After the Trade Show - Then What?

Aq 0102 24pg 0001

For most people, trade shows offer golden business opportunities. After all, where else can one find so many new lines of merchandise — from so many rival vendors — in one room.

Yet, there's a downside to trade shows.

When the dust has settled and everyone has returned home, it's all too easy to abandon good "follow-through" intentions. With so much catching up to do, attendees forget to share trade show information with their staffs, process business card data into usable form, call those newly discovered sources or inform customers about new items.

Here's something that will change all that for the better: A half-dozen trade show consultants from around the country offer tips on smart follow-through tactics to wring every dollar of profit from a heavy investment in travel, hotel rooms and restaurant meals.

Trade shows are great for discovering new merchandise and making new contacts. All too often, though, retailers return to mountains of backed-up work.

Faced with the challenge of catching up on workday tasks, they soon forget their good intentions to follow up with vendors, cultivate personal networks, and capitalize on industry trends revealed at the show.

It shouldn't be that way. "What you really go to a trade show for is what takes place after the event is over," says Francis J. Friedman, a trade show specialist and president of the New York City-based consulting firm Time & Place Strategies. Like golfers working on their follow-through, successful trade show attendees are always trying to improve the quality of their after-show swing. That means sharing knowledge with staff, placing follow-up calls with the right exhibitors, and organizing business cards and notes so they don't end up on a shelf collecting dust.

As the pool and spa industry enters the thick of its trade show season, the following techniques will help you capitalize on what you've learned at the show after you return home:

Share the Wealth

If one piece of new information from a show can help you make more profit, imagine the results if your whole staff could use the same knowledge when dealing with customers. Make sure everyone has an opportunity to benefit from the trade show information, be it educational information from seminars, industry insights from business peers met in the aisles, or new product descriptions from the booths. This communication may be delivered via memo, in meetings or internal E-mail.

The key is to disburse the information formally so that it is taken seriously.

Don't forget communication is a two-way street. Encourage your personnel to share insights that may enhance or alter your view of what happened at the show. This is particularly important when making decisions to take on a new line of goods.

"Your staff may know of products that are a better fit and should be compared and investigated," says Richard J. Brunkan, a partner at Humber, Mundie and McClary, a group of psychological consultants in Milwaukee, Wis. "You may discover that you were being overwhelmed by an enthusiastic salesperson. People who work with customers can help you decide what's there in terms of solid stuff."

Staff feedback can also help adjust order levels up or down, or time the placement of additional orders over the following months. This is especially helpful with new lines from young companies, which may not produce enough inventory to satisfy unforeseen orders down the line. Absent sufficient advance orders, supplies can evaporate just as customers are clamoring for more.Once orders are set and delivery dates slated, assign duties to the various members of your store team. What needs to happen in the store? Who needs to do what in terms of promotion, signage and space planning? Where will you position the new merchandise and how can you clear space? Good post-show follow-through depends to a great extent on advance planning. If more than one person from your business will be attending the show, assign different duties to each. Personal beats might include new products, industry trends and materials needed for a new department.

To encourage great work, make sure each attendee realizes a report will be expected back home. "People engage in a very different level of note taking when they realize they will be held responsible for teaching others," says Pittsburgh based consultant Mina Bancroft. "They understand a subject." Finally, assign a high priority to the meeting in which knowledge is shared. "Prior to attending the show, schedule the follow-up meeting on your calendar so it doesn’t slip between the cracks later," suggests Bancroft.

Draw upon each person's abilities when conveying information to your staff. "Because each person has unique strengths, each communicates in a different way and sees a trade show with a personal perspective," says Donna Messer, a trade show consultant and president of Connect Us Communications, a consultancy in Oakville, Ontario, Canada. "Some learn by hearing; some by seeing; some by experiencing. So each person attending the show will describe what they saw in different ways to everyone back at the store. Encourage this and you will have one heck of a team."

And how about those great seminars? Wouldn't your whole staff benefit from knowledge gained. Sometimes seminars have training materials you can distribute to your staff, saving you the effort of putting together a report. If that's not the case, jot down the key points from the seminar and have a short but informative report distributed to your key personnel. Alternatively, ask permission to record the seminar and have the tape transcribed for your staff.

