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Peopleverse 007: John Crosby

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John Crosby joins the Peopleverse to discuss how the American Institute of Architects (AIA) is working to break down the barriers between supply-side manufacturers and the AIA’s 94,000 members of architectural professionals and to talk about the upcoming AIA Conference on Architecture which is happening June 22-25 at McCormick Place in Chicago.

📺 Watch the episode on YouTube here.

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About John:

John leads AIA engagement with the building products industry and the technology/service sector of construction. His goal is to close the knowledge gap between architects and suppliers to yield a better built environment for all. To support this goal, John and his team have grown AIA’s insights, consulting, and market activation practice to build strategic relationships with industry leaders.

Throughout his career, John has developed a passion for fostering commercial engagement between non-profit communities and their suppliers. He has more than 10 years of experience in design and construction, including work as a marketing leader with Hanley Wood Media.

John earned his Master’s in Business Administration from Quantic School of Business and Technology in 2021. He holds dual Bachelor’s Degrees in Government and History from The College of William and Mary. He and his wife, Sue, live in Ashburn, Virginia and have three children.

In this episode we discuss:
  • the struggle John noticed that professionals were having during his tenure working in associations and non profit communities for the bulk of his career
  • how he helped building product manufacturer sales and marketing teams better understand architects and design professionals
  • his observation of the challenges and pain points that exist between supply and demand
  • his observation of the knowledge gap that exists in the design and specification process between the design team and the products they specify
  • how The Architect’s Journey to Specification research project began at AIA, and what the main outcomes of the report are
  • what’s keeping design professionals from innovating in the specification process in regards to choosing building products and materials
  • what the AIA means to architecture and also the construction industry in regards to bridging the gap between architects and building products manufacturers
  • explanation of the architect type profiles identified in the report that help the supply side better understand their potential audience
  • identification of the main thing architects want to have with multiple building product manufacturer reps
  • how the supply side has responded to the research findings presented by the AIA
  • what’s missing from the supply side in order to make meaningful change happen at scale to help bridge the gap
  • what supply side manufacturers are good at and need to improve in their approach to reaching architects
  • identification of successful tactics that supply side manufacturers can use when it comes to bridging the gap
  • at what point during a project architects are ready to be considered a ‘sales lead’ to a product sales rep
  • what architects are thinking about when considering a product for inclusion in a design
  • why architects copy & paste building product specifications rather than looking for new and/or innovative products
  • how sales reps can have a positive impact in the early stages of the design process
  • how trade shows—and more specifically the upcoming AIA Conference on Architecture in Chicago—fits into the strategy of bridging the gap
  • how the AIA Conference has changed for ’22 to better connect architects and manufacturers in meaningful ways
  • the challenges of connecting at trade shows
  • what staff manufacturers should populate their booths with to fully understand the needs of architects and specifiers
  • how the pandemic led to an existential moment in reconsidering the purpose of a trade show
  • how the AIA went about evolving the upcoming conference in Chicago so attendees and exhibitors leave feeling more satisfied
  • why attendees to the Conference on Architecture this year should be excited to visit the expo hall 
  • how the conference has the potential for architects to find the next big things to help them in their practice
  • how the “new AIA” is throwing open the doors to find new opportunities for manufacturers to be more successful in connecting with architects
  • how the AIA and Tect are working together on ways to enable exhibitors to get beyond their spaces on the show floor

Episode links:

Learn more and subscribe at https://peopleverse.fm

Episode Transcription:

Evan Troxel

Welcome to Peopleverse. I'm your host, Evan Troxel. And I'm an architect. Peopleverse is a show where I talk with people throughout the building industry to unearth authentic stories from interesting people to entertain and inspire. You might have heard of the metaverse.

Well, we're doing something different here. In many ways, the building industry is still very much like the Wild West, even in a time when technology and data are abundant, people versus explorers, the people and the stories behind the projects, to remind us why we got into this industry in the first place, and to build relationships along the way. This show is brought to you by Tect, and you can learn more about what we're doing to connect the supply and demand sides of the building industry at tect.com. And you can learn more about Peopleverse at Peopleverse.fm.

In this episode, I welcome John Crosby. John is the managing director of corporate partner development at the American Institute of Architects. He leads AIA engagement in the building products industry and the technology / service sector of construction. His goal is to close the knowledge gap between architects and suppliers to yield a better built environment for all. To support this goal. John and his team have grown AAS, insights, consulting and market activation practice to build strategic relationships with industry leaders.

Throughout his career, John has developed a passion for fostering commercial engagement between nonprofit communities and their suppliers. He has more than 10 years of experience in design and construction, including working as a marketing leader with Hanley wood media. John earned his master's degree in business administration from Quantic School of Business and Technology in 2021. He also holds dual Bachelor's degrees in government and history from the College of William and Mary. He and his wife Sue live in Ashburn, Virginia and have three children. John, welcome to the people verse. It's great to have you.

John Crosby

Evan, I'm honored to be here looking forward to the conversation. Thanks for having me.

