Tradeshows are a great opportunity for any business. But getting the most out of them is an art form. Let’s face it, attending a trade show has its associated costs, in both money and time. But the opportunities are so attractive that making sure you get the most out of the experience can pay off significant dividends down the road.
Having worn out the tradeshow circuit, you learn that there are definite tricks and tips to maximizing the benefits of attending a show, from both an exhibitor’s perspective and from those who frequently attend shows around the country. Teaming up with Bob and Maria Hogan of Hogan Bandanas (a pair of true trade-show Road Warriors) and John Barker, manager of Project Sublimation and frequent trade show speaker, we wanted to pass along a dozen insiders’ tips to help your business capitalize on the value of attending a tradeshow.
1. Do your homework
This is probably the most important step in maximizing your tradeshow experience. Come prepared. According to the Hogans, this includes setting a goal of what you want to accomplish, such as which vendors to visit, what items you need to purchase, what seminars to attend and which new product lines you’d like to see. Set appointments with any vendor you’d like to meet with during the show.
Pre-registration is a great way to kick off your goal setting. This allows you to receive all the announcements from the show, which often include new and exciting deals and, ultimately, allows you to avoid the long registration lines at the convention center. And don’t forget to look around for early-bird free admissions; this too usually comes with pre-registration, many times from exhibitors themselves.
2. Be ready to buy
One of the first things the Hogans do before attending a show is carefully check their inventory. When it comes to creating and selling digital transfers produced via dye-sublimation technology, there’s always something new on the scene—software, inks, toners, output devices, heat presses and ever-more sophisticated garments and other substrates specifically designed for sublimation. 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. Take advantage of show specials, discounts and sales of goods that truly are bargains and also needed in your business. Don’t forget to check freight costs and delivery dates.
Check out the show’s floor plan and check off where the vendors are that you want to stop and visit. The Hogans recommend that, if you are at the event for more than one day, do all visits and info gathering the first day. Find out what show specials the vendors are offering, then visit them again the next day in case you have questions. On the last day make your purchases. That way you don’t feel like you rushed to make a buy. Some vendors extend their special offers for a period of time after the show, too.
3. Timing is everything
One of the things we always notice at tradeshows is that certain days and times of the day are busier than others. If your schedule allows, try to plan on attending a show when it is a little slower. Get there early and take lunch at an odd hour, so you can be working while the other buyers are having lunch. Exhibitors will have more time to talk to you individually. You can get a front-row seat in viewing the technology and you can ask multiple questions. Not that busy times are a waste of time, but if you can capture 100 percent of an exhibitor’s attention, you’re more likely to gain the information you need.
4. Technically speaking
It’s kind of a Catch 22: You’re at the trade show, technical experts are there as well, and you have an issue you would love to address in person. You think: Get it all done in one fell swoop. Most exhibitors will be more than willing to talk to you, but a few guidelines might earn you more attention. Remember that exhibitors are there to market to new users. Be respectful of everyone participating in the show. Try to set an appointment time that would allow for more time to talk. Better yet, set an appointment prior to the show and bring with you samples of your work or images on your laptop’s flash drive.
Ah, don’t we just love a sample. They are great reminders of the new gadgets, gizmos and technologies that are newly available. And they add up. The Hogans suggest bringing a rolling suitcase (which Maria affectionately calls their “rollie thing”). The size you can carry onto an airplane works fine. When you’re picking up catalogs, T-shirts, and other assorted goods, their sheer weight might make you reluctant to grab that last item you really need. Just toss it on your rollie thing.
Are you flying or driving to the event? With a car, it’s not as much of an issue but, if you are flying, you’ll be forced to limit the number of catalogs and such you gather. Many exhibitors can send you the same samples, or additional samples, if you simply scan your badge at their booth.
6. Shop around
At most trade shows—particularly events with a strong sublimation showing, such as The Printwear Shows—there will be more than one vendor of the technology you need. Look over the vendor list before you go. Mark the ones you want to visit and jot down questions for them or specific items you want to see. When you arrive at a show, it can be very overwhelming, so make a list. Then make sure to note other vendors or similar technologies and compare notes.
7. Don’t cut class
Need some technical help? Need marketing ideas? Need to talk to other business owners? Seminars at trade shows offer a great way to meet all these objectives at once. They are geared towards you and your business. According to John Barker, the vast majority of trade-show seminars are geared toward legitimate education—an open environment where, rather than getting a sales pitch, you can pitch your questions. “Don’t forget to look for workshops and seminars that are hands-on,” he says, “which can be invaluable training.” He also mentions that many workshops and seminars offer loads of free stuff to attending students.
8. It’s all in the cards
Take an ample supply of business cards with you. At most shows vendors can scan your badge to capture your contact info, but you should have cards with you if you meet people you want to contact after the show. Take advantage of the opportunity to network with other business owners. Most people are pretty open about sharing what works for them, especially if you do not represent geographical competition, or focus on a different niche or target market.
A little face time can go a long way with your distributors, wholesalers and manufacturers. Putting faces to names of people that you have only talked to on the phone, and developing real relationships with your vendors can pay off in multiple ways for your business.
10. The launch pad
Trade shows are typically a great forum to launch new products. So good, in fact, that some companies actually delay the release of a new product in order to coincide with and take advantage of the extra energy and exposure of a trade show. Many companies regularly introduce product advances at trade shows, whether it’s the newest system for sublimation, or the latest in cotton decorating. Beat your competitors by adopting the latest and greatest technologies . . . to be found first in the aisles of a trade show.
11. Buying off the floor
Even though they may not advertise it, many exhibitors will sell their display equipment right off the show floor. These “floor-model” products are a great way to get a discounted price on some of the latest equipment. Be ready, though, to either move it after the show or pay for any shipping and handling costs.
12. Extra! Extra!
A few extra tips: Lunchtime? The lines for food at a trade show can be very long, and the prices high. The Hogans bring along snacks, fruit, drinks and such (in their rollie thing, of course). Standing in line is no fun when there is so much to see and so much information to absorb. What’s more, conventions halls are huge rooms wherein the climate is extremely difficult to regulate. As a result—depending on who you talk to—they’re notoriously either too warm or too cool. Consider bringing a sweater or jacket or, better still, dressing in layers.
Most of all, have fun! Trade shows offer a great excuse to get away from the hustle and bustle of the business world—into the hustle and bustle of a whole different world—if only for a couple of days.