The Trade-Show Season is Upon Us

With over 35 years in the embroidery industry with particular emphasis on writing, education, and digitizing, Helen Hart Momsen is widely published in the trade press. Momsen founded and moderates the Embroidery Line (, the longest continuously running internet forum for apparel decorators. A sought-after speaker for many years for THE NBM SHOW, Momsen has authored two ground-breaking books on professional embroidery, available at

What’s your favorite season? How many times I have been asked that in my life and I, like many, always had to struggle with my choice between spring or autumn. But my reply comes swiftly now, since I began writing for Printwear and offering seminars at its shows. My answer is “trade show season!”

I love the setting up and the tearing down. (Maybe ‘cause I get to watch and not work?) I love the hum of the exhibit hall when the show is in full swing. I love meeting with my Embroidery Line members, seeing the friendly faces of the vendors and the excitement and anticipation on the faces in my seminar rooms.

I believe that the doers and the shakers (that’s you) should attend a trade show (or two) every year, not only to see what’s new and exciting in garments and machines, but also to network with others whose lives and enthusiasm are fueled by similar interests.

I remember when I first started in this industry, it was a lonely endeavor. The work, especially in a one-person shop, can still be solitary, but the Internet with its websites and information-sharing forums, the trade magazines and the shows have removed the lonely from it. It’s up to you to partake of as much of the offerings as you like.

The benefits of attending a trade show are worth closing your business for a day if you are a sole operator, and even closing and taking employees with you if you’re bigger. Employees are often motivated and excited by what they see that is new and different and can bring a different perspective to your growth and direction.

Trade shows are meant to give shop owners (retail, service or both) the opportunity to meet suppliers, see what is new in machinery and garments and network with others in the industry.

So how about some tips and tricks for how to make the trade-show experience a positive one? And the first one is to save your receipts so you can write your experience off as a business expense!

Plan ahead

Once you’ve decided to attend a trade show, plan your strategy so you can accomplish any specific tasks or meetings and make the most of your time. Be sure to pre-register. This will save a lot of time and confusion—standing in line is not the best use of your time—and, generally, a few bucks.

Make a list of what you want to accomplish each day. Do you have vendors you want to visit? The trade-show’s website as well as its program can help you. The Printwear Show book has exhibitors listed alphabetically as well as by aisle and by what they sell. Check the website to see if the people you need to visit will be there, then check the book on site to determine the aisle and booth number for each. Consider calling the company and making specific appointments with any vendor who is a must-see.

Do you have garments or equipment you want to see or compare?  Compile a list, before leaving your shop, of the vendors who carry what you need to see, then check the website to determine how many will be there.

Do you have seminars you want to attend? The show’s website will give you a rundown of what is available and who is teaching. Deciding what classes to attend before hand allows you to choose between any time slots that conflict.

Do you need to add to your inventory? Is there a specific item you need to find for a customer? Check your inventory before you leave and carry a list of what new things you are seeking. By combining orders with single vendors when you can, you will qualify more easily for discounts and special offers.

Remember to ask each vendor about show specials. Also be aware that the displays are often for sale and a cash-and-carry deal can be a win-win for both parties. They don’t have to crate and ship; you don’t have to pay freight.

Make it easy on yourself

Be sure to determine what hotels are offering special rates to show attendees (this might be listed on the show’s website)—then try to choose one that has a hotel shuttle to and from the airport. Select one that is within easy striking distance of the convention center—your feet will thank you at day’s end, and your pocket book too, as cab fares add up quickly. If you are driving to the show, make sure you know if hotel parking is included in your room fee or not.

Make sure you wear comfortable shoes—and remember that a trade show is not the place to break in a new pair of kickers. Casual shoes are accepted as standard dress these days, but don’t forget that you are a professional, representing a growing business, and dress accordingly.

Divide your packing between two (or more) suitcases if you think you will be carrying home more than you take. Literature can often be shipped to you with just a swipe of your badge, so only carry with you the catalogues you have to have right away or want to study in your free time. I have a wonderful tote that folds up to small purse size but opens to a generous “extra” carryall.