Evan Troxel

Yeah, this is this is great. And the things that I just read about in your bio, are totally in line with what we're doing with the show, talking about breaking down the barriers between supply and demand. And there's so there's so much going on there. There's so many pieces of that puzzle. And I think it's really interesting coming at that, from your perspective with the AIA and seeing that gap as well, serving architects in your architect community, maybe you can just give us a little bit more insight into exactly what you're doing what and why you're doing that.

John Crosby

I happy to do that. And it starts with the fact that I I've been in associations and nonprofit communities for the bulk of my career, with a few moments of being exiled into the corporate world. But all for the for the better. And in every one of those nonprofit communities, I noticed that it was always a struggle for professions to despite having continuing education requirements and licensure requirements and such a constant struggle to stay on top of what could help them accelerate their careers.

What could help them have an impact through the work they do. And I think in this day and age, the attention economy just keeps getting thinner and thinner for most professionals. Anyway, when I first joined Hanley, wood media and that was working with the American Institute of Architects on a multitude of opportunities. The one thing that the leadership of AIA emphasized to me is, you really need to help us solve the problem that our members have, which is they're working way too many hours, and don't have enough time for the meaningful learning acquisition that goes beyond continuing education and getting those those learning units that keep the AIA after your name and keep your licensure up to date.

And I didn't understand what that meant. It took me about five years to figure it out. And it was during my time at handling wood, I realized, wait a minute, okay. Our advertisers at the time at handling wood are all building products companies. And these are companies who expressed to us that that mystical profession called architecture they don't they don't get it.

They think they do but the executives in the industry just simply don't understand how to get their sales and marketing teams aligned to serve the architecture community properly. And I found it interesting to hear them say that when I'd heard AI's leadership telling me something related but but almost opposing that that view It simply comes down to not understanding one another, not understanding the challenges that exist the pain points that actually cause the knowledge gap that exists in the design and specification process.

And even when it came to AIA to lead corporate partner development, I still hadn't fully crystallized it. And then one day, I was talking to the head of our research team, Michelle Russo, who used to be with Dodge Data and Analytics. And I asked her what do we know about our members in making choices about materials for a project. And I, I'm just gonna visualize her response it was

Evan Troxel

for those who are listening to this and not watching it, there was, there was just I just got burned into my mind and image of John with his jaw on the floor.

John Crosby

Yeah, jawed response. And Michelle and I kind of locked arms, we went in to ask for money to begin an initiative that continues to this day, and it's called the architect's journey to specification and that project was meant to do two things. One was gain a better understanding of what's getting in the way of our members, making good choices about materials. And that's not to say they don't currently, but they're very habitual.

We know our members, copy and paste specs from one project to the next. And if you learn about all these habits, and all these preferences, they have, you start to realize, wait a minute, we want to innovate the built environment, I'm not sure it's going to happen that way. And then to add on top of that, if the building products industry is trying to better understand how to serve our members and make them more effective in material selection, they don't understand what to do next.

So this really put us in a unique position to start to pivot a little bit on what it is that AIA means to not just architecture but to to the construction industry. You know, AIA is viewed as a brand that everyone respects and appreciates, because it has a long running history, it's been around for almost 107 years. But there's a lot about that brand that's stayed conservative doesn't change much. Our members have started to tell us, you've got to change that if we're really going to have any meaningful impact on humanity.

In the coming years, we've got to change how we practice. And in order for us to do that, you have to help us change the Academy, the industry, the firm, culture, all of it. So big picture stuff, I'm not trying to solve all of those things. But the the simple challenge of trying to put more knowledge in front of an architect, so they can say, Aha, if I do it that way, I could get a better outcome over here. We can get members doing that. Who knows what kind of change could

Evan Troxel

occur? It's great that you brought up the architects journey to specification, which is really a document that the intended audience for is the building supply manufacturing side, right. And you're in it, you are doing a quite in depth research project to present data that backs up that it's not like you had claims that were maybe you did have some hypotheses, but this is really like the outcome of the research. And you're just basically saying, look, here's what we're hearing, here's what the demand side, which is, I think I will refer to it on the podcast here, which is the design professionals are telling us time and time again. And as you said, it's a multi year research project.

So you're actually able to watch trends stay the same or change or and you're presenting that data back to building manufacturers to arm them with a plan of what they need to do to reach that demand side. Could you go a little bit more in depth into what the architect's journey to specification has kind of made maybe let's just pick a top one or two or three outcomes of that, that have become kind of the mantra of the AIA to the supply side of the industry over the last five years

John Crosby

easily. And happily. It starts with the fact that through the profiling we did have our members in in the initial research and even in the benchmarking through the years we've realized that, you know the the profession is evolving on a generational level. And it's not just a stepladder. It's it's actually we see the profession forking a bit and saying okay, well, historically, the profession has been this way.

Well, now we've got you're seeing different facets of of practice, where many of the younger architects who are are starting to take leadership roles and firms are very technologically focused and very much focused on on trying to find ways to speed up or accelerate decision making and practice. So they can be smarter and more impactful.

