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Big Inja: Ryan Meiring

Small fish shows big pedigree with a system that takes the trade show expo market by storm

Juliet Pitman

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Ryan Meiring of Big Inja

Sometimes spotting a niche is as much about realising that you can do something better, as it is about realising that you can do something new. Ask Ryan Meiring, founder of Big Inja. The industrial engineer was still a student when he first started helping a friend’s father to register visitors at trade exhibitions using an electronic bar-code scanner system.

“All the visitor’s business and contact details are captured electronically when you scan their bar-coded name badge. It just seemed like a natural progression from there to offer stand exhibitors a service to track visitors to their stand using the same system, thereby effectively doing away with the need to exchange business cards,” he explains.

But he’s quick to point out that the idea wasn’t his. “Many registration companies were offering this service already,”he says, “but they weren’t giving it the attention it required. And that’s where we saw our niche. Ultimately exhibitors are there to collect sales leads and record business interactions – it’s such a crucial ingredient that I believe can make the difference between a successful or unsuccessful exhibit.We knew it could be done better and always believed that what we could offer could make a real difference to exhibitors,” Meiring continues.

Although he believed in their service offering, Meiring knew that getting a foot in the door would hinge on how successfully they could convince trade show organisers to feel the same way.“We spent a lot of time building up relationships with organisers, pitching our offering as a value-add that they could offer their clients,” he recalls.

In the end, it worked and organisors started marketing Big Inja’s services directly to exhibitors. The orders started rolling in. But in spite of his success, there was something that kept niggling Meiring. The service he delivered was reliant in many ways on the quality of the registration company’s data capture.

“If they captured visitor information incorrectly, that info was our source and we’d pass it on to exhibitors,” he says. Knowing that the business needed to grow into new areas, Meiring kept his options open by ensuring that his scanning technology was more advanced than his competitors’.

The planning and forethought paid off. The more advanced technology allowed the company to quickly exploit and establish a foothold in a new market niche. Noticing that orders were dropping off at one show in particular, Meiring realised that exhibitors at that event weren’t looking for new contacts and sales leads, but were rather dealing with repeat clientele who did the majority of their buying at the show.

But what they didn’t have was a system to keep track of the orders. “Being away from their normal order systems, they couldn’t stay on top of the orders and stock levels. And after the show it took them weeks to collate all the orders. The potential for errors and client frustration was extremely high,” he explains.

“I knew if we could come up with a usable solution, we’d really be on to something,” he recalls. What he hit on was simple, fast and brilliant. “Our scanner programmer worked out how to get the scanners to talk directly to a tiny printer, thereby eliminating the need for a computer interface,” he says, explaining how the new system allows Big Inja to upload an exhibitor’s stock lists, barcode their stand products and keep a running tab of a buyer’s order.

“We scan the buyer’s bar-coded ID tag, scan all the goods they want, insert the quantities and print out two copies of an invoice there and then,” he says proudly. Not only does this save exhibitors time and frustration but the system also allows Big Inja to provide each client with a daily summary report on turnover, best sellers and stock levels. Little wonder that it received a heady reception at its recent launch.

But while Meiring recognises that technology is responsible for his latest windfall, he knows it’s not all about fancy gadgets and whiz-kid systems. About the future of the business he says: “I want to do it properly. I’d rather have a handful of really ecstatic clients than a bunch that gets average service.” ‘Doing it better than the next guy’was where it all started and he’s determined to continue in that vein. Contact: +27 861 244 465; www.biginja.com

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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