The Last Word on SHRM Las Vegas: Why It’s the Biggest Yard Sale in HR

© Konstantin Sutyagin -
© Konstantin Sutyagin -

It’s that time of year right? Time to clean out the house and garage and get pennies on the dollar for all the crap you bought and now don’t want.

I was reflecting on my visit to SHRM11 in Las Vegas last week, and that’s what I kept coming back to – Yard Sale.

Let me explain. The Expo Hall at the SHRM national conference is enormous. Unless you’ve been there it’s hard to explain, but it’s a bit like walking through Vegas itself – way to much to look at, and it’s complete sensory overload.

Do we really need all this stuff?

There were literally hundreds of companies selling everything any HR person would ever buy: insurance (health, supplemental, pet, etc.), health and wellness products/programs, incentive and recognition companies, banking, training companies, research companies, recruiting systems/headhunters/sourcing products, performance management and payroll systems, plus every computer automated type of system you could ever imagine within the HR space – and even some you wouldn’t imagine.

It was a complete mess.

The one question I always leave asking after the SHRM national conference, from a vendor perspective, is whether the investment is really worth the reward for those hundreds of vendors at the show. Some of the big boys – Monster, ADP, AFLAC, Oracle, etc. — I’m sure they make out all right, although I could argue they would make out all right even if they didn’t attend.

It’s the small players that have a booth on row 136 in the back corner of the Exhibit Hall that I wonder about. Do they even talk to anyone beyond their booth mates next to and across from them during the three days the SHRM Expo is open?

The other question I was left with this time at SHRM was this — does HR really need all this stuff? It’s back to my Yard Sale comment; I think we find ourselves in HR way too often buying for the sake of getting what’s new when what we already have is completely fine and usable.

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SHRM Expo is like a TV reality show

Does it have a dashboard? Or colored graphs that tells us which manager sucks the most? No. But let’s face it; we already know which manager sucks the most, we don’t need a dashboard or colored graph to tell us it – we just need some “stones” to go tell that person they suck, and to stop sucking. By the way, not one vendor was selling any “stones” at the conference,  although some vendors were giving out alcohol — which tends to give you temporary “stones.”

The SHRM Expo is like the Ice Loves Coco reality TV show: you don’t want to watch, but it’s such a train wreck you can’t keep your eyes off it. I actually find myself giving myself an internal pep talk at SHRM  to get ready to walk into the Expo Hall, and I usually try to find someone to tag along with me.

It’s like going to buy a used car times a gillion! Everyone is trying to sell you something, whether you need it or not. To be more accurate, it is a cross between the day after Thanksgiving sales and buying a used car, because on top of all the sales people, you have the HR ladies fighting to get the trinkets from the vendors and register for iPads. A person not in the right frame of mind, could get seriously hurt.

I did bring one thing back from the SHRM Expo Hall this year – a clear sense that what we need more of in HR is common sense, and not one vendor at SHRM Las Vegas was selling that.

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.


4 Comments on “The Last Word on SHRM Las Vegas: Why It’s the Biggest Yard Sale in HR

  1. Great post Tim.  For years we have spent a king’s ransom, exhibiting at SHRM.  And every year, I question why we do it.  Two year’s ago, I decided to experiment and significantly scale back our presence at the conference.  What I found is that there was no difference.  We had the same number of visitors (quite a bit of booth traffic actually) and the same impact.  I did the same thing this year with the same result.  I continue to justify the expense as branding, but I imagine there will come a time when we consider using our marketing dollars elsewhere.

  2. Great post. I love all the “should we really be doing things this way” posts I’ve read after SHRM. Not just about the conference itself, but other HR topics as well.

    Whether exhibiting at a big conference like this is worth it depends on the economics of your business model. If you’re selling something that costs $100, probably not. You’re likely not going to garner enough traffic and conversions after-the-fact to make it worth it. However, if your average sale is $50,000, then landing 10 leads and making one or two sales will likely pay for the conference once or twice over.
    On the yard sale, “do we need all this” topic, I think this question can be asked for all big conferences – and I’d answer it in the same way for all of them. There are a lot of vendors hawking a lot of stuff, but there are are 15,000 (mostly) interested consumers walking the exhibit floor. Each runs a difference department at a different company in a different part of the country in a different way – etc. There’s lots of room for many different types of products to fit with individual needs. I laughed at how big the pet insurance booth at SHRM was this year, but I also know a ton of people who have recently bought this for their pets, so there you go…

  3. Common sense would say you found what you were looking for!  I spent every hour the expo was open talking to vendors.  Like a yard sale, one man’s junk another man’s treasure.  I connected no fewer than a dozen people to “vendor solutions,” taking them to the booth that could solve their problems.  If you don’t have problems or your head is buried in the sand ignoring new solutions the SHRM expo is not for you!

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