At the same time, we're also seeing a thread, a very significant one we call the risk taker. Now, this seems antithetical to practice, if you asked me, we always talk about how risk averse our members have done historically. But the risk taker is a growing segment in architectural practice. And it's not about taking risks that you know, threaten the design, you know, stability or impact or the fact that the firm might just get sued over a project, it's risk taking, meaning, I'm going to go out and find more information about a better product that's going to help me do X. And in most cases, a lot of the x's are focused on sustainability, there's just it's very clear,

Evan Troxel

I'm just laughing, because it's funny to think of that as being risky, right, like finding innovative products that lead to better outcomes.

John Crosby

Isn't that ironic? It truly we've, we've noticed that the evolution just in terms of what kinds of resources are number one on the list for the conservative as we call it, which is the older generation architect versus the Dynamis, we call it which is the more tech savvy architect, and then the risk taker, the spec is number one for the conservative them for the Dinah mist, and EPDs for the risk taker.

So when you start to think about what documentation is important, it's clear, okay, that's how they're activating their knowledge about a material. So that that's the number one frame that came out of all of this is stop thinking about architecture as a monolith, it is not, you know, the, you know, the the person with a black turtleneck and the round spectacles, who make serious decisions, and nevertheless, you see the other side of the curtain, it's, it's not like that anymore, hasn't been that way for a long time. And in reality, you also have a very motivated segment of the profession, that is the newer generation, the millennial and now entering into Gen Z.

Professionals who are very motivated to do something more than just, you know, earn a paycheck, or to design a beautiful building aesthetic certainly matter. But the impact of the building the how, and the why of that building, which sounds like it's the role of the engineer, it's not the same, you know, this, trying to figure out how a design will actually shape the how and why of that building. That's really important early on in the in the process. And that means architects are starting to take ownership of that.

So that's the first area The second area I want to touch on, came from the second round of research we conducted, which was a gap analysis between architects and manufacturers reps. And interestingly, and started willingly, we discovered that 90 Some percent of our members want a strategic relationship with multiple building product manufacturer reps, for Category expertise, for resource deployment, I mean for consultation. But on the flip side, only about half of building product manufacturing reps feel like the architect wants that relationship. So there's obviously a communications gap that exists, probably has more to do with lack of time to be able to invest in building that relationship. But the desire is there.

Evan Troxel

That's really interesting. those top two, we could we could spend several episodes, I think talking about those top two, because there's so much depth in them. And the investment that you You're that the AIA has made to get deep into this research to expose the existing gaps, the true thoughts and feelings. A lot of times what we see at Tech is that architects think and feel something for various reasons. It's previous experience. It's what they heard from a close friend or a colleague. It's baggage from a bad experience.

It's, it's all of these things and they are not willing to tell a rep that stuff, right. And so you acting as kind of this intermediary and us as facilitators of the relationship between these two help bridge the gap, do get to hear those things. And we get to tell the other side what those things are. I'm curious to hear how those things have been. How did they hear them? Have they are they acting upon those? And if so, how and if not, why not?

John Crosby

So I will I'll be completely candid about that I think the response has been a mixed bag. We've converted many major brands across the landscape. And the sense that they have come to us a little skeptical about about what we're seeing at the top line of, of our research. But once we dig a little bit deeper, they start to realize, yeah, you know, what I can appreciate that I can understand.

You know why that may be why the architect sees a challenge with respect to our capabilities on provisioning digital information, or in ensuring that we've got an adequate workforce deployed to serve and support firms across the country that those things are understandable business challenges that anyone can can see and appreciate.

Our favorite examples have to do with companies that maybe have tried, I would just say Hail Marys, quite frankly, you know, build up your brand and make you look like this amazingly, stupendous, design focused franchise, when in reality, the emperor has no clothes, you start to you know, the architect gets a little bit closer and realizes you're not as much as you say you are. And then there are companies that come to us saying, you know, your members are great, but ultimately, in my category, it's a consultant who is more important, and they're the ones telling the architect what, what to spec, and we start doing a deeper dive for them, and they start to realize, wait a minute, we're missing an opportunity that differentiates us against our competition, rather than just simply saying, that's the way it's always been.

But I would say that, we've got a long way to go. We've, we've, I'd say out of the four or 500 companies that are in our orbit, so they exhibit with us or they have sponsored AI programming and things like that, about 40 companies have begun to drink the Kool Aid, and, and all at varying levels. And when we talk to companies that aren't bought in, you know, they have to make an investment choice to dig deeper into, allow us to consult them on how best to change their strategies.

The will is not there yet, they all have the ability to do it. They all have the resources and expertise to be able to convert, but they don't have the will to go do it right now. And that's, that's going to be a challenge for the long haul. Because, you know, the top 50 brands are not the companies we need to be concerned about. They're the ones committed to sustainability in their materials in the sourcing and the manufacture and the delivery and the performance. It's, you know, companies 51 through 500, we have to worry about the most.

Evan Troxel

How did they, you mentioned that they were skeptical of the news receiving the news that architects want or asking for, maybe they're not asking for it, maybe they just want that relationship that you were talking about to have those kind of go to experts on speed dial kind of that's kind of to me what I think of I think like this short list of people I can call no matter what my context as a design professional might be, I could be conceptual design, I could be constructed administration, I need a question answered, your might go to that is, we realize the value in that.

