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How To Take Full Advantage Of A Trade Show

By Larry & Jane McGrath

Spending a few hours planning and setting appointments before you go will make your days at the show more productive and less stressful.

Are you interested in a sound investment opportunity? One that requires a minimal short-term cash outlay with big long-term dividends?

If so, attend the PRI Trade Show. For the cost of some gas or an airline ticket and a hotel room, the Trade Show gives you an unparalleled opportunity to see new racing technology, listen to industry leaders, network, compare products and strike impressive deals.

But to make the time you spend walking the aisles in Orlando pay off for you—with increased traffic, greater sales, improved employee morale and higher profits in your own store—you need a clear understanding of where your business is headed, some detailed planning, and a good pair of walking shoes.

Before You Go

Much of your success on the Trade Show floor depends on what you do in the weeks before you go.

Start by reviewing your business plan and budget. Ask yourself questions such as "Where do I want the business to be this time next year?" "What information do I need to help us get there and who has that knowledge?" "What product lines do I need to add this year?" "What kind of purchases will be required in the next 12 to 18 months?"

Your answers to questions like these are your reasons for attending the Show. Based on them, write down three or four specific activities you can accomplish while you're at the Show to help you meet your business goals. For example, most savvy retailers add one or two product lines each year. So, several weeks before the Show, pencil out what you would like to add and how you want to handle the line, such as negotiating a minimum-level buy-in with the manufacturer, stocking through a wholesaler, or buying small quantities from the warehouse.

Preregister as early as possible by signing up online or sending in the completed registration form, along with your business ID and identification for each employee. Your credentials will be mailed to you before the Show. That means you'll avoid long registration lines, get an invitation to attend the Grand Opening Breakfast and enjoy the featured speaker.

On the one or two lines you believe you want to go manufacturer-direct, start laying the groundwork with the factory rep and arrange a meeting at the Show with the decision-maker.

Also do some informal market research. Ask your employees what customers have been looking for that you haven't had in stock. Talk to your customers about problems that need solutions and what they've been reading about that they'd like to try.

Research which of the companies that have those products will be exhibiting, and the personnel that will be attending. The exhibitors are listed online at the PRI Trade Show website ( and in the November issue of PRI. In the Show Issue, the exhibitors are listed alphabetically, and there's an address, phone number, contact name and brief product description for each.

Prioritize the information you want to get. Call the top two or three companies and set appointments with the people most likely to have the answers you need. For example, if you're looking for a solution to a technical problem, schedule time with the tech rep. On the other hand, if you want ideas on how to better merchandise an item, ask for time with their top salesman. Just remember that most meetings take longer than you think they will, and don't overbook yourself.

Attendees report that it is almost impossible for one person to adequately cover all the booths at the PRI Trade Show. They suggest that as part of your pre-planning you make a list of exhibits you definitely want to see. This helps ensure you will get to all the booths that are important to you—that you see the new products, compare the brands, and pick up the samples and literature you need.

Also make a list of must-attend seminars. Not only are they good educational experiences, seminars are excellent opportunities to meet and exchange ideas with Show participants who have similar interests. There are six management seminars put on by PRI on Friday and Saturday mornings, from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., and a variety of exhibitor-sponsored seminars during PRI Week. The seminar schedule, along with full descriptions of each session can be found online at the PRI website and in the November issue of PRI Magazine.

If you're taking employees to the Show, make sure they also have specific activities to accomplish. Increasingly, retailers are devising ways to divide the must-see exhibits and seminars to allow more time for quality discussions and demonstrations.

Just before you head to the Show, make a preliminary calendar for each day—from Thursday's Grand Opening Breakfast until it's time for you to head home on Sunday. Ink in the appointments you've made and a generous amount of time for visiting must-see exhibits and must-attend seminars and events. (Please see related sidebar on how to use Map Your Show to streamline this experience.)

And remember to allocate time at the end of the day to organize the business cards and literature you've picked up and make a few notes to jog your memory when you get back home. Also create a simple system that will help you maintain an accurate expense record.

