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How To Optimize Your Success at Trade Shows

Straightforward advice that can increase the return on your trade show investment.

by Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender (June 6, 2011)

(Note:  This column originally appeared in CLN in January, 2009. It is being repeated, because the basics of getting the greatest return on your trade show investment are timeless.

Rich and Georganne recently conducted a webinar on the subject for CHA, which is still available. It's free to members, $25 for non-members. Visit HERE.)

Are prepared to hit the trade show trail? You've registered, booked your travel and hotel, but are you really ready? Each year we ask successful retailers to share what they do to make each trade show trip profitable. Here are some of their best secrets of success:

Do Your Homework Before Your Leave for the Show

1. Review all the show-related advertisements in your industry trade publications. Note new items, plus vendors you want to be sure and visit, and their respective booth numbers. Look also for not-to-be-missed technique classes and business seminars.

2. Review all pre-show materials sent by the association hosting the show, and all pre-show materials sent to you by vendors.

3. Hold a store meeting to discuss trends, hot items, new categories, and other things you found in your pre-show research. Ask your store associates for ideas as well – and maybe even key customers; they will offer a fresh perspective on what to look for at the show.

4. Carefully examine product and vendor sales histories. Review both current and committed inventories, so that you don't accidentally duplicate what is currently still on order.

5. Set an open-to-buy or budget, detailing what you can spend at the show. Include basic and new merchandise categories.

6. Review all of your homework before you leave for the show and adjust your goals if necessary.

Things to Do at the Show Before You Work Your First Booth

1. Go through the show book and list all of the vendors you want to see. List them by booth number, working your way through the show aisle by aisle. This plan of attack will prevent you from duplicating your steps, wasting precious time.

2. Use Post-itฎ notes to flag important pages and other information in your show book for future quick reference.

3. Arrive early on your first day so you can study the show floor layout. Before you visit your first vendor, make a quick pass through the entire floor, scanning each booth, noting which ones to come back and visit later.

Inside Tip! The first day of the show, and during the opening hours each day, the booths at the front of the show are generally mobbed with attendees. That's because they are the first thing people see, so they stop and look around. If you begin at the back of the show floor, where traffic is generally lighter, you'll enjoy more quality time with the vendors you need to see.

4. Carry a small cassette recorder and notebook. You'll find it quick and easy to speak your thoughts into your recorder as you walk the show floor. Review your spoken notes at your convenience, recording them in your notebook for future reference.

5. Take note of each item, or line of merchandise, that catches your eye, adding important details about each one. If the product still looks good after you review your notes, you can go back and place your order. This will you prevent placing "emotions of the moment" orders.

Set Appointments with Vendors

Now you are ready to set appointments with vendors. Set your appointments in this order:

1. Current vendors. You will want to see these vendors first to ensure that any, and all, important and on-going merchandise issues are being properly taken care of.

2. Vendors you work with occasionally. These are the lines that are building in your store, becoming more important to the growth of your business.

3. New vendors. Look for new vendors based on your current and future merchandise needs. Your pre-show homework, plus your on-site research, will be an invaluable help here.

Inside Tip! The best time of the day to meet with vendors is during the slowest hours of the show – early in the morning and late in the day. Many shows also allow you to set appointments during non-show hours, either before or after normal show hours. Meet with your most important vendors, and those that will require the most time, during these hours. This tactic will ensure that you will receive the vendor's undivided time and attention.

Building Partnerships with Your Vendors

Trade show booths are not much different than retail stores. How do you feel when a new customer walks in your front door? Do you feel like you have to sell them something? Do you watch them like a hawk? Of course not, you're glad to see them. Vendors feel are the same way. It's easy to feel intimidated when entering a new vendor's booth, but don't be. Look at it as an opportunity to meet new people who can help you grow your business. You're not getting a root canal or buying a used car – it's okay to be friendly, and it's okay to look. Even if you don't make a purchase today, you might down the road. A partnership relationship with your vendors can reap big rewards.

1. Ask each vendor how you can best take advantage of show-only specials.

2. Inquire about unpublished merchandise deals on items that are not on display at the show.

3. Ask for show special pricing even if you place your order after the show.

Inside Tip! Request staggered delivery dates throughout the year on basic goods on which the vendor is offering show discounts. This will allow you to take advantage of the price break without having to receive, warehouse, and pay for a year's supply of merchandise in advance of sales. You can pre-write these orders before you get to the show to save time, and drop them off at your convenience.

Trade shows are also more than just a place to buy product. They provide the perfect opportunity to meet the very people who can help insure your lasting success. Take time to attend all of the cocktail parties, open houses, and gala events the association has to offer. When you meet your vendors socially, you strengthen your relationship, creating a win/win situation for you both.