And that really is somebody I trust, it's somebody a may or may not have a relationship, hopefully, I mean, that's the goal, I think, is to build those relationships over time. And you said they were a little skeptical of receiving that information. Maybe you can just speak to that point. Because that's really what we're honing in with the purpose of this show is to build those relationships to expose interesting people in the industry to each other so that they recognize that there are other people that are very easy to access. And they also want that relationship, it can be bi directional. Maybe you can just speak to them receiving that news, the skepticism or you know, the winds and in that area as well.

John Crosby

Well, I think you have to start by considering for a moment, what is it these companies are good at? You know, they're good at making stuff, right? They're, they're good at the supply chain of ensuring that they've got the proper raw materials to be able to produce the product that gets shipped out to market. So they're, they're good at making stuff. They're good at distributing stuff. We know from our research, these companies are not not very good at marketing. And by extension of that, I would say they probably struggle to a fair amount.

I don't care how well funded they are they struggle at the sales relationship as well. So they've from the beginning. They've got a problem with how to best position themselves in a market where you're dealing with in particular white collar professionals, you know, we see a lot of companies who try to figure, you know, the easiest way to do this, and what did they do, they go straight to the contractor and say, you know, let me know, when you get the spec from, from the architect, I can tell you what you really ought to do.

And I've been openly combative about that, that tactic with some building product manufacturer reps and saying, you know, you do that at your own risk, because ultimately, if the client is bought in, and you've gone to the contractor to try to change, or request a substitution, now all of a sudden, the client could end up with something they don't even know they're gonna get, is that really the way we want to do business in this world, right.

So there is a problem there from the beginning that these companies are not built, to change their their methodologies in a way that are going to help alter the course of a project that they want to sell more, that's for sure. But as we've learned from a lot of our closer relationships, what they've done is convert their Salesforce is number one into consultation teams.

That's, that's a good starting point. Because, you know, the point you made, an architect wants to know that they have someone on speed dial, they can call them at a moment's notice and go, What if I do this? You know, how's that gonna work? Or can you get me any performance data on that?

So having consultants, huge lift for a manufacturer, the companies that are skeptical, I, frankly, I think they're sitting at the vortex of modernization of the sales and marketing funnel, that's maybe the biggest challenge, because if you follow this stuff, these days, the funnel is being taken over by marketing more and more. And it's because of digital technology, the ability to engage.

Forgive me, any architect who watches this, I don't like calling architects leads, okay, their design partners with building product manufacturers. But let's, for simplicity sake, call them a lead. If you're in a marketing and sales funnel, the typical architect does not want to become a sales lead at the top of the funnel. And it's really not interesting to them to become a sales lead at the middle of the funnel.

They want to be activated as a sales lead, when they're damn good and ready to have that conversation about making that material choice. And that's it. And these companies have not invested properly in marketing or in marketing technology, to be able to activate that way. There's a old expression, which, you know, frankly, might not might be considered out of vogue these days. But it's the notion of whether someone is like a light switch or an iron. And I think most architects or anyone in practice is probably more like an iron, I need to be warmed up to understanding who you are, I need to appreciate your brand. I need to know what your company's values are.

I need to know how you make your product, I need to know what kind of subject matter experts back your product? How are you deploying research and development to to for your next product wave. Those are all key elements in the equation before someone's going to decide to abandon something they may be used for for decades. Right? When you flip the script, we know that there are architects out there who think they're dealing with a brand new product when it's been out to market for 10 years,

Evan Troxel

it's just new to them, right.

John Crosby

And that's a problem too, that that's everybody's at fault. They're the manufacturer, it's failed miserably. If someone thinks that a product that's out to market for 10 years, is brand new, right? So these are challenges that these companies have and some of it's about the conversation, but a lot of it's about the content. I tell these companies all the time the CEOs love hearing me come at them with this.

If you don't think you're in the digital content business you're already behind. And your r&d Strategy is your marketing strategy. If you can pull up the kimono and let people see what you're doing inside, they're gonna love you for it. And that's a difficult leap for a lot of these companies to get past because of wanting to protect their IP and protect their businesses and such and that's understandable but they've got a lot of challenges.

Evan Troxel

Again, have dropped some so many little breadcrumbs in here that I would love to pick up but we can't cover them all. I think one of the things that really sticks out we'll go to a part two. Yeah, we will definitely have a part two. The the idea that that the building supply product wrap is going to go to the end and tell the contractor what they really need. It shows the gap of leaving so much on the table by early engaging the decision makers that will, the earlier those decisions can be made, the chances of that product being in the pipeline and not getting changed out is so much higher.

It's incredible. Right. And to your point, also, the other, I guess, breadcrumb I want to pick up here is that you mentioned early on that architects reuse a copy, paste the same things over and over again. And we often say, at Tech, that there's two buckets that architects fall in, I know, I'm one of them. This is total experience talking is, yeah, we're going to reuse that stuff. Why? Because we sell time for money. And, and I've already spent that time, or maybe somebody else on another team does, and I don't have to reinvent the wheel. And so that we we've built trust in a different way, rather than through a personal relationship.

