How to Survive a Trade Show

Trade Shows in January and February. As if you didn’t get enough shopping done during the Christmas season. Well, that was mainly consumer shopping and now it’s time to tie the sneakers on and race to do the kind of shopping that will net you the profits to pay for all the Christmas gifts you just put on the Mastercard!

There are a few rules that are not unlike holiday shopping and will ensure your trip success.

1. Make a buying list

The absolute worst thing you can do at a trade show is what I did for my Christmas shopping.  I went to the mall and wondered aimlessly for an hour or so, until I just ended up texting and getting a list of things that people actually wanted.  Prior to that, I went into a store and told the fella working there, “I know that I’m in the right store, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to buy here.”  He was amused.  After that, I was able to go right for the kill and knock out in succession from the rather exhaustive list.  Bigger trade shows like the Atlanta Home and Gift Market can easily eat up your time if you get distracted easily by shiny objects; are prone to wonder off the beaten path.

A recent example of a trade show overseas where an attractive (and scary) display could easily distract from our purposes.

I was shocked by this threatening, real display of a velociraptor at a trade show.  And for only $3,000 FOB China, I had to take a look.

If you take time to prepare beforehand by meeting with your team to see what items sold best over the last season and get others perspective on what the hot new trends are, you will avoid pitfalls in buying too many higher risk items.  Budgets by category are great, and you want to make sure if you are restocking popular items that you are clear on what to buy.  In other words, don’t emulate my personal fauxpea by bringing home a loaf of sandwich bread when your wife clearly asked you to bring home an Italian baguette to accompany the pasta dish she was making for the soon to arrive guests.  She was not amused.  In the same way that a grocery list would have saved me marital discord, a checklist by category (plus a budget) is great to keep you focused in on what matters.

2. Set Appointments

Setting appointments with some of your key vendors can be a great help because you can ask your vendors to prepare reports from the previous year’s buying.  They can also bring in samples and have an idea on some of your goals before you visit, making the most of your time with that vendor.  If there is a certain sales person with whom you like working, it’s a way to guarantee that they will be available for you in the showroom or booth when you come by to see them.

3. Keep it Fun + Keep it Interesting

Falling asleep at a show should NEVER happen, but I have to applaud his ingenuity in using his badge as a shade device to help make the afternoon siesta more comfortable!

At a recent snoozer of a trade show overseas, I ran across this guy.

Look, trade shows are supposed to be fun and fun makes the creative buying experience worthwhile.  Getting away from the office or store gives you a perfect opportunity to think about your business and explore new opportunities in product selection.  Talking to other businesses like yours and learning about some of the common challenges you face is an often untapped resource at trade shows.  You might make connections that take your business to the next level while getting to know some of the finest people in the industry.

Most trade shows have after-hours events and try to spice things up. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  Ultimately, it’s the relationships that make the trade show the most fun.  If you can take time for dinner with friends from across the country, it adds color to the canvas and makes the work trip seem a lot less like …well… work.

4. Eat Well

Know where the food stops are.  Skipping eating or trying to eat at high noon are both no-no’s, so be wise and get the best eats.  If you’re cranky, you’re not likely to make a good decision.  Maybe a snickers is all you need, but if you are looking for more….

CHECK OUT: *Where to eat when attending trade shows guide*






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