As the only company in the catering industry to have exhibited at all four 2018 major industry tradeshows (Catersource, The Special Event, the NACE Experience and ILEA Live), StaffMate Online indeed has a rare perspective. Each of these national conferences has unique characteristics which provide value, but what makes StaffMate Online's relationship with Catersource deeper is our history of symbiosis.
In 2002, StaffMate Online created the special event industry's first online staff scheduling software. For the first year and a half, we focused on a few clients to turn common pain points into solutions. By 2004, we were ready to share our software with the catering world and chose Catersource to be the vehicle.
On a shoestring budget, we made do with nothing more than a table, two chairs, a cardboard company sign and a laptop in our 10' x 10' booth. But that's all we needed. Group after group came by, fascinated to learn about new trends, tools and tips. And that's the Catersource difference. Unlike some tradeshows in other industries, the crowd at Catersource has always been inquisitive and eager. Nothing ever seemed forced, as each group approached asking us "What is StaffMate Online?"
What takes Catersource to the next level though is the level of participation by industry leaders, movers and shakers. Top industry luminaries and rising stars are Catersource veterans and fill the education sessions and tradeshow: speaking, leading demonstrations, networking and sleuthing the floor in search of the lasting trends that will shape our industry for the long term.
For us, that moment came in 2004 when a lone gentleman approached our booth. He was Bill Hansen (later the 2018 Michael Roman Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient)... and his curiosity at our booth was evident and endless. He instantly latched onto what our software could mean to the industry and a 14+ year relationship formed. That's what happens when industry leaders meet industry-altering innovation. That's what happens at Catersource every year.
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So beneficial was the boost we received in 2004, that we were able to sponsor Catersource just two years later... Crystal sponsors, complete with a larger booth and a few more booth amenities. That's the year we approached Caterease and Total Party Planner to let them know that we had developed an API (application program interface) which would allow them to send event information directly to StaffMate Online. It was at Catersource 2006 that these first-ever "catering management-staff scheduling integration" plans were finalized. That's what happens when forward-thinking vendors collaborate, network and cooperate for the common good of the industry. That's what happens at Catersource every year.
Even in "the growing years" when StaffMate Online diverted marketing resources to fund the continuous innovation of all the staff scheduling tools we all use today, Catersource had huge impacts on our business. During the years we didn't have marketing budgets for Catersource shows, we still (every year) saw a spike in free trial requests in February and March, entirely driven by caterers exchanging ideas, tactics and resources... over the dinner table, over a cocktail or during an education session. This organic growth would never be possible without a proper platform. And Catersource manages to nail the perfect platform each year.
In today's marketplace, many companies believe proper marketing to be unsolicited emails, paid followers, endless cold calls, ‘As Seen On GMA’ boasts, boosted social media self-promotions, and throwing millions of borrowed marketing dollars at targeted "lists," but each year, Catersource proves that real industry buyers prefer those companies who demonstrate an honest commitment to industry education, industry organizations, in-person marketing, and vendor collaborations. Catersource attendees who don't buy at the show end up buying because you were at the show or because a peer recommended you at the show. It's that simple.
And it is that symbiosis—industry-committed exhibitors sponsoring the Catersource platform and eager attendees supporting the innovation and advancement that come from the show floor—that move and shape the future of our industry.
As a prospective exhibitor, ask yourself... How many future "Lifetime Achievement Recipients" will be on the 2019 Catersource Tradeshow floor looking for the next best thing? How many vendor collaborations will be born? How many recommendations will be shared between attendees? Will your company or product be there to be found, networked with, and become the topic of discussion? One thing is for certain, StaffMate Online will be there.