When properly utilized, a trade show can provide you with a wealth of information and insight to help you propel your company forward. Unfortunately, few contractors know how to attend a trade show to get the most from it. Here are 14 inside tips to get the most out of your next trade show.

1. Remember why companies exhibit. Exhibiting at a trade show, especially a major trade show, is an expensive undertaking. Exhibitors are there because they have products and services that they believe you will want badly enough to justify the expense. They may or may be right in your particular case, but you should view every booth with an open mind. The exhibitor just might solve a problem or show you how make a lot of money.

2. Create an objective. Before attending a show, you should come up with 1-3 objectives. For example, every industry show I attend includes an objective about the Internet of Things (IoT). I want to learn what is new that will affect the industry, which standards are trumping the others, and how people who spend all of their time in this area see the IoT evolving.

3. Pre-register. For a small, local show, this doesn’t matter. For a national show, pre-register. Not only will you save money, you will save a lot of time.

4. Identify key exhibitors in advance. At least the night before the show, identify the exhibitors you are most interested in visiting. Come up with an objective for each. It might be to meet with a specific individual, learn about a new product, better understand the exhibitor’s marketing support, or some other reason. Visit the key exhibitors first. If a booth is crowded, skip it and come back. You want to maximize your time.

5. Make advance appointments. If there is someone you really want to see, make an appointment. Reach out to the person a few weeks before the show to see if you can carve out 15 minutes and set a fixed time and location. For major shows, this works for people not exhibiting. Simply ask if the person will be at such and such show.

6. Extract information. When you spend time with an exhibitor, make it fruitful. Ask about their products and program, especially new ones. If the exhibitor is likely to have insight into your competitors ask about them. An exhibitor who talks with lots of contractors is a great person to ask what the most successful contractors are doing. If nothing else, ask what is coming up from the exhibitor or the industry.

7. Dress for trade show success. Each show has its own dress code. If you dress consistent with the dress code, you will be taken more seriously and given more attention. No matter what the attire, make sure your shoes are comfortable since you will be on your feet a lot.

8. Check winter coats. When attending a show during the winter, take the time and pay to check coats and overcoats. You do not want to lug a coat all day, and it will be too hot on a crowded trade show floor to wear it.

9. Remember business cards. Bringing lots of business cards is natural. However, many people still forget. Pack them first.

10. Network. A major element of a trade show is networking. Some of the networking occurs on the show floor. A lot of it occurs in hotel bars and in hospitality rooms. Do not be afraid to ask an exhibitor if they have a hospitality room.

11. Walk the floor. Once you have hit the key exhibitors, walk the floor. Look for things that are new and interesting. Look for surprises. In a big show, I like to check out the smaller exhibitors who may be exhibiting for the first time. They are less likely to have a big marketing budget to promote their exciting new products and services, so the show is an ideal time to learn about them and get a jump on the competition.

12. Take notes. Bring a small notebook and take notes as you go. Stick the appropriate business card in front of the page where you write the notes (or better, tape or staple it). At the very least, write on the back of business cards. Everything tends to blur together by the end of the show. You will be glad you have notes.

13. Use your phone camera. If someone does not have a business card, use your phone’s camera to take a picture of the nametag of the person you are talking with. It will help keep the name and company straight. You can also take pictures (with approval) of the booth.

14. Create an action plan. After the show is over, go back through your notes and write down action items. Prioritize them, working on the most important first and delegating whenever possible.


This article was originally titled “14 trade show tips” in the January 2017 print edition of Plumbing & Mechanical.