Jan 23, 2012
How do you make the most of your time at a trade show?

Our monthly column is devoted to what works and what doesn’t – for our readers, from our readers

“How do you make the most of your time at a trade show? What do you wish you could change?”

Edward Hechter
PartyPail Inc.
Enumclaw, Wash.
We generally only spend two days at the annual show in Houston, so we want to make sure the time on the floor is really efficient. We start working around 60 days in advance of the show to schedule specific meetings at specific times to review new products, discuss the year’s promotions and meet with management of the companies to understand future directions. This allows us to build a daily calendar around these “anchor” events, and be assured we can quickly conduct our business with our most important partners.

Then, around 30 days in advance, we review the list of vendors at the show, look for any that have product we are interested in and then contact them via email or telephone to request information in advance of the show so we can be up to speed when we meet with them in their booths. This allows us to not spend our time “learning about the products” but rather “cutting deals” that advance our business.

The one thing we would like to see at these shows is an effort to expand the show beyond just party decorations and costumes into other related party categories like gifts.

Pat Schwerman
Huntsville, Ala.
One of the first lessons I learned was to buy as I shop. Don’t waste time going back tomorrow to order what you saw today. Use tomorrow to look for new ideas and new suppliers. Yes, sometimes you will see the same thing at a lower price, but that is rare.

The second lesson is to make lists before you go to market. Know what you have and what you need. And if you’re looking for new ideas in certain areas, make those notes, too. Markets can be overwhelming and you can get easily distracted. Then when you come home and find you didn’t order any of what you needed, you will be frustrated.

The only thing I would change would be to have tables and chairs situated so you can sit down and study what you have done and what you need to do.

Lewis Wildman
Jordan’s of Princeton
Princeton, N.J.
Since I appreciate reps coming to see me with appointments, I try not to spend a lot of time with them at trade shows except to show me samples of new lines that perhaps they only have sell sheets for and not actual products.

I also inquire of new companies if they will have reps. If not, I tend to move on, as I do not like ordering strictly from online catalogs. I want someone who knows my business and my store to work with me and perhaps guide me on trends and designs that I should be aware of. I do not dismiss new companies outright but want to deal with people. I guess I’m a dinosaur in this business.

In addition, I would also like the show to be open later. I know vendors think this is tough since they drive and sit most of the time, but it’s only three or four days per year. Perhaps the food courts could also be more reasonable in pricing their food, or management should encourage vendors to have food available in their booths so one does not have to leave and get a drink or food.

Linda Crawford
Chico, Calif.
Trade shows are business. I read any preshow literature, look at floor plans pre- show and set up face-to-face meetings with current vendors and possible future vendors. At the show I walk the floor looking for new products that catch my eye, and I hate walking up to a booth and finding the staff eating. I always feel as though I’m interrupting them even though I know they’re there to find to customers. If they don’t have enough staff to at least give short lunch breaks, they need to rethink the show.

I do take advantage of show specials and place many orders at the booths.
The deals are always good and I get the newest party supplies.

Barbara Rozema
Party Plus Inc.
Redlands, Calif.
I make appointments with key vendors that are usually busy at the show so I don’t have to wait for the sales person I am most comfortable with to take my order. We also make a list including booth spaces for vendors that we need to see and try to visit the booths in order.

I wish that they had one or two extra days in Houston for just party. If you are serious about Halloween, it is impossible to finish all of the required Halloween buying at the show plus see the party vendors. I feel frustrated every year that there isn’t enough time to finish the show. What about one or two nights with extended trade show hours for just the party section? It could be profitable time for vendors and buyers. Each party vendor could host an hors d’ oeuvre – one small item or drink – in sort of a “progressive” tour between the booths. They could offer deals available just during those hours.

Daniel Hazen
Los Angeles, Calif.
We eagle-eye everything and try to find the best price and best quality for the money. We have even gone back and cancelled an order from one vendor because we found it cheaper. And when we arrive at a booth that has bunches of buyers, we move on, and maybe we might make it back. Sure, appointments should be made, but we don’t have time. We wish all the vendors had those neat little hand-held ordering gizmos that also can generate a printed copy instantly. Those advancements make life a breeze, and I’m sure they love all the increased orders they make compared to the ones that don’t.

Denise Hagopian
Heavenly Choice
Montebello, Calif.
I never shop the first day of the show because new samples or product info have not arrived. New reps don’t know the new product or show specials.

I really feel my time is wasted when information is not available and staff not trained. My favorite place to shop is the LA Mart because they take care of me and appreciate my business. The beautiful showroom displays stimulate my creative senses,sales reps know my store and understand my clientele, great parking, chairs and refreshments. I have been attending gift shows for 35 years and still love every moment of discovering something new for my store

If I could change something it would be NOT allowing men to watch sports events during business hours.

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