Although this type of planning and scheduling takes a few hours, it will make your days at the Show more productive and less stressful.

At the Show

Once you arrive at the Show, you'll find a seemingly endless selection of exhibits, seminars, hot new products and social events.

Start with the essentials: Registration and picking up credentials. If you've preregistered and have your credentials, you can walk right in to Grand Opening Breakfast on Thursday morning when the doors open at 7 a.m. and then head out onto the Show floor as soon as the program ends at 9:30 a.m. If you've preregistered but need to pick up credentials, allow about 10 to 20 minutes. If you plan to register at the door, make sure you have two forms of business identification and also 30–40 minutes for processing.

Information booths, which have been strategically located throughout the Orange County Convention Center, offer plenty of detailed information to make your visit to the PRI Trade Show and Orlando go smoothly. First, check to see if there are any last-minute changes posted that affect your preliminary calendar, such as booth changes and seminar time and/or location changes. Pick up a copy of the updated floor plan at the info booth, then, with your floor plan in hand, you're ready to enter the Show. But remember that your priority is quality not quantity—just stopping in every both to pick up a freebie and have your card data entered in an exhibitor's database won't help you reach your business goals.

In fact, most veteran attendees suggest planning three distinct visits to the Show floor: Your first trip to the floor is a non-stop tour of the entire Show to add "must-see" exhibits to your list; your second trip is to visit the booths on your list and talk to the appropriate company personnel; your third trip is for follow-up visits, and time permitting, gathering information at additional exhibits.

When you visit a booth, know your purpose and the general type of company representative you need to talk with—salesperson, technical support, or dealmaker. If no one with the information you need is available, find out a name and try to schedule a return visit. With some flexible open times in your schedule, you should be able to meet face to face with the right people to achieve all the priorities on your list.

Always be on the lookout for show specials. Unless it will bury you in merchandise or cost too much to get it home, these types of special purchases can make a huge difference in your profit margin.

In addition, don't miss spending some time on Machinery Row. With its continuous hands-on demonstrations of the latest advances in shop machinery and equipment, it's an excellent spot to compare techniques and machines.

And, of course, have fun. Arrive early to the Grand Opening Breakfast and sit at a table with people you have never met before and attend Thursday evening's Industry Reception, which are perfect settings for getting to know fellow racing industry members. In fact, the network you develop during the Show may prove to be one of your biggest long-term assets.

Make time early on the last day of the Show to go over your calendar, notes, cards, and literature, and update your expense record. Make a final must-see list and head back to the floor to gather missing contact names, extra information packets for customers and samples.

At that time, some exhibitors may be making special deals on display items or stock they have brought to the Show that they don't want to haul back home. You may be able to make some deals provided you can cart them home yourself.

After the Show

Once you're home you can really make the Show pay off for you. Review your notes plus the literature and samples you picked up. Then develop ways to bring your customers, and potential customers, up to date on hot new technology, information you've brought back and product lines you're adding.

For example, if you and a customer were discussing a problem before the Show, let him know you picked up a tech sheet that has just the information he needs. Or give a customer a call to pass along a tip from one of the seminars. Although calls like this may not result in immediate sales, they will pay off in long-term customer loyalty.

To jumpstart new product sales, schedule one or more demonstration sessions or events. If you want to keep the budget down, hold an invitation-only evening for your best customers. If you have marketing money available, invite the factory reps in to help and advertise a "Saturday Spectacular."

Put information in your e-newsletters, mailers and advertisements. And, offer to do new product and updated technology seminars for the track and local race associations.

In addition to working with your customers, follow up with exhibitors on new products and information. You need to be on their active contact list. You've met them face to face, now keep your profile high so that you get information and service fast.

If employees didn't get to attend the Show this year, begin planting the idea of an incentive trip next year. Many retailers find that employees who spend three well-planned days at the Show work with renewed energy the rest of the year.

And don't forget to finish your expense record and put it with your tax records.

Your days in Orlando offer more than a chance to see the newest merchandise and hottest technology. When you set your sights on the people and products that can help you make your business prosper, you make your days at the Show pay off for you all year.