Attending a Trade Show With Purpose – Part 1
Mobile Cuisine is gearing up to attend the 2012 National Restaurant Show in Chicago. We wanted to share some helpful tips with you, the attendee, to go to this or any other trade show with purpose. As an attendee, you pay good money to go to a trade show – travel, attendance fees and all of the other expenses associated with being away from your food truck or out of the office. To make your trip worthwhile, you need to have a plan. The convention center can be a maze of displays with dizzying lights, sounds, colors and smells. While a bit of distraction is expected, it should not throw you off of your overall plan.
Attending trade shows is not what I’d call fun or glamorous. It’s a part of your job as a business owner, marketing, sales or purchasing manager. You need to be involved and meet your counterparts, see your competition and meet your customers and vendors face-to-face. Attending trade shows is all about building relationships, increasing your network and representing your brand.
Once you’ve determined you are attending a trade show, you will need to identify who in your company will attend (consider a member of your sales/distribution and purchasing departments as both of these functions are key at trade shows. You are looking to sell your products or services to someone and buying the equipment, knowledge and ingredients to make those products or services to sell.) and make the necessary travel arrangements. This can be a super-saver activity or a strategic wining/dining experience.
Your first step in planning is to make this trip the least expensive as possible. You can pick your favorite carrier or discount travel website and book away. You’ll need to identify a means of public transportation or rental car agency to get you to and from the hall if you stay further away from the convention center . Most hotels in close proximity to the show will increase their rates during the trade show dates, so the further away you get from the convention center, the lower the rates. This may make it less convenient getting to and from the convention center, but it will keep your costs down.
The next part of your planning is to create a strategic wining/dining experience. Are you there to meet with existing or new customers? Are you looking to impress them? Are you trying to sell your goods or services? If these are the reasons for your attending the show, it’s probably wiser for you to stay at a show sponsored hotel or a property that’s close to the trade show. Not only will this give you the convenience of being close to the show, it will allow you off-show floor opportunities to meet with potential customers/distributors. Many introductions are made at hotel restaurants and bars immediately surrounding the trade show. You’ll want to make sure that you anticipate those chance meetings.
Timeline for Travel Arrangements
Depending on the venue and available hotels, you can sometimes wait until the last minute to book your room. If you will be traveling with a group you may want to reserve a block of rooms 6-11 months before the show for your group with general dates. If this isn’t an option for a specific show, you can sometimes book your rooms as soon as the show’s housing group opens booking. Each trade show has housing information on its website. Housing blocks typically open around 6 months before the show. The longer you wait to book your rooms, the higher the price of the room and the selection becomes very limited.
Okay, now that you’ve planned your travel arrangements, let’s take a look at the show.
Most trade shows have seminars, workshops and speakers for you to attend and learn new practices in your industry. Restaurant and food shows are actually quite fun because a lot of the time you get to eat the demonstrations. Once you’ve downloaded and reviewed the seminar/speaker schedule and have identified the sessions that best suit you, create a schedule. There are usually several overlapping sessions and you cannot be in two places at once. This is where you employ the “divide and conquer” rule. Assign the most relevant sessions to you and your colleagues based on roles within your organization and which proves the best networking opportunities for that particular person.
Now that you’ve booked yourselves in seminars, you’ll need to find time to walk the show floor. That’s the real reason you’re there! The best way to approach this is to go to the trade show’s website and review the list of exhibiting companies. Sometimes the companies are listed not only by name, but also by function in your industry. It’s always wise to scan all of the lists. You may find there are new names on the list. Trade shows are how a smaller, start-up company can get its proverbial “foot in the door” by meeting people face-to-face.
You’ve scanned the list of exhibitors and noted their booth numbers. Now you need to print out the hall plan of the show and plot out the booths you’d like to visit. If you find you have several stops to make, you can assign certain stops to each of your colleagues or you can prioritize your visits; high, medium, low. While this step seems very elementary, it can be exceedingly helpful when you’ve only got 1-15 of show hours to cram in many visits. Since you’re prioritizing your booth visits, you’re more likely to actually make those stops. Being deliberate in your plan allows you to get the most of your limited time.
You may think that starting at one end of the hall and working your way down each aisle is the best route to go. While this is good for some shows, this is not the best plan if you’re there for business. You can and will stroll right by a booth that has that product/service that could save you money, headache or whatever. There may be a bunch of people crowding around at the moment and all you want to do it get through it. You may be distracted by a demonstration across the aisle and pulled off course. Either way, you can be easily distracted without the plan. We understand that you’re always able to double-back and loop around the hall again, but we’re trying to be efficient.
Once you’ve identified who’s exhibiting and where they are in the hall, if you have been trying to make a connection with a particular company, you should contact them directly. Via the show’s website, you should be able to find an internal contact and get the name of someone working the show that can answer your questions directly. If possible, reach out to that person prior to the show and set up time to meet with them while you’re both at the show. Most of the people working the show are in Sales and will have their evenings full of drinks and dinner meetings. If you need to meet with someone specifically, it’s best to get on their calendar early.
I hope you found part 1 of this 2 part series helpful. Come back tomorrow to check out part 2 where I will cover more specifics on how to attend a trade show including tips and a trade show planning checklist.