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Winter 2010 What strategies do you use to make the most of every tradeshow you attend?

Attending tradeshows is a vital component of your retail business. Here are some tips from industry professionals on how to get the most out of every tradeshow you attend.

Roy Staeck, Director of Business Development at Union Station

Roy Staeck, Director of Business Development at Union Station in Washington, D.C.

Do your pre-tradeshow homework. A well planned strategy will save you time and keeps you from getting frustrated. I enter a show with a time frame in mind, a map and a good attitude. Comfortable shoes, plenty of business cards and a notepad are a must to covering a lot of territory.

I prefer to attend tradeshows by myself so that I’m not distracted by others’ agendas. I love retail so keeping it fun is easy for me. I have snacks, plenty of water and I pace myself. Free prizes and informal lectures help to maintain my interest and energy level and a good carryall bag helps to organize materials.

An open attitude towards learning, meeting and networking opens the doors for others to be receptive. I ask a lot of questions. Others attending, exhibiting or working at the show might benefit from something or someone you know. When you are helpful to others it comes back to you in interesting and unexpected ways.

Finally, don’t forget follow up calls, Thank You emails to those who were interested in your ideas or in working with your company. Making notes on the back of business cards is a quick way to keep track and it’s a great way of matching a face with the card.

Beth Keister, Short Term Leasing Manager at King of Prussia Mall

Beth Keister, Short Term Leasing Manager at King of Prussia Mall

Afford yourself the time to attend tradeshows; equally important, don’t pass up the opportunity to connect and network—think of the show as an additional means to achieving your goals.

Prior to the show, pre-register to save time. Have a plan/goal. This may differ from show to show, but ask yourself: “What do I want to come back with specifically from this show?”

Research the companies you are interested in to give you an edge. Schedule appointments with vendors in advance if possible. Sign up to participate in any seminars or roundtables. Better yet, when you are anticipating an upcoming show, you may want to volunteer to be a seminar speaker and/or discussion leader.

At the tradeshow, arrive early. Dress comfortably, but remember you are representing your company, so dress accordingly. Bring along a fold-up, expandable tote. Don’t forget lots of business cards, brochures, and any other handouts.

After the show, don’t just file the information and takeaways you have gathered. Follow up diligently with the contacts you have made. If the show’s management asks for feedback, provide it. You could be helping them to shape the next show’s focus.

Gary Yanosick, Vice President of Business Development at General Growth Properties

Gary Yanosick, Vice President of Business Development at General Growth Properties

Making the most of attending tradeshows does not require a set of complicated strategies. By applying some basic skills, one is sure to make the most of the cost and time investment.

Research. Start by researching which tradeshows to attend. Be sure to research all of the tradeshows pertinent to your industry or field of interest. Try to plan six to twelve months in advance, to make the most of reduced early registration fees and lower hotel and airfare costs.

Make a list of all of your options and narrow down your choices to the ones that seem the most beneficial to your objectives and budgetary constraints. Once you’ve made a decision about which shows to attend, do some research specific to the host organization or event. Talk to others who may have attended the same trade show in the past and check the Internet to get show ratings and any blog comments posted on past attendee feedback.  

Plan. Take some time to make clear objectives for what you hope to accomplish at the trade show. If the tradeshow is a company-sponsored event, make sure you are clear about what your company expects from you. If you are not sure, ask. It’s okay to have a set of personal objectives to achieve, but make sure you are also meeting the needs of the organization or person footing the bill.

Organize. Before you leave for the tradeshow, be sure to organize any material you will need to be successful at the event. If you are a vendor, be sure to understand what might be required of you. Make a list of what set-up materials will be provided by the host organization or exhibit hall and what you will be responsible for providing on your own.

Read the attendee guide usually provided by the host organization and make a list of people you would like to meet with in advance. Don’t expect to show up and talk to everyone on the fly. Call ahead and schedule an appointment or perhaps invite someone to dinner outside of the tradeshow. Lastly, get the lay of the land.  Some tradeshows are very large, and looking at a tradeshow exhibit map ahead of time will help you better plan your time schedule.  