The second bucket that we fall into is, oh, we're just gonna go spend 16 hours on Google, right. And those two things do not equal out F, right. So so we often in we've, we reuse the same stuff over and over and over again. And we try, we kind of meet in the middle by the black hole of Google, right, which is we don't even know where to begin, we don't even know what the questions are to ask. And you you spoke about the beginning of the funnel.

That is, there is so much opportunity there to start to build a relationship to get to know if something is even the right direction or not, without it being feeling transactional. And I think that's where a lot of the previous baggage comes from of why two out of three architects per year research, walk away from a product, because I get hit with a thing that says I'm going to collect all your information just to talk to somebody, well, guess what, I'm not willing to give up my information just to talk to somebody to see if this might be a possibility, because that's very much treating it like a transaction.

And that is the opposite of this relationship. And so there's so many, like I said early many, there's so many moving parts are so many pieces of this puzzle, I find it fascinating, this, the size of this problem, and the interesting people who are working on it and and to your guys credit, putting the information out there and making it available to everybody.

And that's you're in a position to be able to do that to kind of speak for the architectural community, on behalf of them to a wide range of building product manufacturers to say, look, you're all getting the same information, and then how they're going to deal with it, I think you'd like it, you're gonna see a whole spectrum of how they're going to deal with it.

So it's great to hear that some are taking you at your word. Like it's not coming from nowhere. This is this is deep research that you guys have done. This is not just a survey on Survey Monkey that you guys put out there, right? Like this is actually deep research. So it's great to hear and and kind of reinforcing this idea of relationship.

You guys, one of your strategies is the conference on architecture. And, again, to your point, getting things out there in the awareness sphere of architects is huge, where they can touch it, where they can feel it where they can, again, I don't know if it's the right timing for this product. But man, I'm going to file that away mentally, this is a great opportunity to do that. In addition to the digital strategies you were speaking to, which is going to hit a different generation in a different way. You they do kind of have to do it all

John Crosby

without question is it we all know this when we all you mentioned the conference on architecture, and any one of us who's a professional is us going to trade shows and conferences to try to figure out what you know, what's my next move, if I'm going to change the way I do something. But when it's all said and done, and you get back into the day to day reality of things, the technology that sits around us in in our in our workflow.

At some point, we have to ask ourselves, Is it facilitating or obstructing my ability to innovate? And, you know, this is one of the reasons why we're so fascinated with you know, what you and Bob have in mind with with tech is because this is about it's okay for people to be where they want to be in a relationship development process. It's okay.

Let's let people be that way. Let's let people choose when they want to engage to a certain extent with someone who ultimately is trying to sell something. And, you know, in a face to face engagement, you have total power total control, because you can walk away or you can avoid engaging all together, right? And that's, gosh, if we could pack pinch and bottle, the experience of being, you know, at a 22, for an architect and being able to have a conversation with someone and learn something new, and maybe change their minds about what they're going to do on their next project.

If we could bottle that and replicate it, I think we will have solved a lot of humanity's problems for the, you know, the next decade or so, having said that, that's not going to happen. But, you know, on the point of trade shows, you know, there's trade shows are a sector of our economy that, frankly, have been in dire need of innovation in the first place.

You know, a lot of people start to wonder, why do I go to a trade show and, and for an architect who does not, you know, you don't cut a check, to buy a product, you make a decision based on your professional wisdom and insight to say, this is going to work. And so that makes go into a trade show even harder.

For everyone, it's more difficult for you because ultimately, I know I need to make a choice about a material, I already know a lot of materials that can fulfill this need, because, hey, it's a building, there's a roof, there's a floor, there are walls. And there's a lot of intricate systems that sit within, those things haven't materially changed dramatically, other than things like IOT.

But when it's all said and done, innovation happens, and a lot of these companies are out there, taking the risk of innovating materials, for you to figure that out at a trade show can be a bit of a challenge. And ultimately, these companies, this is where I give them an F, they more often than not pack their boots full of salespeople, instead of their r&d people, their subject matter experts, frankly, their marketing leaders put your marketing leaders in a booth. And let them have conversations with architects because to the point we made earlier about the increasing importance of the marketing part of the funnel.

At some point the marketer needs to understand just exactly what it is that that the architect or the specifier needs in order to make an effective decision after that tradeshow. But trade shows getting back to my point, you know, the pandemic wasn't just a blip for trade shows, I think for a lot.

There's sort of this existential moment. And I'll tell you, it's been an existential moment for us, we've had to sit back and go, Okay, if we're going to bring this back, this better be done. Right. And it better be done well, because if if it doesn't work, we could do real and lasting harm to the franchise. And so we asked a lot of very serious questions of exhibitors, of our corporate partners of our members.

We even hired an architecture firm to get involved in helping us understand what kind of experience we have. Let's cuts, as I said, that I've put that sounds stupid, we asked him an architect to tell us how we should perceive our own franchise. And that's, that's kind of damning. But the reality is, it was important, and I'm glad we did it.

