General Equipment’s Aggregate Expo a hidden gem

By |  July 29, 2019
The Aggregate Expo is held every three years in early March, often in snowy and cold conditions in Fargo, North Dakota. Photo courtesy of General Equipment

The Aggregate Expo is held every three years in early March, often in snowy and cold conditions in Fargo, North Dakota. Photo courtesy of General Equipment

Las Vegas. Munich. Buxton.

These cities play host to some of the most well-attended trade shows in the aggregate industry, respectively welcoming droves of producers from around the world to ConExpo-Con/Agg, Bauma and Hillhead.

But there’s one other city, located here in the United States, that hosts a rather unique trade show, one that some vendors and attendees put on par – at least in terms of value – with those other world-class events.

That city is Fargo, which plays host to General Equipment & Supplies’ Aggregate Expo. The outdoor trade show is held once every three years in early March at the Holiday Inn in Fargo, North Dakota.

General Equipment, an aggregate equipment dealer celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2019, set out more than a decade ago to build an event that brings manufacturers and producers together in a more intimate setting than the ones found at ConExpo-Con/Agg, Bauma, AGG1 Aggregates Academy & Expo, and similar trade shows.

General Equipment now has five events under its belt, with the 2019 Aggregate Expo bringing approximately 450 attendees to a snow-covered hotel parking lot where more than $20 million worth of equipment could be viewed. To view the expo’s equipment, though, attendees regularly brave near-freezing temperatures.

The expo’s origins

Don Shilling, Jerry Kern, Orvis Stockstad and Gene Hestdalen founded General Equipment & Supplies in 1984. Seeking an opportunity to bring their customers and manufacturer partners together under one roof, Shilling and Kern in 2004 established an Aggregate Seminar – an event hosted at a local civic center and hotel aimed at showcasing the company’s equipment, educating producers on applications and solutions, and connecting salesmen with customers.

Fast-forward to 2008 when General Equipment exhibited at ConExpo-Con/Agg. General Equipment quickly realized that attending North America’s largest construction industry trade show was a rather costly endeavor. The return on investment (ROI) just wasn’t there for General Equipment.

In fact, General Equipment experienced a better ROI on its original 2004 Aggregate Seminar.

“We determined that though [ConExpo-Con/Agg] was beneficial, it wasn’t the return on investment we had hoped for,” says Jon Shilling, president and CEO at General Equipment & Supplies and the son of co-founder Don Shilling. “We actually seemed to have more benefit out of the original Aggregate Seminar, which saw around 200 attendees.”

General Equipment decided to utilize trade shows like ConExpo-Con/Agg to meet and entertain customers. Meanwhile, it could morph its own event into one showcasing equipment to customers.

The latest event – dubbed the Aggregate Expo – launched in 2010, and it now occurs every three years during ConExpo-Con/Agg off years. Since the first Aggregate Expo, General Equipment’s event has ballooned into a must-see event for producers and manufacturers.

The Aggregate Expo today

Producers who attend the Aggregate Expo see more than 40 pieces of equipment scattered across the often-snow-covered parking lot of the Holiday Inn in Fargo. The show takes place in March to fit producer schedules, although General Equipment understands the weather can pose challenges.

“Our customers are ‘get after it and go’ guys,” Shilling says. “The second they have the opportunity to get out and get crushing, they are going to get out and get crushing. If we wait any later into the season, we risk losing a large chunk of the population that would come.”

Decision-makers are just a portion of General Equipment’s targeted audience for the expo, Shilling says. The company encourages decision-makers to attend along with the men and women operating equipment.

“We want them there to teach them about the application and get to know them a little bit better,” Shilling says. “If they trust us and they are confident in the product we provide, it lends itself to positive things with the ownership.”

Despite the cold and snowy weather typical for North Dakota in March, enthusiastic attendees show up in droves.

“Even with the bad weather, we still get huge turnouts from around the region,” Shilling says. “They make every effort to come, even if the weather is inclement. All in all, we are impressed to see all the people out and walking around in the colder weather because they are interested in seeing the spread of equipment we have.”

Because all equipment is displayed outside, the dealer sets up tents with heaters and coffee stations to keep attendees warm as they roam the lot. Making attendees as comfortable as possible helps the Aggregate Expo achieve its ultimate goal: education.

According to Shilling, the expo is where the conversation between producers and manufacturers starts. In addition to the equipment on hand, manufacturers deliver presentations at a nearby conference center to provide details about the equipment.

The point of the class, Shilling says, is not to sell equipment but to continue educating producers. Providing some knowledge, a chance to network and the opportunity to see equipment in action is the focus of the expo.

“We are trying to provide producers some information that will hopefully help run their businesses even better or more efficient,” Shilling says.

The intimate relationship

The 50-plus manufacturers who exhibited at the 2019 Aggregate Expo are in one way or another represented by General Equipment & Supplies. The cost for manufacturers to exhibit, as well as for producers to attend, is minimal because General Equipment’s goal is to facilitate relationships between the two in an environment that larger trade shows cannot provide.

“This is a very intimate level of dealing with people,” he says. “We have so many aggregate-related customers there that it allows manufacturers to get 400 potentially interested people in what they have to offer. They get the opportunity to really visit on a one-on-one basis.”

These visits, Shilling says, are a goal of the Aggregate Expo.

“We just want everyone in the same venue so everyone can talk about their business and the things they can do to better themselves,” Shilling says. “Hopefully that leads to them talking to us about the type of equipment they would like to add to their fleet.”

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About the Author:

Joe McCarthy is a former Associate Editor of Pit and Quarry Magazine.

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