Ask someone in our industry what he or she thinks about trade shows and you'll get answers as diverse as the companies that attend. Regardless of what your feelings are, you have to admit that the industry would be pretty boring without them. At trade shows we see it all: the newest companies, the latest products and fashions, the hottest girls, the drunkest guys, and old and new friends alike. The sensory overload that spans a few days can be exhausting. Whether you're a seasoned trade-show veteran or a rookie learning the ropes, your experience is what you make it. Taking the time to make a plan, and sticking to it, can help you make the most of your time at a trade show, and allow you to walk away with a rewarding experience for both you and your business.
Before You Get There
To maximize your time at a trade show, you'll need to do some homework. Start by analyzing the sales in your store. It's important to know which products are moving quickly and which aren't giving you much return on your investment. This information will help you target the products and companies you'll want to see at the show. Make a list of these companies and products, and prioritize them into groups–those you must see, those you need to see, and those you hope to see.
Trade-show veteran Sid Abbruzzi of Water Bros in Newport, Rhode Island suggests that, in addition to a running list of what you're looking for, you have a budget for what you'll spend. “You need to know your limits, and stick by them,” he says. “You can't get too excited by what you see and end up buying more than you can legitimately sell.”
The next preparation in getting ready for a trade show is to register and make travel arrangements as early as possible. Don't get yourself stuck in line the first day of the show, spending most of your morning waiting to get credentials. For the ASR Trade Expos, you can register beforehand and your badge will be mailed to you; when you arrive at the shows, you only need to pick up a badge holder, and you're in.
Booking flight and hotel arrangements early will ensure you get the best price and availability. Wait until the last minute and your options may only be high-priced red-eye flights and roach motels.
In advance of the show, you should receive an official show guide. It will list the schedules of all events and workshops, and usually includes the all-important floor plan of the show. With this information in hand, you can plan your show schedule and set appointments with vendors. Allowing a few hours or perhaps even a day to just walk the show with no obligations is not a bad idea either. It will give you a chance to see new things and set any last-minute appointments.
Setting appointments with your vendors is the best way to maximize your time at a trade show. Remember to only commit to appointments you can keep. This means you shouldn't schedule a 9:00 a.m. meeting when you plan to tie one on at an after-show party the night before, and don't promise to meet with someone at the end of the day when you might decide to cut out early
During The Show
Have plenty of business cards with you at all times, and be ready to pass them out. Exchanging cards is the start of most new business relationships and networking. If you're a new shop, or one that plans to open new accounts, it's a good idea to have some photos and a written shop description and history printed and ready to go. This presents your shop in a professional manner and will expedite the process of getting your account open and running.
When visiting a booth for an appointment, or to pick up some information and a catalog, don't just barge in, grab stuff, and start asking questions. It's rude to both the sales repps and the accounts they're meeting with. Show a little patience and respect, and someone is sure to quickly get you what you need.
It's a good idea to check with afternoon appointments to see if they're still on schedule for the day. As the day wears on, ten- and fifteen-minute run-overs add up and can cause the appointment schedule to be off by 30 minutes or more. Don't waste your valuable time waiting if there're other things you can take care of.
For Ryan Smith, owner of Mountain Logic in Park City, Utah, being ready for an appointment means more than being on time. “It's really important to do your homework and have questions ready about ship dates, terms, POP, and order deadlines,” he says. “Being well-prepared for an appointment, and not just going through the motions, will put out a positive vibe for your store.”
Trade shows are designed for doing business amid the chaos of the industry. Companies spend thousands of dollars to get your attention and entice you to buy. Trade shows can often be a learning experience, too. When you develop a plan that will maximize your time and effort, you will find them not only enjoyable, but also profitable for your business. A well-planned trade show cuts down on the stress associated with trying to see everyone and everything, and can leave you energized for the upcoming selling season.