Evan Troxel

It's nice to get some fresh eyes sometimes, right? Well, it wasn't

John Crosby

just that it's also you know, look, a trade show has walls, has a roof and has a floor. And that but the the heartbeat of a tradeshow are the people who engage in that experience. And what kind of experience is it and one of the Wiser architects on the project actually told us, You think you have a tradeshow, but what you really have is kind of a hybrid, retail slash theme park experience.

And that's a completely different methodology for for designing it for executing it for ensuring that people have a quality experience, and they leave feeling satisfied. That changed things up for us dramatically. And all of a sudden, we were willing to take more risks about what you know, how it shaped what kind of offerings we provide on the floor, you know that the old adage about providing food and booze on a show floor, they haven't changed, everybody's still wants that.

But ultimately, you can't find where you need to go or want to go. That's a problem. You got to figure that out when we think we're solving for that. But the other part is creating a diversity of experiences. Not everyone wants to just walk down an aisle going to one booth after another after another trying to find out what everyone's doing.

That's great if someone just serendipitously wants to explore. But you know, you haven't, you may say I've got one hour, and I need to hit the high notes or I need to get accomplished some specific goals. So what can we do as a tradeshow organizer to create that kind of experience?

So you get what you want out of it, rather than getting what everybody else wants you to have And then lastly, frankly is diversifying the offering for the exhibitor, it shouldn't just be about asking your staff to stand on, you know, carpet with a thin layer of padding underneath for, you know, six or eight hours, it should be that there are options for you to choose to invest.

So creating more personalized and customized experiences for getting you connected with architects, or putting your materials out in front in a way that maybe creates a neutral ground. So the architect can interact with the product without you even being involved. These are things that have to happen, because ultimately, if we don't now, we're going to be way behind come 823. And so I think we're excited about what we're going to see at 822. And we're hoping everybody else can appreciate the kind of magic that we're trying to create.

Evan Troxel

Yeah, I think about the machine of the trade show year after year, you're in a different city. Every year, I've been to many AIA conference on architecture. And I have to say, I go for the people, not for the expo hall. And obviously, there's lots of facets to a conference on architecture. And and I do want to dig deeper into the expo hall itself.

And, and you get into a habit of how we're going to do it. But I think we also see innovation, year after year. And now that you've kind of had this two year break of no in person tradeshow, it gives you an opportunity to go deeper to rethink. And so I'm wondering what are you've mentioned, some of them already, like, this is an enormous opportunity to bridge the gap between supply and demand to go back to your your mission.

In your bio, what we do at Tech as well, I mean, this is this is, this is where we want to be in that sweet spot of bridging that gap. And this is an opportunity to do that. So with what you're doing with this show, and you're talking about the layout, you're talking about the experiences, I know one of the things that you've said to me previously is that you want to bring the city to the show, rather than or not, in addition to the show to the city, right?

You're I'm doing the famous, you know, weaving my fingers together. This is we're talking about doing this, this is the thing that you want to do with the show and making it about a place like architecture is about placemaking. Right? So thinking about it on lots of different levels. What are the innovations that we're going to see at this show? Why should we be excited to go to the expo floor in addition to all the other keynotes and awards and dinners and alumni events? And like, there's so many pieces, right? But why should? Why would people be excited to be a part of bridging the gap between supply and demand on the expo floor this year?

John Crosby

Well, you've given me a lot to work on their evidence. And I'm going to start with the point you made about why go to the conference, and it should be about the people. And there should be no distinction between conference and trade show and the desire to want to connect with people. I've challenged the thinking internally for us about whether or not in 10 years, we have what you would call a trade show any any longer.

You know, it can be a commercial engagement experience without, you know, 600 booths, or 600 brands. And then you know, all kinds of sights and sounds and food and all that stuff. To make it interesting and engaging you we may have to disrupt that. But that's a long term challenge.

The challenge for now, even on the exhibitor side is people so if you think for a second all those activities that you love to attend the conference on architecture and experience, probably the the biggest lightning rod for the exhibitor or the tours that we offer, or our attendees, and the tours are part of the secret sauce, the magic of going to an AI conference, because it gets you connected with the built environment of the local town, the host city. And my gosh, here we are going to be in Chicago, which is one of several mechas in the United States for architecture.

Why wouldn't our members want to get out and experience that architecture? But I'm also a tradeshow organizer. And so I have to flip the script a little bit and this is the thing that kind of jarred our staff a little bit. And I said, Look, we have to treat that tradeshow floor like it's a casino. Okay, we want people to come in, we want them to lose track of time.

We want them to have plenty to eat and drink at no cost. And when it's all said and done, we may or may not want them to walk out with any cash. But leave that last one aside. We want our members to come to the show floor and enjoy it and feel like they got something from it, knowing that at some point they are going to want to get out and experience the city But you kind of said it, what we want to bring the city to the environment of the expo is the only place as part of the overall conference, you know, the classrooms and the keynote sessions and the parties, you can't really experience a city truly that way.

