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. In the first part of this series, I covered travel, accommodation, personnel and pre-planning for the show. In today’s article I will go over a simple approach to getting the most out of attending trade shows.

Getting The Most Out Of Attending Trade Shows

Now you know where you’re staying, what sessions you’re attending and which booths are your priority.  Now what?  You have to prepare your “elevator speech” to buyers and sellers.  Everyone exhibiting is trying to sell you something.  You, as the attendee have the freedom of a leisurely stroll through this life-sized catalog.  That convenience comes with a price.  You have to be prepared.

When you’re at a show, you are starting a relationship with everyone you meet (potentially).  You’ve decided to attend this show because it affects your business.  Be prepared to start the conversation with existing and potential suppliers.  You should know what your company needs, basic quantities, timing, distribution challenges, etc.  Having these conversations with representatives of your potential and existing business partners allows them to tailor their services to your needs.

Many times, exhibiting companies will take orders on the show floor.  They’ll typically offer a “show promotion” limited to attendees.  You will need to place the order and fulfill it within a certain time following the show.  This strategy gets you a discounted price on goods that you need or entice you to try something new.  You are not obligated to complete the purchase after the show, but it’s not recommended.  These transactions are the start of business relationships.  You don’t want to be the “boy who cried wolf.”  It’s best to come to the show armed with your financials and have a strong idea about goods/services that you need and are willing to purchase.  Remember, if you’re strapped for cash, these are opportune times to negotiate future discounts, volume discounts and overall future business.

Meetings While At The Show

When you’re in a booth and meeting with the staff, be prepared to get your badge scanned.  This allows the company to follow up with you directly, usually via email.  You, as the attendee, need to be willing to offer your contact information.

When you’re attending the show, you want to convey your brand professionally.  Some companies have a policy of formal business attire in the office, but when people hit the show floor they have no idea how to dress.  A good rule of thumb is to look polished and clean.  It’s typically good to be branded with your company’s logo on your shirt.  Wear clean, pressed pants with comfortable dress or casual shoes.  We suggest avoiding sandals or sneakers.  Remember, you’re representing your company.  You want to portray the best image as possible.

As an attendee, you have responsibilities after the show as well.  You’ll need to organize the notes, photos and business cards to give you some clarity on all of the information you gathered while at the show.  This will help you in identifying which company you’d like to start to do business.

Some companies are really good at sending out general follow up emails, while others never use your information again.  Other companies will not only send out general follow-up emails, they’ll assign sales staff to follow up with you directly.  Your responsibility as an attendee is to make sure you get the information you wanted.  It’s the reason you attended the show in the first place!

Checklists For Attending Trade Shows

Here’s a basic checklists to make sure you’re on track for the show:

Dress the Part:

  • Wear comfortable shoes:  You will be on your feet all day.  Be comfortable.  My motto is “Happy feet equals a Happy Hannah.”
  • Go coatless:  If the weather outside isn’t horrible, don’t even bother bringing a coat.  It’s a bulky thing you’ll end up having to carry around.  If you need one, find a place to check it.
  • Bag/Satchel/Tote:  Most booths will offer samples of products and company brochures.  If you want to take “things,” you’ll need a place to store all of it.  Keep in mind, it’s best to take only the things you really want, otherwise you’ll be carrying a bunch of things you’ll never look at again.

Things to Have On You:

  • Business cards.
  • Bottle of water.  Stay hydrated.
  • Snacks.  If you’re attending the NRA Show, you will have plenty of opportunity to eat some great food.
  • Pen & Notebook.  This will help you remember interesting bits of information while in sessions or take notes after you meet people.
  • Camera. There are so many products and people that you will meet, it’s sometimes best to take pictures to aid in deciphering all of the data.
  • iPad/Tablet.  These gadgets are making the pen, paper and camera obsolete.  Take your notes and photos on these and you’ll be able to organize them more quickly.

Reference Checklist:

  • Identify who from your company will attend.
  • Register for the show.
  • Book hotel rooms.
  • Book flights.
  • Review website and identify seminars that interest you.
  • Assign colleagues to seminars.
  • Identify booths you want to visit.
  • Map it out and create a game plan.
  • Establish a dress code and get apparel made.
  • Replenish business cards.
  • Create an elevator speech.
  • Know your current financial state.  Come ready to negotiate.
  • Have an awesome show!

The Bottom Line

Attending trade shows can be an excellent marketing and sales opportunity for your food truck business, whether you are a vendor or representing the company you work for. Yet, many people don’t know how to take full advantage of the benefits that show involvement offers. We hope this series of articles helps.

Do you have any additional tips for vendors attending trade shows? Share your thoughts on this topic on social media. Facebook | Twitter