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Maximize your time at trade shows

May 1st, 2010 / By: / Graphics

As a manufacturer of trade show exhibits, I was interested in a recent IFAI LinkedIn message: “Do you agree that online trade fairs are the most cost effective marketing tool for the industrial fabrics industry?” Surprisingly, the responses, including my own, were to the contrary.

Staying home would appear to be more cost effective, but I wonder how much time one has to spend on the internet to accomplish what can be done in a live trade show. I spend more than half my day online, just keeping up with normal functions. I can’t imagine finding the time on a regular basis to go further.

When the topic surfaces of an IFAI Expo every other or every third year, it is drowned out by numerous reasons why it should be left as is. This started me thinking about why I attend, what I want to accomplish and what I have done with the information received at past events. For the most part, I remain optimistic as to participation in live Expo experiences.

Nora Norby, of Banner Creations in Minneapolis, and I agree that there is a method to gaining the most from our time spent at these events. Norby’s pre-show checklist includes a review of the show literature to find out who is exhibiting and what educational events and social gatherings will occur. She confers with colleagues to get their take on specific needs that she can follow through on. She is on the lookout for new exhibitors and suppliers. For her, a very important issue is demonstrations, educational offerings, and, most important, business-to-business meetings. “The most important thing I gain is affirmation in what we are doing as a company,” she says.

Here are a few suggestions on how you can garner the most out of your next Expo:

Pre-show strategy. If I can obtain one new idea from every trade show I attend, then it’s worth the effort. Our company is somewhere between a textile shop, a print shop, a metal shop, a powder coater or all of the above. From the onset, IFAI Expo was not specifically geared to our areas of expertise, but provided a view at markets from a different perspective. We kept returning because there was always a new idea, method of production, textile or other bit of information that allowed us to expand our offerings. Looking outside your comfort zone brings unexpected findings. Define your purpose for attending and your expectations.

Who should attend? This depends on the size of your company. I’m the primary attendee for our company, and as specific interests come up, such as an educational event, we expand the attendee list. Giving employees the opportunity to attend pays dividends through enthusiasm in the experience and regeneration of energies.

Work the floor. Create a system to walking the show floor. By doing a perimeter, I hit new-idea or start-up companies that tend to take smaller exhibit spaces located on the fringe areas. First thing, second day, I head to the back of the show floor, as this area is less busy. I then have sufficient time planned for existing vendors and new prospects.

Take time to explore. Don’t attempt to run through the floor in one day. Give an exhibitor at least three minutes of your time. If he can’t convince you that he has something for you, move on. A successful trade show marketer will confirm that three minutes, on average, is all they have to draw your attention.

Set appointments. Setting meetings ensures that those you want to speak with are available, and it gives companies coming from foreign countries an opportunity to have a translator available. Scheduled breakfast, lunch or after-hour meetings extend this one-on-one opportunity. I set appointments at the show, as well as in advance of the show.

Educational events. I am amazed at the amount of information one can gain through educational events. These presentations take months of preparation and are put together by your peers. Their experiences and willingness to pass on knowledge is worth your participation. No one will give you trade secrets, but the amount of knowledge that can be gained is immeasurable. Check out presentations of other areas not normally of your interest. This is your big opportunity to look at other markets that might complement your product offering.

Business to business. The benefits derived by face-to-face meetings are icing on the cake. Opportunities gained by meeting my competition and working with them for the betterment of the industry is a major reason for supporting a live trade show.

Expand your circle of influence. The vitality of IFAI is through the activities of its divisions. Meeting someone from around the globe, who is involved in similar work, comparing notes, building friendships, expanding your circle of influence, and gaining potential new business markets has been immeasurable in attending IFAI Expo.

Even after 50 years of attending trade shows, I still look forward to the next. I hope to see you in Orlando, Fla., Oct. 27–29, at IFAI Expo Americas.

Pat Hayes is founder and chairman of Fabric Images Inc., Elgin, Ill., a member of the Fabric Graphics Association and a director of the Industrial Fabrics Association International.

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