For much of the past 40 years, Dick Erdel has been “on the hunt” outside of work, as an avid bird hunter who has owned a series of pointers and setters, traveling around the country to pursue his passion. Back at the office, Erdel has been something of a “bird dog” himself, always on the watch for new and engaging promotional opportunities in print, new media and at trade shows for Hubbell.
Erdel, currently trade shows manager for Hubbell, was advertising manager for 17 years at A.B. Chance, during which time Chance was brought into the Hubbell fold in 1994, and Erdel continued as Hubbell Power Systems advertising manager. His long history within the industry has given him some interesting perspectives on how the times have changed.
“When I started, we did trade shows in the utility, telecom and consumer anchor markets,” Erdel notes. Today, he says, Hubbell still displays at utility and telecom shows, but has added railroads, solar, wind, civil construction, concrete and water shows to its repertoire. “We even do shows in the wine and food-processing industries, so we have really expanded the industries we serve,” he offers.
Over the years, Erdel says he has pretty much “seen it all” at trade shows — including exhibits falling down, vendors not showing up, displays set up backwards or featuring misspelled words, and exhibitors breaking show rules and not getting invited back in future years. None, Erdel quickly adds, has happened to Hubbell during his time, though Chance did have one bad experience at a show. At an outdoor event in Florida, the night before a show was to start, a tropical storm blew through and damaged a number of exhibits, including that of Chance. “That show,” Erdel recalls, “was over before it began.”
While earning his journalism degree from the University of Missouri, Erdel worked as a radio announcer and sold radio advertising during the summers. Upon graduation, he served in the U.S Army for two years in public information, including stints in Texas and in Great Britain with the Royal Highland Fusiliers. He joined Chance in 1972 after his military service.
“When I joined the industry in 1972, we used typewriters, had 16-mm film as part of our customer training programs, and we wore coats and ties to work,” Erdel recounts. “There was smoking in the office but no laptops, iPads or smart phones. Today, we have computers and DVDs, and it's all business casual and all about the Internet. Oh, yeah, and no smoking. And, by the way, I don't smoke!”
The workforce has changed, too, he adds. Erdel says he has seen two mass exoduses from the power industry. The first was the World War II generation, which left during the 1980s and 1990s; today, the industry is facing a similar challenge with the loss of baby boomers, among which Erdel counts himself.
“This represents a tremendous loss of everyday operating knowledge,” Erdel comments. “That is going to be a big challenge going forward. I see tremendous opportunities for line personnel at this point in time, as well as a big thirst for knowledge on how all the products work together within a system.”
Hubbell tries to slake that thirst via both traditional print and nontraditional Web-based media. “We are going to see more virtual things happening as we go forward,” Erdel reasons. “With the Internet, we are going to see more modeling and interaction. The amount of information at people's fingertips is huge.” That said, Erdel thinks print is far from dead. “To be effective, advertising has to be consistent and repetitive,” he says. “We are maintaining our exposure in print, particularly in catalogues and brochures. We are using the new tools that are available in addition to what we've always used.”
Trade shows also continue to serve a vital role, Erdel adds. “Trade shows present an opportunity for key customer and manufacturer personnel to meet and educate the market about what is available and, perhaps more importantly, what the customer needs. It's a two-way street. Trade shows are also a great educational opportunity for people new to the industry to see a wide range of products in one location.”
Trade shows also provide very valuable face-to-face social interaction, Erdel remarks. “Maybe I am an old coot saying this, but social interaction between people is important in the sales process,” he says. “One thing I am seeing is that even if the quantity of people we are seeing at trade shows might be slightly down, the quality of attendees is up.”
‘Old coot’ or not, as Erdel joins the baby boomer mass exodus from the electric utility industry, he has no specific plans other than to relax with his wife of 42 years, two children and four grandchildren. An avid bird hunter and outdoorsman, Erdel has owned a number of English setters and pointers through the years, and has done some elk hunting in Idaho. He says, though, that the passing of his last hunting dog this past January signaled the end of his dog-owning days.
“That's it for me!” Erdel says, referring to his ownership of bird dogs. That said, it's hard to imagine Dick Erdel not spending the years ahead hunting down some good old-fashioned face-to-face social interaction, wherever he may be.