Look Who’s Talking – Jen Pettigrew, Senior VP, Meetings & Vendor Relations, Self Storage Association

Posted by Erica Shatzer on Feb 12, 2021 12:00:00 AM

With a new, larger location, the MGM Grand, this year’s Self Storage Association (SSA) Fall Conference and Trade Show is expected to be bigger and better than ever. More space and a “different feel” are just two of the advantages that attendees can expect. 

In fact, according to Jen Pettigrew, senior vice president of meetings and vendor relations for the Self Storage Association, a not-for-profit, tax-exempt organization headquartered in Alexandria, Va., the returns of attending a self-storage association conference and trade show far exceed the costs.

“You can’t put a value on having so many vendors in one room,” says Pettigrew. “It’s an opportunity for storage owners and managers to educate themselves on the newest technology and trends. One deal can save them enough money to cover their entire trip and then some.”

In addition to potential supplier and/or product savings, attendees can enjoy networking opportunities, motivational and informational speeches delivered by renowned speakers, educational sessions, and stimulating roundtable discussions on a variety of storage-related subjects.

“We are very excited to be moving to the MGM Grand, which will give the entire conference a different feel,” Pettigrew says. “Although attendees will be treated to the same educational and networking opportunities to which they’ve become accustomed, there is just something special about moving to a brand-new larger space.”

She adds that the SSA introduces “new educational courses, speakers, sessions, and networking opportunities for every conference, so that, coupled with our move to the MGM Grand, will make this like no SSA event we have ever done.”

Tips For Attendees

Considering the numerous activities occurring during the four-day event, ironing out a strategy before the conference and tradeshow is encouraged. To get the biggest bang for your buck, Pettigrew suggests planning ahead.

“We begin to reveal our schedule months in advance,” she says, “so our members should come up with their game plan to maximize their time. If their company is sending several employees, they should divide and conquer to cover more ground. Review the list of exhibitors in advance and make a list of which ones you want to visit. There is a lot of ground to cover in a few days, so having a schedule and plan makes a ton of difference.”

As for the SSA’s events, attendees can obtain full details before they even head to the venue. This is highly recommended in order to plot a precise plan that best utilizes your time. “All attendees should download our conference app by using the QR code we provide or searching for ‘SSA Fall 2019’ via the App Store or Google Play,” says Pettigrew. “This will include the schedule, speakers, exhibitors, maps, social media engagement, and much more.”

Pettigrew also offers some basic—yet invaluable—advice to attendees and vendors alike: “This sounds simple but wear comfortable shoes and pace yourself. Vegas is an awesome city, so make sure to strike a balance between having fun and working.”   

Draw A Crowd

When it comes to vendors, Pettigrew has great guidance for making the trade show a gainful experience for them as well. For starters, she advises vendors to let customers know about their booths long before the event begins.  

“Don’t put the burden on current and prospective customers to find you,” she says. “Spread the word in advance to let them know you will be there and where you will be. Whether it’s via email, regular mail, social media, or phone calls, reach out to tell them where you are located in the trade show hall and what you will be offering. If you have special conference rates or promotions, make sure to promote those in advance.”

Speaking of promotions, it’s not uncommon for vendors to hold contests, raffles, or giveaways to attract more visitors to their booths. To stand out from the crowd, consider incorporating an interesting or appealing element to your booth that will grab the attention of attendees as well as other vendors. Product demonstrations, samples, and information should be on hand and available for interested parties. Distributing business cards and promotional items with your business’ name, logo, and contact information is also recommended. Moreover, having immediate access to your business calendar would be beneficial for scheduling meetings with customers.

If you are seeking more exposure than a vendor booth delivers, Pettigrew suggests becoming an event sponsor. “All of our vendors get great visibility,” she says, “but our event sponsors are given more promotion via signage, SSA Magazine, email blasts, etc.”

Feedback Is Key
Once the conference has concluded, it’s in everyone’s best interest to provide the association with feedback about the event. From registration to the seminars, meals, discussions, exhibitor hall, reception, and everything in between, the only way improvements can be made is if attendees offer their input.

“The SSA is a non-profit that exists for our members, so we are here to serve them,” Pettigrew says. “It’s paramount to hear what they like and what they don’t, so we can factor that in moving forward. We send out a survey afterwards, but our members are always welcome to call or email our staff with suggestions, critiques, or anything else on their mind.”

Since many associations, including the SSA, are “always in planning mode,” as Pettigrew puts it, it’s never too late—or too soon—to provide them with ideas and recommendations for future events. The suggestions submitted to the SSA are used to determine “roundtable topics, trade show hours, and concurrent sessions,” she says. “We want to make sure our members get the most out of their experience, so their feedback is critical.”

To ensure that you can provide useful feedback to the association hosting the conference and trade show, take time to jot down notes throughout the event. Whether it be something you really enjoyed or an aspect that fell short of your expectations, making notes after it happened will keep you from forgetting about them. This is especially important during events that span several days, like the SSA’s annual spring and fall conferences, since there are numerous activities to recollect. In addition, it’s best to submit your feedback shortly after the event has ended while the happenings are still fresh in your head.

Get Involved
If you are not yet a member of the Self Storage Association, or your state’s self-storage association, there’s no time like the present to join. The benefits they offer are well worth the annual membership fees. For starters, association members typically enjoy discounted member-only rates to conferences, trade shows, and other functions.

“In addition to our two national conferences in the spring and fall, there is a Ski Workshop for members and dozens of state conferences our members can attend,” Pettigrew says. “These are a valuable way to find out what is going on at the local and state level. Also, a great deal of what the SSA does is to protect storage operators legislatively, so we always encourage our members to get involved in their respective state. Our staff is always available to answer any questions our members might have, and we encourage them to rely on us.”   

Mark Your Calendars!
You may be reading this while attending the SSA’s 2019 Fall Conference & Trade Show at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nev., but here’s a list of other upcoming state and national self-storage association conferences that you might want to check out:

Arizona Self-Storage Association Conference
When: Sept. 25 to 26, 2019
Where: White Horse Pass Hotel & Casino, Chandler, Ariz.
Details: www.azselfstorage.org

Montana SSA Conference*

When: Sept. 26, 2019
Where: Delta Hotel, Helena, Mont.

Pennsylvania SSA Conference*

When: Oct. 8 and 9, 2019
Where: Spooky Nook Sports and Warehouse Hotel at the Nook, Manheim, Pa.

Idaho SSA Conference*

When: Oct. 10, 2019
Where: Best Western Vista Inn, Boise, Idaho 

Texas Self Storage Association Conference
When: Oct. 13 to 15, 2019
Where: The Woodlands Waterway Marriot Hotel, The Woodlands, Texas
Details: www.txssa.org

New Mexico SSA Conference*

When: Oct. 17, 2019
Where: Sandia Resort, Albuquerque, N.M.

Virginia SSA Conference*

When: Oct. 24, 2019
Where: Delta Hotel by Marriott Richmond Downtown, Richmond, Va.

Maryland SSA Conference*
When: Oct. 25, 2019
Where: Hilton Baltimore BWI Airport Hotel, Linthicum, Md.

2020 SSA Ski Workshop*

When: Jan. 13 to 16, 2020
Where: The Chateaux & Stein Eriksen, Deer Valley, Utah

2020 Spring Conference & Trade Show* When: March 17 to 19, 2020
Where: San Antonio Convention Center, San Antonio, Texas

*For more information on chartered and managed state association events, contact Julie LaRose at jlarose@selfstorage.org or by calling (703) 575-8000, ext. 122.