January is trade show season, probably my favorite time of year in our industry. I love the anticipation of kicking off the new year with all my work colleagues and customers. These shows are often some of the only face time I get with people during the year, and that’s always a humbling moment. Zoom, the internet and social media provide us with opportunities to connect, but it just isn’t the same as the real thing, hugs included.
That’s why we must make our limited time together as special as possible. Below are some tips to help maximize your time at upcoming trade shows.
I usually end up taking a suitcase worth of stuff to the show floor each day, and I always end up wishing I had consolidated. Be thoughtful about what you carry with you so that you aren’t paying more attention to lugging stuff around than to the meetings and new products you really want to see. Limiting yourself to a small bag with just the essentials frees up your hands for handshakes, hugs and writing.
Supplies I recommend having on you include: A notepad for jotting down meeting notes, thoughts on new products and contact info for connections you make at the show. A couple of pens — it’s safe to plan on losing one or two; bring multiple so that you always have a backup. Chapstick, mints/gum, business cards and a bottle of water are other must-haves. You personally might have your own “essentials” that I haven’t listed, so make room for those. If you need toiletries, get travel sizes, and make yourself a small day bag of your go-to items. Don’t forget a backup phone charger or power bank. You may not get back to your room until late at night, so be prepared to charge on the go.
Planning your schedule is important, but make sure to include free time and force yourself to take breaks. Setting dedicated meetings for your important relationships is critical, but so is being available for new people and product experiences. Scheduling in free time will allow you some leeway to meander through the show and look at all the booths. As mentioned, this may be the only time you get to see new releases in person or your favorite vendors/ sales reps.
If you over-commit, just let people know so they can adjust their schedule as well. If you are like me, you might want to print out your schedule so you can make notes on it. It’s easy to lose papers, though, so always have a backup schedule in digital form to ensure you stay on track.
I love physical catalogs and I tend to retain information better in that form than I do with digital versions. Plus, it’s a nice option to have if you want to jot notes on certain SKUs, such as pricing and other details. However, the volume of catalogs and samples available at a show can be excessive. If you are getting overburdened, ask vendors if they are willing to ship them to you after the show.
This can work in the favor of vendors as well, since it’s hard to have enough on-hand samples to pass out at the show, and even harder to manage on top of meetings and other daily activities. If you are a vendor, sending a post-show “care” kit can be as beneficial to a manufacturer as it is to the customer. You are ensuring that they get all the information you wanted them to have and can include a curated set of samples based on show interest.
This is the season of new releases and new brands. Vendors work extra hard to deliver a great trade show experience. Don’t be afraid to stop in and ask what’s new, as there could be hidden goodies in the booth. Shows are a great way to discover new brands, or existing brands that might fill certain inventory opportunities you have. It’s a great idea to have backup options for bestsellers before you need them. Take the time to experience the samples and ask questions. Do these products come with marketing support? What does the warranty process look like? Does the brand offer store trainings or event support? Is there online social media content you can use on your own social media page, to help promote the new product? Take the time to jot down key questions that are important to you, so you don’t get caught up in the moment and forget what you were going to ask.
Take a Break
Seriously. Set aside time within your schedule to give yourself 15 minutes, at a minimum, to catch your breath and get some fresh air each morning and afternoon. If you are at a trade show hosted in the conference area of a big casino, that’s probably not enough time to make it all the way outside and back in. In that case, find a quiet spot and play on your phone or do whatever helps you decompress for a few minutes. When you get tired during the day, it starts to show. Looking refreshed and on point is important whether you are a vendor or a buyer. Layer in more appointments on the last day instead of rushing to finish. Building in breaks helps keep you at your best for meetings and appointments.
Expecting to be out late? Think about what it takes to help you recover from long days and late nights. Plan to have the right supplies in your room to help you compensate for getting little rest due to all the fun you are having. Make sure to have enough water or other beverages in the room to stay hydrated. Keep Tylenol on hand, bandages for blisters, tea bags for early-morning breakfast if coffee isn’t your thing. Facial mist is always nice to keep your skin looking fresh and hydrated during the day. Keep snacks in your suitcase for the late-night munchies or when you skip breakfast to get some extra sleep. It’s the little things that make life easier, and thinking ahead can help with those rough early mornings.
We are so fortunate to work in an industry where we not only love what we do, but truly love the people we work with as well. These shows are such a great opportunity to kick off the year, set goals with your partners and build strong relationships. They also give you perspective when looking ahead into the new year and setting your own ambitions and goals.
Here’s wishing you all a wonderful new year, and looking forward to seeing you soon at a show.