Breakfast Roundtable Discussions give business owners and managers a chance to network with peers and share ideas on a host of topics
For Kenney Lee, there’s no better way to get a business boost than to network with fellow attendees at the Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo International. And his favorite way to hook up with industry peers is the Expo’s Breakfast Roundtable Discussion.
You’ll be sure to find Lee, owner of Metro Septic in Cartersville, Ga., at the restaurant area of the Indiana Convention Center on Thursday, Mar. 1, 2012, as he intently listens to the advice of other industry professionals. Lee says the small group sessions are a great way to test new ideas for his business. Running from 8 to 10 a.m., the roundtable discussions will feature topics of interest to a variety of Pumper & Cleaner Expo attendees.
“To sit at a table and talk with guys who’ve been doing this work for 40 or 50 years, and with their sons who have been working 20 to 30 years, you can’t really put a price on that. It’s priceless,” Lee says. “In the future, my company will be a better and stronger company from what I learn at these roundtable discussions.”
Free to share
The roundtable discussions are indispensible because they link contractors from across the country to share best business practices and industry-specific technologies, Lee explains. Because Lee and his breakfast tablemates aren’t direct competitors, there is a free flow of information and advice that proves invaluable.
For example, Lee went into the 2011 Expo Roundtable Discussions with a plan to start processing the septage he collects. Talking to contractors who had set up their own dewatering facilities, Lee was steered toward a system that ended up costing a fraction of what he was expecting to pay. He also collected business cards from several other business owners who offered follow-up help in putting the system together.
“I could have spent thousands of dollars to figure out how to make the processing work. But you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars when somebody tells you how to do it for free,” Lee says. “I could sit down with somebody who was in my shoes and told me the best way to do it.”
Keith Kirkman, of Kirkman’s Plumbing & Eel Service, Inc., Greenville, Ohio, says the informal setting is what makes the roundtable discussions so successful. Participants feel freer to chime in with their opinions than they do in larger group seminars. Contractors are able to bring up any topic that interests them.
“They aren’t afraid to stand up and say something that they might not say to a full room,” Kirkman says. And when folks at the Expo talk, Kirkman says he’s going to listen.
“To me, people who go to the Expo are the leaders of the industry,” Kirkman says. “They recognize how much the Expo helps them and that’s who’s at these roundtables.”
Leading up to the Expo, organizers will gather topics of interest to roundtable participants. These may run the gamut from marketing through websites to use of a variety of technologies across the wastewater industry. Tables will be organized by topic and attendees will be able to rotate from one table to another to take part in a variety of discussions. Each discussion will be moderated by a table leader who will take notes and summarize the comments at the end of the roundtable.
Jim Anderson, the education coordinator for the National Association of Wastewater Transporters, moderated a roundtable discussion on customer service in 2011. He was impressed with the free exchange of ideas and thought the participants walked away with a lot of practical knowledge about what works and what doesn’t.
Anderson said the give-and-take was significant compared to the feedback he gets as an instructor in more formal education settings.
“If you think about Education Day, there’s 150 to 300 people in a session. To stand up in the middle of that and share is very difficult for most people,” Anderson says. “But when you’re sitting over breakfast, you just talk about those things that are important. It’s really a good way to talk to the folks who are struggling with the same questions and challenges you are and hearing how they’re dealing with them.”
Like every year, Lee is going to walk the Expo exhibit floor and marvel at the latest trucks and greatest technology the industry has to offer. He’ll attend Expo Education Day and learn as much as he can to improve his business. And you can bet the young business owner will be at the breakfast roundtable discussions, bright and early.
“I hope to be one of those guys in 20 years sharing my advice,” Lee says. “I’d like to be able to tell them how I built an empire from what I’ve learned here.”