You can’t match the value of personal networking.
By Carol Brzozowski
Some people like trade shows so much they attend them every year.
And why not? Trade shows are a time when one can view and compare the latest technology all under one roof – including demonstrations of equipment and hands-on opportunities to “kick the wheels,” educational seminars that serve to upgrade employees’ education, bookstores to bolster one’s body of resources, plant tours and networking opportunities with others in the industry in a noncompetitive environment.
When it comes to competition, however, know that attending trade shows gives a company a competitive advantage in being exposed to the latest technology and techniques in both the field and in the office. For these reasons, trade shows have become a good return on the investment for many companies.
Whether it’s The Precast Show or another trade show, those who are veterans of trade shows approach the programs with certain strategies.
Here are some tips for making the most out of your next trade show:
- Register early in order to obtain favorable registration prices.
- Scan the trade show floor to see what’s being offered, ask lots of questions, gather literature and review findings with other staff to determine what would be the best decision if the company is ready to purchase an item.
- Purchasing at a trade show has an advantage over making decisions via literature sent through the mail or by having to travel all over the country to view equipment and products, especially if your company intends to upgrade or make new purchases within six months. For some, it may be a better time to window shop and make decisions after the show. Ask vendors if they’ll honor trade show deals for a period of time after the show while you make your decision. And be aware that at some trade shows, you may be able to buy used equipment from other companies.
- Gathering information through the mail or doing Internet research on products is a sound way to have as much information as possible before going to the show. Obtain preliminary information on which vendors will be attending and what they will be offering. Visit their Web sites. Visit individual booths in which you’re interested for an initial evaluation process. Some people like to narrow their choices to a few vendors, then set up appointments with those vendors ahead of the trade show in order to maximize their time efficiencies.
- Consider sending to a trade show as many employees as your company can afford, as well as underwriting the cost of bringing families along. For some companies, trade shows are viewed as morale-boosters – satisfied employees who feel that they are truly a part of the team increase the bottom line. It also gets employees to view the industry as a whole and not limit themselves to thinking “inside the box” when it comes to their own jobs. But rather than travel in a pack, take advantage of the situation by making sure the group breaks up at the trade show to cover as many areas and network with as many people as possible. Come together at the end of the day or at the end of the show to trade notes and perceptions.
- Using trade journals and Internet resources as a baseline, make a “wish list” of purchases based on industry trends and what customers have been demanding but your company has been unable to provide, especially if such a purchase will give your company a competitive edge. Check out what your competitors are utilizing (especially the ones in more successful companies) by visiting the booths of vendors whose products they use. Your competitor may not let you kick the tires of his equipment, but the exhibitors will be happy to let you do so. Exhibitors also are enthusiastic about offering information on which equipment or what type of office software is appropriate for a company – whether a company is in a startup phase, or an upgrade or diversification phase. As you gather this information, it’s a good idea during networking time to ask others if they’ve had experience with the equipment or software in which you’re interested for unbiased feedback.
- Encourage participation in seminars, typically offered by people with experience in the topic on which they are speaking. There may be some employees whose participation is needed for the floor, while others (such as human resources personnel) may benefit more from attending seminars. Many seminars at trade shows offer continuing education credits. At the very least, an employee can strengthen his or her own skills by attending an educational seminar. At the most, an employee can broaden his or her horizons by acquiring new skills and knowledge. Some trade shows offer tapes of seminars, so if you miss one you really wanted to attend, it may be possible to purchase a tape.
- Time management during trade show attendance is key. While a favored aspect of networking at trade shows is swapping ideas with other companies in noncompeting territory, save networking with others in the industry until after hours so you can view as much of the trade show as possible or take advantage of key educational seminars.
- When visiting exhibitor booths, go where the crowds are hanging out to see what’s new and popular, but don’t overlook small vendors. Usually, they appeal to a niche market and can offer service and value in order to compete with the larger companies.
- Consider taking some of your top clients along for their input. You may open an area of diversification by doing so, and buying a new piece of equipment or office software to accommodate major clients’ needs will ensure they don’t look elsewhere for service. Consider the return on the investment, though. How long will it take to reap returns on a particular investment? Is it likely new technology will be out before you’ve paid off the old? Can this be used for other clients?
- Consider, too, taking your family if they aren’t involved in the business. Family members gain a greater appreciation for an industry by getting a close-up look at it in an informal environment, and trade shows are often held in cities that offer a myriad of leisure activities.
More tips on getting the best from the trade show:
- If you don’t plan ahead before arriving at the trade show, attempt to start the first day off with breakfast and a copy of the trade show program and floor plan. Plan which exhibitors you definitely want to visit; a haphazard approach may mean tired feet and subsequently missing vendors whose products may benefit your operation. For example, The Precast Show has about 400 exhibitors!
- Wear sensible shoes. Know that trade shows are notoriously casual in terms of dress – not necessarily for the exhibitors, but certainly for the attendees.
- While bags and briefcases serve the purpose of carrying the inevitable reams of paperwork you’ll pick up, a backpack takes the weight off of your shoulders and puts it on your back (unless you have a bad back, of course). It allows you to move about hands-free. Or you may opt for a backpack on wheels, which can be purchased anywhere school supplies are sold. Also consider carrying a water bottle – air can be a little dry in convention centers.
- If you’re just window shopping, trade show veterans say the best time to talk with exhibitors is first thing in the morning and toward the end of the day. Or try the social occasions. During the normal course of a trade show, some exhibitors’ booths may be too busy with those making deals.
- One of the most common mistakes people make when attending a trade show is to forget to bring business cards. Bring lots of business cards. Many trade show attendees find themselves writing their names on the back of napkins for a lack of business cards, and there’s a good chance that those makeshift business cards could get tossed. As for the business cards you collect, use some down time during your trip home to organize them so you’re ready to hit the ground running upon your return to work.
- Take care of yourself while out of town on a trade show. Many convention centers and hotels have exercise rooms and even massage therapists. Exercise, plenty of sleep and healthy food choices ensure that you won’t get run down during what is usually a once-a-year opportunity that often requires a high energy level to fully participate. Anticipate what over-the-counter medications you might need and pack them so as to eliminate the potential for having to leave the trade show to find what you need.