Talkin’ Torque-Behind the Scenes of CanTorque

Jun 6, 2023

As I write this it is June 6th. Historically we’d be in the middle of year-end (May 31st), we’d have all of our gear packed and close to being shipped for the Calgary Oil Show which was followed, shortly thereafter, by the International Oilmen’s Golf Tournament which was a 4-day tournament.  Busy times indeed.

I used to thoroughly enjoy the International Oilmen’s and played in it for at least 10 years but when I received a call that someone had complained that I excessively used the word “fuck” on the golf course I knew that the tournament’s time had passed… had jumped the shark.  I’m not even going to get into the fact that swearing on the golf course is not only accepted but encouraged…..let alone during an Oilmen’s tournament. This could be a future blog post so I’ll just leave this one as is.

We also moved our year-end to Dec 31st when things aren’t as busy. This will not become a blog post.

But that was then, this is now.

One thing that I can say with 100% certainty is that I never wanted to be like anyone else and I never wanted CanTorque to be like any other company. Our shop and office doesn’t look like anyone else’s, no one else can match our level of support that we offer our customers and, now that we’re a manufacturer, our tools do not look or act like anyone else’s.

Does that make us better? That’s not for me to say. What it does is make us unique.  While most of the companies in my neck of the woods are doing whatever they can to emulate CanTorque we are focused on our customers, our products and ourselves.

I pulled out of exhibiting at local tradeshows a few years ago. Most of the Industrial Shows in Western Canada are run by a single company, that, at their peak was really able to exploit companies.

IE: if you wanted to have space at the big show, you had to put a booth in at least one of the smaller shows.

And these shows are not cheap, they cost approximately $50/ft2. We put a lot of time, expense and effort into maximizing our tradeshow presence.

I have many memories of standing in empty hallways in the exhibition hall where the exhibitors were so bored that we started a game of catch.  We wouldn’t see a visitor for over an hour. Paying major dollars to be there, hotels, food, blah, blah and the show organizer couldn’t even put a few bodies in the building.

The first few years that we exhibited were small.  We booked a 10’x10′ space, the smallest sold and were in the less desirable halls, even though we did the prerequisite supporting shows. To rent our 100 ft/2 space cost approximately $5000 for 3 days; think about that-that would work out to $50,000 for a month at that rate!

That $5000 is for access to the space-only.

We still had to rent power & carpet for the show, pay $1500 to ship our booth and supplies back and forth, pay for 3 hotel rooms at approximately $400/room/night for 3 to 4 nights, hundreds of dollars for food and drinks and on and on. Over the years, our booth got bigger, we moved up to a 10′ x 20′ aka $10,000 for 3 days before settling into our 20′ x 20′ at $20,000 which also came with a hefty price tag for our new booth equipment and additional expense to have a crew set up and tear down.

CanTorque at the Oil Show

I tried a number of things to get people into the booth. In the world of marketing it’s called “activation”

  • Bought a few cases of beer (from the show at something like $225/case but that included bartender)
  • I started bringing our racing simulator to tie in our motorsports marketing to the company and give people a ‘hands on’ feel for what it’s like in a car
    • 2 years after I brought my simulator to the show there were 4 there
  • Hired tradeshow models who were experts at delivering talking points, listening for key words from potential customers and then get them in
  • One of my most-told stories is when I chose to purchase a carafe of coffee for the booth and it goes something like this:

After the year I bought beer for the booth I looked back and all I had to show for it was a big bill (over 2K) and empty cooler and a few people that as soon as they heard the name CanTorque they drank our beer, killed the brain cells that stored our name and we netted nothing. Ok, I thought, next year-let’s try coffee!

I’m going to make some numbers up because I don’t remember the actual quantities but that’s not relevant to the story.

  • Order a 60 cup carafe from the show supplier
  • Pay $357 per day
  • Works out to $5.95/cup
  • They sold individual cups of coffee for $4.25 at the concession
  • I’m getting charged a premium for buying in bulk? Fuck off!

During the show no one cuts you a break, everyone is out to exploit you. And why do they do this?


XYZ competitor will be there so we have to be there!

What will others think if we’re not there?

What opportunities will we miss?

What if _____ customer shows up and sees one of our competitors, changes their mind and we lose them?

These are questions that were not only internally posed but were topics of conversations every year that I considered pulling out of the show when I spoke to fellow exhibitors.

The questions are somewhat valid but mostly paranoid and insecure that I was guilty of asking for way too many years.

It was the same mindset that prompted me to purchase ads in certain trade publications and industrial directories.

But, in a moment of clarity, I took a look at what we were spending vs. what we were netting vs. what I wanted to accomplish. At our peak I think we spent near $35,000 on the show. Our booth looked great but when I looked at what I could do with the amount of money that we evaporated in 3 short days it became clear that my money would be better spent on manufacturing more tools, R&D and operating the company.

We evolved as did our booth and it looks awesome!

The Calgary Oil Show pales in comparison to what it once was, my estimate is that it is about 15-20% of the size it was at its peak, but the rates haven’t changed. Industry seems to agree with me as 80-85% have left the show.

I am also proud to say that our marketing is still unique: we’re the only bolting company in our market that has radio ads & our own radio show: the CanTorque Race Report on the Jason Gregor Show TSN1260 in Edmonton, we’re the only bolting company that sponsors the largest podcast network and one of the largest media groups in Canada with Dean Blundell and Crier Media and I’m still very proud of my motorsports association with Alex Tagliani.

We will still work tradeshows in new markets as a means to introduce CanTorque to those unfamiliar with us but I won’t be spending another penny trying to keep up with anyone.

Colin Livingston

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