about jobs, like 'you know what? This would be great. I can win this job now,' as opposed to putting it off until some other technology comes out," Gragg said.

Click here to see a full list of events that KLM will be taking part in throughout this year.