Take Advantage of Your Suppliers' Wealth of Sales-Building Knowledge

Companies spend millions of dollars each year designing ways to make their product fly off of your store shelves. Take advantage of this important research! Questions to ask each vendor:

1. What's the best way to sell this product line? Alone or cross-merchandised with your, or another vendor's, product?

2. Who else is selling this merchandise? What are they doing to move it that's important for me to know as well?

3. Where should this product be displayed in my store? Many vendors have a host of extras to help you display and sell their products; sometimes they are readily available, but sometimes you have to ask. Bring this list of questions with you to each booth you visit:

1. Do you have presentation and display tips for his product or product line?

2. Are there racks available to better show and inventory the product in my store?

3. Do you have signing or other point-of-purchase materials available such as project sheets or brochures?

4. Do you have videos I can uses for associate training and for in-store play?

5. Do you offer merchandise planograms?

6. Do you offer made-up samples for model boards and other in-store displays?

7. Do you have people who can help with store sets and departmental relays?

8. Do you have people who can train my staff on how to best use your product?

9. Can you recommended designers I can bring in to help during special events?

10. Can you recommend an in-store event or other idea I can use to promote your product and build foot traffic in my store?

11. Do you have items I can have to use as giveaways and as door prizes during my special events?

12. Are there co-op dollars available to help pay for bag stuffers and other advertising mediums used in promoting your product line?

13. Are there co-op dollars available to pay for part of my Yellow Pages ad if I list your product line in the ad copy or feature your logo?

14. Do you have articles or photographs I can use to promote your line in my e-mail blasts, newsletter and on my website?

Network, Network, Network!

Whether you are a single store owner, member of a buying group, or part of a big chain, trade shows provide you with the opportunity to meet other retailers who are likely to be facing the same challenges that you face every day – what a wonderful networking opportunity!

1. At classes and seminars, luncheons, association business meetings, and social gatherings, look for other retailers to compare notes with. Introduce yourself. Say, "You've got challenges and I do, too. How can we help each other?" Set a goal to meet least five new retailers each day. You'll find this network of non-competing retailers will become an outstanding resource to you throughout the year.

2. Agree to meet with your networking group at a specified time at the end of each day to discuss the best things you've each found at the show. Together, set a goal for each member of the group: find the best vendor for _____________, look for the best price on ________________, which vendors will provide help with upcoming promotional events, etc.

3. Keep your group together after the show and agree to get together at all future shows. You can also set up monthly meetings with your network. You be the one to take charge and make it happen. Choose one morning every month for all be on a conference call. Share what's new, hot, and happening in your stores. You can even chose a "Challenge of the month" to be discussed at the next teleconference meeting.


Rich and Georganne will conduct two seminars at the CHA Summer Conference & Trade Show July 19-21 (with education starting July 18) in Rosemont, IL.

1. "Advanced Social Media Strategies for Retailers" (S110). It's Tues., July 19, 2:00 to 3:00 pm. Topics include Tips To Improve Your Facebook Business Page ... How To Create Tweets That Get Re-Tweeted ... Smart Ways To Promote Your Business on Facebook and Twitter ... What -- and What Not -- To Say to Encourage Customer Conversation ... How Much Time You Should Invest Each Day in Social Media ... The Latest Tools Available To Help You Evaluate Your On-line Effectiveness ... How To Measure Your Marketing Success in Terms of Interaction and Sales ... Social Media Sites You May Be Missing

2. "Time for a Change: Jump-Start Sales with Cross Over Products -- for Paper and Scrapbook Retailers" (S117). It's Wed, July 20, Noon to 1 pm. Topics to be covered include Things to Think About When Selecting Your New Merchandise Mix ... How To Mine the CHA Show Floor for New Ideas ... How and Where To Display Your New Lines on Your Sales Floor ... How To Cross-Merchandise Your New Additions with Your Current Categories ... Inventory Management Must-dos ... How To Build a Buzz About Town

Online registration is now available at www.chashow.org.

(Note: Meetings & Conventions magazine took a survey of meeting planners asking them to name their favorite speakers/keynote presenters – and Kizer & Bender make the list, along with such luminaries as Dr. Stephen R. Covey, Mike Ditka, Bill Gates, Rudy Giuliani, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Jay Leno, Colin Powell, and others. To read previous columns, click on the titles in the right-hand column.)

KIZER & BENDER Speaking! 

Keynotes | Seminars | Consulting | Store Design

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Phone: 630-513-8020 | 24/7 Mobile: 708-347-2682 Fax: 630-513-8098
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