Once you arrive at the venue, be sure to execute your plan, as it’s easy to get distracted.

Make sure you leave time to “cold call” the exhibit hall. Sometimes the most beneficial contacts are the ones you make unexpectedly. Walk around the hall and keep your eyes open for businesses or leads that will advance your business or goals. Introduce yourself or drop off your business card to establish contact. Some of the best ideas surface when we least expect them.

Once you get back, follow up. You should re-establish contact with everyone of interest from the tradeshow within 5-7 business days following the tradeshow. The earlier you follow up the better—and your interest is perceived as having greater credibility.

Micheal Brother, Retail Consultant

Micheal Brother, Retail Consultant

To get the most productivity out of any tradeshow you visit, advance preparation is the key. First, the logistics of your trip will make a huge difference. You should always stay as close as possible to the site of the show. It may seem cheaper to stay farther away, but you may lose time and taxi costs in traveling to and from the show. You should allow yourself a proper amount of time to cover the show thoroughly. A small show can be done in two days, but a large show should take at least three. If possible I recommend coming in a day early to absorb some of the local culture of the city hosting the show.

Most important, you should have a priority plan of what you want to accomplish there. Pre-schedule a few appointments with vendors that you know you want to see. This will ensure that you get better attention from them. You can make yourself a “shopping list” of the types of products of most interest to you, and use the show website to lay out a plan of approach that is sure to include those targets.

Don’t assume that you will work diligently in the evening to keep track of what you saw during the day. It won’t work, because you will be mentally and physically tired, and/or [engaged in] profitable networking to be done in the evenings. It’s better to set your schedule with a break in the day to write down notes while they are fresh in your mind.

Joseph M. Purifico, CEO of Masquerade, LLC, Halloween Adventure and Smart Toys

Joseph M. Purifico, CEO of Masquerade, LLC, Halloween Adventure and Smart Toys

Retail tradeshows are like the game of baseball. The more you swing at pitches in the strike zone, the better your chances are for hitting the ball. With this in mind, success at any trade show is all about preparation.

We take a substantial amount of pre-attendance time to prepare for each show. For example, if it is a leasing convention we scrutinize the attendance list before the show to isolate the key appointments that we want to make. We start with current relationships. We move to new territories with new contacts and finish with a sweep of the show to find unplanned treasures.

For a purchasing tradeshow we have many pre-show meetings to define our budgets, fine tune our past sales successes and look for new trends. If you want to hit the ball out of the park its all in the preparation!

Pat Yates, retailer and president of Happy Feet

Pat Yates, retailer and president of Happy Feet

Tradeshows are always an important part of our business. Things that we focus on are early invites to operators that we have had in the area the show is in (2-3 hour drive radius first) so we have the opportunity to not only show them the lines we are selling, but to thank them for their business and take them to dinners/functions.

Tradeshows are not always about selling items or even concepts for carts, but is an important tool in customer relations. The location of the show also can dictate the kind of items we show based on teams, schools, etc. Mall leasing agents are also a big part of our shows. We try our best to discuss opportunities and locations even if it is too early for either of us. It builds rapport and goodwill to work towards a common goal.

Karen Sotomuro, retailer and owner of Joseph K & Company

We have been doing national trade shows across the country since 1990 and many things have changed in the market since then. There are, however, several things that I do find still successful for our company.

We like to always offer show specials. We mail post cards and now we send email announcements to let our customers know where we will be showing our line and the show specials that we plan to offer in advance. We send these announcements out in advance of the show and then again about 7 days prior to the opening day of the gift show.

Many people will forget announcements that are made in advance but a reminder just before the show opens is always a great idea. We also extend our show specials to our customers for up to a week after the tradeshow is over. Since many buyers do not attend tradeshows as often as they did in the past, getting the show special out to the customers that we missed or did not come to the tradeshow is also something that we find successful.

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