Categories: Member Profiles

By Graeme Golucki | February 1, 2014 << Back to Articles

TomCat Commercial Cleaning Equipment’s first ISSA/INTERCLEAN® trade show was in 1999. The company had spent much of the previous decade designing and manufacturing sweepers and other cleaning machines for the industrial market, and was looking to branch out to the commercial cleaning market.

“At the time, the decision to join ISSA and attend the association’s trade shows was an obvious one,” says current TomCat President Sean Goff. “I honestly do not think there is another association in the jansan and cleaning industry that compares to ISSA. From a selfish point of view, becoming an ISSA member was simply the most cost-effective way for an unknown company like TomCat to bring its equipment to hundreds and hundreds of potential dealers and customers.”

While the ISSA/INTERCLEAN trade shows were a main reason for TomCat joining ISSA, the company also was looking to take advantage of the range of services ISSA offers its members. “For our company, it was just logical,” says Goff. “Before we became ISSA members, I used to travel a lot selling our machines. I would have to call hotels ahead of time and ask for copies of the local phone book’s industrial sweeper dealers listings. The hotel front desk would fax me the dealers’ contact info, and I would know who to call on. Now as an ISSA member, I have access to the member directory with all that info right there in front of me. Between the website’s Buyers’ Guide and the trade shows, we have the tools at its disposal to bring its message and machines directly to the audience we want to reach.”

Learning on the Fly
The first few ISSA/INTERCLEAN trade shows TomCat exhibited at were a bit of a learning experience for the family-owned company. “That first show, we were still developing our commercial products so we brought our industrial cleaners,” says Goff. “That was a big mistake on our part. Those machines probably looked pretty darn ugly to what was then almost 100-percent a commercial cleaning audience. While this equipment is great for factories and other industrial settings, the machines are not exactly the best choice for schools and hospitals. They’re loud and bulky and not that aesthetically appealing. But going to that first show, we made sure to talk to everyone; it allowed us to see what we needed to develop to be successful with commercial products.”

The next year, TomCat was ready to highlight what the company had learned and brought its full line of machines, now designed specifically with the jansan market in mind. “We were pretty eager to show off our newly designed machines—perhaps too eager,” says Goff. “Back then, our booth consisted of all our machines lined up in a straight line. Looking back, we probably brought too much equipment. There was barely enough room to walk around and meet with dealers in our booth.”

Evolving Strategy
TomCat again learned quickly though, and used its experiences to develop the company’s current exhibit strategy. “Now we know what to do,” says Goff. “When we exhibit at ISSA/INTERCLEAN or other trade shows, we bring about half of our available catalog. Plus, we’ve increased our booth footprint through the years. So fewer machines and a bigger booth allow attendees to see our equipment in action. They can hop on and drive our sweepers around and hear how they sound. Our booth now is set up to experience the product in action, not just look at the machines sitting there idle.”

While TomCat’s exhibiting strategy has stayed fluid and evolved over the past decade or so, it is not necessarily the norm. “For us, we keep it modest—some banners and the machines,” says Goff. “Unlike some companies out there, we don’t spend a lot of time on booth planning itself. But we do plenty of other leg-work ahead of time—shipping the materials and logistics. It is all about making sure the booth is ready to go when the doors open. Plus we do a ton of outreach to our existing dealers and potential customers ahead of time. We let them know where we’ll be and when to stop by.”

But showcasing the company’s latest and greatest innovations is not the only reason TomCat continually attends ISSA/INTERCLEAN trade shows. TomCat also uses the shows to keep an eye on and measure itself against the completion. “I don’t know how a manufacture of equipment could NOT go to the show,” says Goff. “It’s the single largest gathering of your customers and your competitor’s customers. Why wouldn’t you want to be there? People can see your machine, walk 100 feet, and see your competitor’s machine. If you don’t have the best product, customers can see right through all your marketing and hype.”

TomCat’s success at the North American ISSA/INTERCLEAN shows has lead to the company taking its equipment abroad. In the last year, TomCat has exhibited at ISSA/INTERCLEAN trade shows in Poland, Mexico, and the Netherlands. “We know we’re starting out small in other markets,” says Goff. “Some of these shows are in markets where the cleaning industry is still developing, where they don’t use cleaning machines and focus on manual cleaning. But it is critical that we’re there, letting people across the globe know who we are.”

Goff credits ISSA with helping TomCat with this global expansion. “We’ve exhibited at a few other [non-ISSA/INTERCLEAN] trade shows, and the difference is ISSA doesn’t just sell floor space in a convention center,” he says. “When I work with ISSA representatives on booking a show, they help provide logistics listings, lodging, translators—everything we need to have a good show. A perfect example of this was when we exhibited in Poland. We had never been to Poland and didn’t even know what questions to ask to be prepared. ISSA supplied us with an outstanding translator, someone who actually understood the cleaning industry. ISSA consistently makes it easier for us to have a good trade show experience no matter where we go.”

Gift That Keeps on Giving
The importance of attending ISSA/INTERCLEAN carries over to Goff’s employees as well. “One staff member, Tom Creecy, who along with his wife, Irene, had been with us since we started and in the jansan industry for 40 years,” says Goff. “When he was retiring a few years ago, I asked him what we can give him as a retirement gift. I figured a watch or something traditional. But no—he tells me all he wants as a retirement gift is a lifetime ISSA membership so that he can keep going to the trade show every year. After four decades in the industry, you would think Tom would want to go fishing or something. But no, that’s how important ISSA and its trade shows are to him, they make it more than a job, for Tom it’s a place to see and talk to his friends.”

After years of exhibiting, Goff still sees ISSA/INTERCLEAN as a worthwhile investment. “Sometimes it is hard for TomCat to justify spending the money, but the little things ISSA does, you can’t put a price tag on that,” he says. “I see ISSA as more of a participating partner in our business and the industry as a whole. If ISSA wants us to be there, then we think it is worth going every year.”

We here at ISSA definitely think it is worth it for TomCat, and all of our members, to attend ISSA/INTERCLEAN every year. 

About the Author.

Graeme Golucki is ISSA's digital strategy editor and can be reached at [email protected]; phone, 800-225-4772 (North America) and 847-982-0800.