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Show Time: A few random thoughts on making the most of your trade show trip

Attending an industry trade show is an awesome opportunity to stir up ideas, network with others in your niche, make contact with potential vendors, and discover new products.

Trade shows are BIG events and can be quite overwhelming. There could be hundreds if not thousands of exhibitors pitching their products. Because your time is limited, it’s important to have a plan. If you’re going to do it, do it right.

Don’t underestimate the physical effort required to work a trade show really hard. Stay strong, comfortable, and organized. Start your day with a good breakfast so you’ll have plenty of energy; pack some snacks like granola bars and trail mix to give you extra fuel throughout the day. One of the best things you can do for yourself, especially if you’re planning to be at the show for several days, is to wear comfortable shoes and invest in some really bouncy insoles that absorb the impact from the hard concrete floor.

Your head may spin when you onto the show floor. At first glance, many of the booths look the same. Try not to be distracted by the hot booth girls trying to lure you in. Stay focused. Take the time to walk the show thoroughly and completely. Carry a small notepad and jot down the location of particular vendors you want to check out more closely on your second pass.

Along with free ballpoint pens, squishy stress balls and leftover Halloween candy, business cards are the most important things you will collect at a trade show. They’re also the easiest things to misplace or leave in your hotel room. Use your phone to shoot a quick picture of the card as well as the salesperson at the booth so later on you can put a name with a face.

Here’s a bonus idea for using your phone — take photos and videos that you can quickly post on your social media pages. You don’t have to be Steven Spielberg to do a quick interview with a vendor or show how a new product works. The idea is just like a movie preview; customers will (hopefully) get excited about the things you’re bringing back to your store. Their comments can give you valuable insight into knowing if the items are something you really want to order.

If you plan on buying at the show, set a budget beforehand. It is very easy to get caught up in the excitement and take advantage of all the great deals. You can always order when your back home and your head has cleared. Also, think twice before doing any “cash and carry” purchases — it might seem like you get a hell of a deal until you realize you have to figure out a way to get the stuff back to your shop.

Trade show vendors are there for one reason — to make sales. This is the perfect time to ask for discounts — and not just one-time deals. Many small and mid-sized retailers think they don’t carry enough clout to get preferred pricing like the big boys. Not necessarily true! You just have to ask. The very worst thing that can happen is your price stays the same, and, at very best, you may improve your margins by a couple of points.

Trade shows can be a lot of fun — in fact, they can be one party. You’ll meet interesting people and exchange ideas that might be good inspiration for your business. Be sure and allow some time in your schedule to attend a couple of seminars — they are usually headlined by industry experts who will provide you with insight into your market.

After-show parties are also a great place to network. The booze usually flows pretty good, so be careful and not party too hearty that you need to stay in bed the next day and miss out of the show.

Now that you’ve been there and done that, what’s next? Going back to business as usual won’t cut it. Your mind will be creatively charged. Review your notes, catalogs and fliers and share the information and ideas you picked up with your staff. Now is the time to focus and make smart, educated decisions for the future of your business.