But the trade show floor, you can make it feel like you're walking a street, you can make it feel like there are angles in terms that you might not expect, just exploring a new place. And that there are open spaces parks for for places of respite as one of the architects mentioned during the development process. And that you can feel like you're entering maybe one neighborhood versus another as you make your way across the show floor, and the sights and the sounds and the tastes. And the smells can all frankly, evoke a memory of what that city is like.

So we do want to create an architectural experience of placemaking experiences, you said, I love that for our attendees with the expo, does that mean they're going to be there for eight hours a day? Absolutely not. And if I I would never want them to do that there's so much else to experience both in Chicago and at the conference.

But for us to make that a viable experience for everyone, it needs to feel like a place you want to be. So I feel like we've done that, I will say that there are a couple of things that we're activating for the show that to me, our game changers. One is we're bringing experiences from the city that are either artistic or, or they're community related, or, or they have a relationship to the culture of the city. And we're creating installations in some of the parts on the show floor, so that you get that feel.

But then, to connect more to the commercial engagement side, I first of all, I'm a big fan of, of helping manufacturers and architects find one another. So by doing so, essentially, it's called hosted by are out there in the real world, but creating facilitated engagements where I matchmake, a manufacturer and architect who, frankly didn't even realize they should be connecting with one another, not to have a sales conversation.

In fact, we set the rule, this is not a sales pitch. This is a this is a learning opportunity. This is a q&a opportunity, a moment for you to actually figure out how you're going to get that next architecture customer. If you're a manufacturer, and trying to create that experience on the show floor. That's something that we have always wanted to do. And we're finally able to do that this year.

To the point I made earlier about trying to give our attendees an opportunity to interact with material in on their terms, meaning not through a gatekeeper such as a sales rep. We're partnering with a company called swatch box to provide material sample experiences in a way that we've never done on a show floor.

In fact, I don't think anyone in the construction industry has done this. But the idea is to put the power of technology in the attendees hand. And as they interact with a manufacturer of space on the show floor, that they might be able to walk up and scan a QR code and simply say I'd like that sample delivered to my house or to my office wherever what destination is relevant wherever they choose.

But then also creating neutral ground where you know the the attendee can interact with numerous samples from numerous companies, and have the same kind of user experience. Philosophically sampling to me is a big deal for us going forward because I think there's a sustainability message in all of this, we can lighten the load of the exhibitor, we can change the way the the attendee interacts with, with materials.

And ultimately, we know this samples are kind of important to the long term decision making strategies of firms. So now we're just putting the power in the hands of the individual and boy, talk about you know, moving towards greater equity and inclusion in architecture, if a junior architect all of a sudden has the power to to be more informed about materiality in a way that they never were before. That's democratization of design.

Evan Troxel

This all sounds fantastic to me. I think about the reason. Again, there's many reasons but but you're never going to have a concentration of this many design professionals who are excited, live, sleep, breathe the built environment more than this group of people, and for an exhibitor on the show floor, to be able to be a piece of that, that energy I think about the bringing the energy of the city into the place through the people, right?

And the people that are there are the ones with that energy. And you're gonna see a lot of people who are extremely excited to get their hands on things to touch and feel them to hear the story behind. Why was that product produced? Why was it invented? How did you innovate? I think all of those kinds of tidbits of information, it's a fantastic place for an exhibitor to be to experience the other side, as well, as you know, coming from the demand side to check out the wares that are that are available.

There's, there's just so much opportunity to, I want to say start the conversation, but also to start the relationship between these right? This is a huge, huge opportunity for both sides. But really for that supply side exhibitor who's going to be there to get a glimpse into, like you said, this is what marketers do, right? They want to know what the struggles are, they want to know what the problems are, that the architects are designing to solve. And we don't always know what our problem is, right?

At that moment, we're trying to figure it out, or it might come up later, even. But this is a huge opportunity to get a glimpse into the life of a design professional. And I can't wait to do that. Because again, being offered two years, this is going to be a great time to get back together with our community.

John Crosby

Well said, I think the your colleagues in the profession are just judging by the response we've gotten from, you know, overall, the registration cycle being open for several months now and seeing the kind of response we've we've received, there's, there's going to be some some real magic from the professions, you know, in the McCormick Place and beyond, in Chicago, in late June.

And that's heartening, because I think, I, I would like to think that all architects, at some point, have seen that there could be value in attending an AIA conference. But the real value to your point is in the people. And man, if you've got 1000s, and in our case, hopefully, you know, maybe 15 to 20,000 people, they're ready to learn from one another and ready to find the next big thing that could help them in practice.

That kind of momentum will be very real. And it'll be very telling about what's to come for us in in the next, you know, iteration for 23. And beyond. I will say this from the manufacturer side, if there's one thing I can say to any manufacturer, because everything we've said up to this point of and has to do with asking them to think differently and to act differently and to find ways to engage on the level that they the architect is seeking.

We're opening the doors to that opportunity now and not just on our terms. I mean, we're asking real questions of manufacturers about what it is that they would expect in order to create those, those not I call them alternative realities, I mean, the the manner in which you might engage with an architect, whether it's at that show, or through other means via AIA or text or anyone else out there, what is it going to take in order for you to have that different kind of conversation and build that relationship that's necessary.

