When I first began traveling to trade shows for our family store, my father and I observed a ritual.
Before I left, I went into his office. He would give me a pen. Holding the pen before me, he would say, “This new pen is full of ink. When you come back, I expect it to not be full. I do not send you to the show to look. I send you to buy.”
Apparently, he was not the only one who felt that way, as I know the president of a wholesaler who refuses to call it a “trade show.” “It is a market,” the president liked to say. “We aren’t here to show anything. We are here to sell.”
However, the show does not begin when you leave the store. It begins by looking at your advertising and marketing plans for your store. What events are you going to have? This past fall, there were popular events for engraving bottles and embroidering the bags for Crown Royal products. In addition to the traditional seasonal peaks in sales, what events are you going to have?
It begins with considering your inventory levels by category of products. Hopefully, you utilize a properly designed open-to-buy plan, as compared to the frequently used, “sell five cases and buy five cases to replace them” plan.
It begins with gathering and reviewing all information that distributors and wholesalers send to you before the event. We put the information into four piles: have to see; would like to see; will see if time allows; and leftovers. Nothing ever went into the trash. We found that sometimes we would be surprised by an item or promotion that did not look good on paper but got our attention when we got to the show.
Attending the show is going with an open mind and open eyes to consider everything you see. We found one of the best ways to do this was to partner with a dealer from a different part of the country to discuss what we all saw and bought. The two dealers would visit during the show, as well as share an evening meal to exchange ideas and observations.
While most of us have certain people we want to see at the show, we found it to be profitable if we would take a last lap around the entire show floor after we had completed all we came to do. This last lap — with our mind cleared of all the tasks to be completed — allowed us to see the show floor in a different light. Frequently, something popped up that would now get our attention.
When the show was over and we returned home, if our normal schedule included time on the sales floor, we made sure there was sufficient coverage to allow us time to work on show follow-up in the quiet of the office.
One last thought. If you are taking someone from the store to the show, be sure to explain the process in advance. We have seen far too many people who think that attending the show is a reward event. They party a bit too much in the evenings during the show. We remember an individual at a recent show who came into the room for an educational session, sat in a chair and promptly fell sound asleep. Those with the person explained his partying from the night before.
The show is a market. The preparation before the show — the work during and after the show — is important for your store for the coming year.
Tom Shay is a lifelong small-business owner and manager. He has authored 12 books on small business management; a college textbook on small business financial management and co-authored a book on retailer/vendor relations. Read his recent piece, How to Have Legendary Customer Service.