Trade Shows: How to Work It

Trades shows were long thought to go the way of extinction, much like the dinosaur or the dodo. But instead, they’ve flourished. Perhaps people are longing for personal contact more than ever in the era of go-to meetings, video calling, and instant messages. Also, the more global business becomes, the more convenient it is to meet everyone at a trade show in Louisville or Las Vegas, rather than trying to see customers one at a time. So, no surprise that trade-show organizers report stable revenue, even through the economic downturn.

Still, it’s a serious financial commitment, and it’s hard to know whether attending a particular trade show will be worth the expense.

Reasons to Attend
No matter how small your business may be, the benefits of attending a trade show sponsored by vendors or industry associations far outweigh any reason not to attend. These conferences have been developed in order to give retail owners, buyers and managers the opportunity to meet existing suppliers, conduct business meetings, network with others in their industry and investigate new products.

Once you’ve decided to attend the trade show, you’ll need to plan ahead. To get the most out of your experience, you should have a strategy. Knowing what you would like to accomplish before, during, and after the show will help maximize your time.

Pre-Show Planning
Plan to bring along any employees who would greatly benefit from attending the trade show, and avoid confusion at the show by pre-registering. Check to see if the trade show organizers have reserved rooms at a discount, and make reservations for transportation and lodging early.

Have a goal of what you want to accomplish, such as which vendors to visit, what items you need to purchase, what seminars you would like to attend and which new product lines you’d like to see. Set appointments with any vendors you’d like to meet with while at the show.

More efficient purchasing will save you money by grouping your orders to take advantage of discounts and special offers, as well as keeping you within budget so know your inventory needs before the show.

At the Trade Show
Allow enough room in your suitcase(s) for bringing back more than you take. This includes literature, freebies, and product samples. Bring plenty of your own business cards, and don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to others. Be careful not to linger too long at each booth or stay in a conversation with a company in which you’re not interested in doing business—both only seek to minimize productivity while you’re at the show.

Some exhibitors provide bags, but come prepared by bringing a comfortable carryall for all the literature you will undoubtedly acquire. An updated show guide will likely be provided when you arrive. Take some time to revise your plan if necessary, and make sure your badge is in plain sight while browsing trade show booths. If possible, request literature and samples be mailed to you instead of having to carry them around. Have a pen and notebook ready for notes, and use business cards to jot down information on the back.

Take advantage of show specials, discounts and sales that are truly bargains and needed in your store. Check freight costs and delivery dates, and keep track of orders placed so you’ll stay within your budget. If you are planning to purchase any custom merchandise, bring your artwork and other files on a flash drive. Most vendors are equipped with laptops and can quickly send the data to the appropriate department.

10 Tips for Working Trade Shows
Here are ten of the best tips for getting the most out of your trade show experience:
1 Review the speaker list. Are these industry leaders you respect?
2 Look at the attendee list. An online registration page will often show you who has signed up. That way, once you get to the convention, you can immediately spot the people you would love to spend time with in person.
3 Check out the seminar list. What are the topics? A single great session that answers business questions you have could make the entire trip worthwhile.
4 Consider renting a booth. It can cost a pretty penny, but a booth can be a home base for you and your team, and it can leave a big impression on attendees. For instance, one entrepreneur bet $75,000 on a booth to introduce a new,
high-quality product. More than 700 business cards to follow up on, a few orders, and solid connections with major retail chains were the result.
5 Schedule appointments. If there are important people to see, don’t wait until you get to the trade show to set up a time to chat. Arrive with a schedule.
6 Take a long lunch. To maximize meeting the most people, arrive at the food court around 11:30. Sit down at a table, and then as others sit down, start chatting. Stay until 2 p.m. or so. People are a captive audience once they sit down and most are pretty amenable and friendly when they’re at lunch.
7 See booths systematically. You can save a lot of time and shoe leather if you have a logical game plan for visiting booths.
8 Wear comfortable shoes and clothes. You want to project positive energy, so make sure you don’t have tired feet or
a pinching waistband.
9 Watch your liquor consumption. I think everyone who’s ever been to a trade show has a story about watching an executive who got too drunk at a mixer event. Keep it professional, even in the event’s “off hours.”
10 Follow up and connect. The real work starts when you get home. If you just throw all those business cards in a drawer, the trip may well have been a waste. Find creative ways to follow up—connect on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter, send prospects an interesting article. Develop ways to stay in touch that go beyond saying, “Why don’t you buy something from me?”

After the Show
Identify if your objectives were met and if the cost of attending the trade show has had a positive long-term effect for you and your business. Evaluate if you had not attended the trade show, what would have been the cost and time to achieve the same amount of business. If you planned your attack, you will be confident in knowing the time you have spent at the show was worthwhile.