We're opening the doors, I mean, throwing open the doors and saying, we're open to new and different ideas. This is not the old AIA, that, frankly, creates a bit of a wall around the expo and says, This is the conference and this is the expo, the manufacturer, employees need to feel like they're a part of the community as well.

Evan Troxel

I do feel like our profession of architecture, specifically, is going through a bit of a turning point. I mean, we're seeing it with leadership change at the AIA on many levels, we're seeing it in social media, we're seeing it all over the place in the magazines. So this really is going to be an incredible event and an opportunity. And I there's I don't know of another time where I don't want to say the fate of the profession, but let's just call it the the breadth of the profession is on everybody's mind right now.

It's really palpable. And so it's a it's an incredibly exciting time to have an in person event again, number one, but also to be to be challenging the status quo and so many areas and the show is not an exception to that. So I think it's going to be it's going to be absolutely fantastic. And I would be remiss to say that. If I didn't take the opportunity to say that, in partnership with the AIA Tech has a booth we're going to be right there in the middle of the show floor.

So I'm extremely, you know, we have a lot of gratitude to the AIA and T You John to, to help us get there and and to have these conversations on the show floor, there's not going to be a better place to do that. So we're excited to do some really interesting things with our little space there. And, again, I'm incredibly grateful to the opportunity, but also for us to to expand on that offering to do to do hopefully really great things in the expo,

John Crosby

well, I don't I don't want to sell you short, because I want your audience to know that this is more than just AIA offering booth space to tech, because I think you have a message to evangelize from that space. But you know, the other part of this, and this is a bit of experimentation. But we've wanted for years to find ways to get exhibitors to be a part of the activation experience.

Because, you know, when you think about a group of people in a room, you know, at a party or whatever kind of gathering, it's usually, you know, certain personalities in the room, kind of make it energetic and interesting and experiential. And our view is that exhibitors can be a part of that activation if you'd let exhibitors get beyond their space.

So that the experiment that that text is embarking on at this show, I think it's going to be really interesting for both attendee and exhibitor because it's, it's, frankly, it's a part of the narrative of what it means to develop and evolve that relationship between architect and manufacturer. I think that is going to be really interesting. And I encourage anyone who's watching, who ends up in Chicago to seek you guys out as you're as you're working through that process, because I think that's going to add just a little bit more magic to the experience.

Evan Troxel

Absolutely. That's why and that's one of the reasons I want to bring it up. Because we're not going to have too many opportunities to let everybody know that we're going to be there. And this is this is a good excuse to say that. Yeah, I definitely want listeners, viewers of the show to come by and say hello, and let's let's learn about each other. So yeah, this is going to be fantastic. So John, When is the show? Where's the show? How can people find out more about the show?

John Crosby

Let's start there, you can go to conference on architecture.com. That's the destination website for the conference. If you're an exhibitor or prospective attendee, all information is available there for everyone interested. Now, the event itself, runs from June 22 through 25th. That's a Wednesday through Saturday.

The architecture Expo runs June 23, and 24th, which are the Thursday and Friday. So we're bookended by a couple of days of, of education and leadership programming, including AIA is annual membership meeting. So that's most of all, the programming is taking place at McCormick Place, which is the either the largest or one of the top three largest convention centers in the United States and amazing place, south of the loop in downtown Chicago.

And there will be other activities and events that take place, not just throughout the city, mostly it at host hotels that are nearby. But it's we're getting close, I think what are we now about six weeks away? Yeah. And I dare say The die is cast. There's still a lot of development work to be done, but we're getting there.

Evan Troxel

Fantastic. Well, John, I'm looking forward to our next conversation. And this, this has been fantastic. So thank you so much for taking the time today, I really feel like the conversation that we're having on this show is just getting started around the ideas of bridging this gap and getting that out to more and more people. And to hear both sides of that. And so again, this event is going to be a huge piece of that strategy.

So kudos to you and your team for putting it together and pulling it off. I know it hasn't happened yet. And I'm not going to jinx it. But this is this is an incredible undertaking and amount of output. And so again, so many pieces of the puzzle that you guys are pulling together, so congrats on that it's going to be a fantastic show. I can't wait to see you in person again.

John Crosby

Absolutely. Looking forward to that and to quote I think it was Gene Cernan in the movie Friday, excuse me, Apollo 13. I believe this could be our finest hour. I really do. The the energy and excitement around the conference this year is unlike any in the 10 years I've been around the show. I think it's going to it's going to be a launching point for how we advance engagement between this profession and this industry that need to come together to change the built environment. So looking forward to it.

Evan Troxel

Nice. Well come back anytime, John, talk to you again soon.

John Crosby

Absolutely. Thanks a lot.

Evan Troxel

And that is a wrap for this episode. People verse is powered by tech and produced by tech media. For more episodes and access to the show notes, visit people verse.fm. To learn more about tech visit tech.com where you can experience the shortest path from keyword search to local building product expertise. Please rate us five stars and leave us a review wherever you listen. And lastly, if you enjoyed this episode, please share it with your friends and colleagues. Talk to you soon

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