With so many suppliers, so many aisles to cover and so much to take in, what are the secrets to getting the most from your time at the industry trade shows? Below are some suggestions from veteran show attendees.
1) Pace yourself. Shows are physically exhausting. You spend hour after hour schlepping yourself and the materials and samples you collect up and down aisle after aisle. The bags get heavier and you simply run out of steam. Pace yourself, it is a marathon not a sprint! Grab something to drink, sit down for a few minutes and review the last few aisles you trekked. What still stands out in your mind? Those are products that might be memorable to your customers as well!
2) Set appointments with key vendors and product reps. If you want to up your game when it comes to your key suppliers, book an appointment so the manufacturer or distributor rep can walk you through the new products, new styles, new decoration options and new fabrics, etc. They want you to be knowledgeable about their products so it is in their best interest to spend time showing you all the newest details, features and options in their line.
3) Trust your gut while keeping an open mind. You know your customers, and what may appeal to them. Master how to say “no” nicely, so that you can spend time looking for the suppliers and products that will serve the needs of your customers. That said, you also need to be looking for anything that is “new,” or is at least new to you. After the show, refresh and renew the interest of your existing customers by showing them a wider range of what is available. While you are at the show, keep an eye out to expand your awareness of new products, new looks, new fabrics and new decoration trends in the samples displayed.
4) Observe. Industry trade shows are an excellent place to get your creative juices flowing. You get to take in new visual stories, identify fresh color patterns and palettes and get ideas for new ways to display or pitch hard goods and soft goods products. Notice which booths capture your attention and be curious as to what about their booth was captivating to you. Can you replicate any of what they did in your business, in your sales presentations, in your samples or sales materials?
5) Do your homework. Before you head to the show, do some analysis about the past six months or year. What product categories have been selling well for you, and are you hitting the margins you need on those orders? You can increase revenues by selling more products or by selling more expensive products. You might be surprised to discover that one order for golf shirts is the equivalent to 26 orders for pens when it comes to the profits earned. It may surprise you that what you think is working is not what the math supports. Success in this business means doing the math and using that information to meet your goals.
6) Take good notes. I know many business owners who do a recap each evening to sort out where they want to spend more time the next day. After the first few aisles, they all begin to look and feel the same to me. I found that I needed to stop and take notes at the end of every aisle, or at least every other aisle if I found a vendor that I wanted to come back to see again. Being able to use the information you get at the show once you get home is the secret to your success. When you have clear, specific notes, you can always follow up and connect with that company in the future.
7) Ask questions. Trade shows are the ultimate time and place to learn. Question the reps, “What is doing well?” “What decoration trends are strong right now?” “How do you recommend we display this?” “Is there a product that I have not asked about that you think I need to see?” “What colors are performing the strongest in that product?”
8) Talk with strangers. You never know who you will meet or what you will see. If you see someone wearing or holding something awesome, ask them about it, whether they are a fellow attendee or working in a booth. They intended to catch your attention, and clearly it worked! Sit at a table with other attendees for a quick break or for a bite to eat and ask, “What have you seen that is exciting?” They may send you looking for something that you missed, and it turns out to be a great seller for you.
9) Contribute to the conversation. Trade shows provide a unique opportunity for promotional products distributors and apparel decoration professionals to influence the direction of some product lines. Your feedback can help make products more appealing, which serves the manufacturers well in the long run.
No one individual in this industry is as smart as all if us in the industry. When we work together, and have fun, the possibilities are endless. Yes, trade shows are a fun excuse to travel to interesting places. They can also be your best opportunity to elevate your business above your competition if you make the most of your time while you are there to find the gems, whether they are the people you meet, the suppliers you mix with or the products you discover.
Jennifer Cox is president of the National Network of Embroidery Professionals. NNEP members receive personalized marketing consulting designed specifically for their business. To join NNEP today, visit NNEP.net, email Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 800-866-7396.