If you’re reading this, then there is a very good chance that you’ve not only heard of the Government Fleet Expo & Conference, ie GFX, but you’ve attended, maybe even participated as a speaker or exhibitor. Maybe you've been a part of the event since the beginning, or maybe you're thinking this will be your first year attending. Wherever you fall in relation to GFX, there's nothing like a refresher on how this all got started and the people who have made it what it is today.
In 2006-2007, an opportunity was identified by Bobit's now-President of Fleet Division Eric Bearly, to create an event that exclusively catered to the public sector fleet industry. A one-page business plan indicating how this would serve the public sector fleet was pitched to ownership at the time and from this idea, GFX was born. The first event was held at the Town and Country in San Diego in 2008 and was attended by around 300 people, primarily fleet managers. Bearly describes that kickoff GFX as an organic experience where attendees saw that something different was happening. The event was unique in its focus on public sector fleet management, with an advisory board made up of public fleet managers, guiding its direction.
From the outset, the GFX team aimed to have a majority of the speaking sessions include a public sector fleet manager, rather than just suppliers. The advisory board helped to identify suitable speakers and peers to share experiences with attendees. The team also aimed to maintain a one-to-one buyer-seller ratio, to ensure that the event remained fleet-focused, rather than solely supplier-focused. This meant that exhibitors and suppliers were also granted access to all sessions and networking events. Now you can find suppliers and attendees sitting alongside each other during a roundtable or an educational session or a networking event getting to know each other and solving challenges.
The Fleet Family
From the beginning, GFX was meant to be a place that felt welcoming and friendly, more like a family gathering. The event was never overly formal, and the team wanted suppliers and attendees to build relationships outside of the exhibit hall. This approach has helped to foster a sense of community and ownership of the event. The networking night on the town has always been a big hit for attendees allowing people to go out and have fun. This is when everyone has the opportunity to go off-site from the convention center or the hotel and find something that is fun in town. In the past, groups have done a variety of things, from visiting landmarks and historical sites around cities to enjoying bands and good food. It’s just another time for people to get to know each other on a personal level.
Eventually, Government Fleet’s then-Executive Editor Thi Dao began to co-manage GFX with Bearly, continuing to help grow the event. Four or five years ago, Bearly stepped back and took on new roles allowing the executive editor to be at the forefront of GFX.
“She really helped take the event to the next level and then created a lot of ownership with the event as well,” Bearly says.
And GFX has continued to grow, from attendees to exhibitors. The event has won awards along the way. Other areas have also been added for fine-tuned. A block party became a new addition several years ago and the Ride-and-Drive event is known for being it’s own event-within-an-event with food, displays, and even music to make getting in a car and going for a spin an experience that is not only educational but fun.
Sessions have also evolved to include more focus on attendee engagement to address issues and problems through roundtables. There’s still a moderator but discussions are tackled using the knowledge that's in the room.
Reconnecting After Going Virtual
The year 2020 was a time of great change for everyone, and the public fleet management industry was no exception. With the pandemic making in-person events impossible, the GFX had to pivot to a virtual format. While this meant that the connections that are the heart and soul of the event were harder to replicate, it still provided an opportunity to share knowledge and educate in the best way possible.
The transition to a virtual event in 2020 was not without its challenges, but it provided valuable lessons that informed the return to an in-person event in 2021. Despite concerns about attendance and connectivity, the event was well-received by both attendees and exhibitors. The sense of community and shared purpose that is so important to GFX was still present, and it was a special event that showcased the best of public fleet management.
However, GFX is also undergoing a generational transition, with many of the early attendees retiring or moving on. The mix of faces at the event is changing, and it is increasingly important to retain the knowledge that needs to be passed from generation to generation. This can be a difficult thing to do, as retiring members may not have had the opportunity to share their knowledge before moving on. This is where GFX comes in, serving as a place to share knowledge and pass on expertise from experienced professionals to those just starting out in the industry.
One of the great things about public fleet management is that it is not a competitive industry in the same way that corporate fleets can be. Rather than competing with each other, public sector fleet managers are focused on sharing knowledge and best practices. This is why events like GFX are so important, as they provide an opportunity for attendees to learn from each other and develop mentor-mentee relationships that can help them improve their operations and avoid making the same mistakes as others.
GFX has also evolved over the years to become a celebration of the public fleet management industry. Awards like Fleet Manager of the Year and the Hall of Fame Award have been added to the event, and the industry comes together to celebrate each other's accomplishments. This sense of community and shared purpose is what makes GFX such a special event, and it’s something that new attendees are encouraged to embrace.
GFX has weathered many changes over the years. However, the event remains an important place for public fleet managers to come together, share knowledge, and celebrate the industry. As the mix of attendees changes and new faces join the industry, it is more important than ever to embrace the sense of community and shared purpose that defines GFX. Whether in person or online, GFX is a critical event for anyone looking to improve their public fleet management skills and make meaningful connections with others in the industry.
One More Thing
When talking with Eric Bearly for this article, he mentioned adding what my role is in GFX as the new executive editor. You see, this will be my first GFX. There are some big shoes to fill and I want to keep this event going strong. This will be a year of learning not only for regular attendees but for myself as well. Each day I get a better understanding of the heart that is fleet and the dedicated people who fill the industry. I’m also getting a better sense of what is important for people attending GFX, what you, the audience, want to hear, and what you want to take back with you. For those of you I’ve already spoken with, you know that I have an open-door policy and have been asking for feedback and advice. The more I can learn what our attendees want, the better I can work with our team to create a GFX that excels every year. So if you haven’t been to our event yet, or it’s been a while since attending, I encourage you to visit this year, soak up everything that is being offered, then give us your honest feedback. Because at the end of the day, this event is about you.