If you want to carry the literature with you (maybe you are driving and don’t have to worry about over-weight luggage) be sure to check what kind of rolling carts are allowed on the show floor—or not. Many vendors/show sponsors will provide a tote bag—some plastic, some canvas (some embroidered!) for your catalogues and freebies.

Don’t forget to take needed breaks for a cool drink or a breath of fresh air. Drink lots of water, and don’t let yourself get hungry. Avoid salty foods and alcohol and your feet and legs will thank you.

The convention center

When you arrive, secure your badge (or badge holder) and pick up a show guide. Be sure to check immediately to see if any educational classes have been cancelled or rescheduled and if any vendors have been added, deleted or moved. You can update your plan of attack for each day easily.

You might want to first take a walk down each aisle as a preview; there might be other vendors, garments or equipment that catch your eye. Carry a pen and notebook to take notes. Keep track of any orders placed so you won’t exceed any budget requirements. A handy portfolio with notebook included can provide a safe pocket for any order forms as well as business cards. Make sure you know what the delivery dates and freight charges will be on each order.

Ask for business cards from each vendor and write any additional information you need on the back of the card. If they have something you want or need (now or later) be sure to note that; nothing is more daunting when you return home than a pile of business cards that have no specific meaning for your business. Be sure you bring enough of your business cards to give out to vendors.

If you have an issue you’ve come to the show to address with a vendor, do it privately and politely, but be direct and remember your rights as a consumer.

If you are looking for a specific machine, bring a design that you might want to see sewn out. If you are shopping for a digitizing system, bring a graphic if you want to address specific concerns or see what the system will do besides the pre-programmed dog-and-pony show that is often showing. A flash drive is the perfect way to carry information, graphics or even a picture of your shop’s layout so the vendors can help you determine what machine purchases will fit right in. Remember that you are the customer, the money is in your pocket and you are in charge. If a machine or digitizing software vendor can’t accommodate your requests, find one that can.


When attending classes, taking a break or having lunch or a snack, network at every opportunity. Don’t be shy about introducing yourself to others. I know in my seminars (depending on the size) I try to give all students an opportunity to introduce themselves and say what they offer. Other attendees can take notes if the offerings dovetail with their needs.

Make sure your business card explains what you do. Another embroiderer might not need your stitching capabilities, but your digitizing skills or cad-cutting services may be right up their alley.

There are often drawings at vendor’s booths and sometimes door prizes at seminars. Having a business card makes it easy to enter.


Remember that the seminar speakers have spent time and effort to prepare a program that will be helpful and educational. If you have questions or want more information, don’t be shy about raising your hand and asking. Others may want the same information and will be glad you took the lead to find out. Most speakers would rather address any needs or concerns in the class than to find out later that your needs were not met. Remember, the seminars are about learning first, then networking; but don’t discount the networking opportunities and look at them as a benefit for all concerned.

Don’t be afraid to attend seminars you might consider beneath your skill level as you can meet new colleagues and  contacts and learn from the questions and interactions in the class. I have never attended a class or met a colleague that didn’t offer me new information or a new perspective. Just remember, if you attend those lower-level or beginner’s classes, don’t grade the speaker down just because you knew some of the information. Attendance was your choice.

After hours

Networking over dinner is a great way to get to know your fellow industry members. Then spend some time before you retire for the night checking over your progress and regrouping or rescheduling for the next day if you have missed a vendor or found another (often through those networking conversations) that you want to visit.

Prepare any questions you might have for specific seminars.

Be sure to attend any events hosted by vendors or the show itself to get to know your suppliers and other professionals. Carry your badge and your business cards to each event for admittance, identification and networking.

Homeward bound

Back in your home facility, file your catalogues, make more notes about meetings, goods and equipment, and file the collected business cards for future reference.

It should be an easy task to determine if the trade show cost and experience was a wise decision. If you planned well, and executed that plan efficiently, the time spent should be a benefit to you as a professional and to the growth of your business as well.

Don’t forget to enter the receipts you saved so you can write your trade show experience off as a business expense.

Hug yourself this month, whether you’ve attended a trade show already and benefited, or you are psyched up and ready to go this season, for the first time or just for a reprise. You deserve a hug for increasing your industry education and for making a wise, professional decision.

I hope to see you at a Printwear Show this season!