Speaking of communicating news to your staff, what can you do with all those notes you scribble as you walk the aisles. In the rush of business they can fall through the cracks. Too often they end up forgotten on a shelf or disappearing into your file cabinet.

Develop a plan to efficiently process those notes. Go to the show with this plan in place and you will be able to maximize the usefulness of your notes when you return home. Rather than entering all of your notes on a running series of pages, try dividing a notebook into sections by topics such as new products, personnel changes, industry trends and government regulations.

Once back at your place of business, process the notes by removing the pages from your notebook and inserting them into vertical hanging files organized by topic.

In another approach, some attendees walk the trade shows with tape recorders, making continual short comments that are later transcribed by someone back home. Here's a related idea: While walking the trade show aisles, very often you will see displays of materials you want others in your company to be aware of. Request permission to take photos (some shows do not permit this practice) then distribute the pictures to everyone back at the store.

Follow Through With Vendors

Exhibitors can be as forgetful as buyers when the trade show banners have been taken down. If they move on to other things and fail to send promised information, everyone loses. Smart retailers will mark their calendars with ticklers to remind laggard vendors.

There are three benefits of prompt follow-through with vendors. First is the reduced risk of misunderstanding.

Your memory of what an exhibitor said may differ from that of the vendor, and he or she may forget a deal that was not put in writing because of the rush of people at the show. So call and nail down your agreements. Second, calling can confirm schedules for on-site visits by vendor reps. Finally, you can avoid the disappointment that can arise when you wait too long to place orders.

Many manufacturers are trimming production in response to a softening economy, so late buyers may have to stand in line behind early birds, or even be left out of the pipeline entirely.

Vendors will offer you a plethora of brochures and catalogs as you walk the aisles. When you return home, a stack of accumulated brochures can seem so overwhelming that you avoid looking at them for months. Ask vendors to mail catalogs and brochures to you, and assign a staff member to file them in an accessible place. You might want to sort the catalogs alphabetically by company, then create a Rolodex or computer database that references the company names by product or service for rapid access months later.

Trade show buyers' guides can also fill a need long after they have served their original function as maps to booth locations. "The buyers' guide is a wonderful resource with great shelf life," says Lori Kurschner, vice president of marketing for the Dallas Market Center.

"It can be referenced for contact information throughout the year." Kurschner also points out that many venues now host Websites with "market planning tools" that can help track an elusive supplier in the months after a show.

Because many such sites are searchable electronically, buyers can quickly find sources of supply for specific lines.

Finally, how about all those business cards collected during the show. Too often they remain wrapped in their rubber band cocoons, never to be looked at again. Try categorizing business cards on a scale of one through four, with "one" being the most important to contact. Back at your store, make sure you call those people first. "I advocate writing relevant information on the back of the cards rather than on a separate paper," says Brunkan. "That avoids having to match things up at the office.

On each card, note what was interesting about the product and what needs follow-up."

If all this sounds like smart networking, that's because it is. Trade show experts encourage such relationship building. "When an attendee actually follows through with vendors met at a show, a light goes on with suppliers," says Messer. "They say 'This is one I want to keep.' You have brought to the attention of exhibitors that you are different." The results can be beneficial.

"Down the road, you may be called for a testimonial, or you may be offered something to try out because you have been responsive," says Messer. And, of course, you will be the first to know of any buying opportunities.

Establishing a dialogue positions you as a partner for mutual profit rather than just another name on a customer list.

"We are in an era of relationship building, but the hard part is that we are hiding behind our E-mail and phone systems."

Inform Your Customers

We've covered co-workers and vendors.

But isn't the customer the real reason for all of this trade show commotion.

One way or another, customers need to be informed about what you have seen at the show. Eventually, of course, the public will see the results of your visit in the forms of shiny merchandise and bright displays. But for your most important customers, a personal call is not out of the question.

Given the realities of the typical customer count, it's impossible to gather information on everyone's wants and get back to them one on one. That's where some creative communication comes in. Either a special mailing or a section of your regular newsletter can be devoted to a report on what you learned at the trade show.

As the pointers in this article suggest, getting the biggest bang from the buck invested in attending a trade show depends on how you sweep up after the dust has settled. "When you get back to your place of work, the important thing is to have a plan in place that prioritizes the information you've obtained," says Bancroft. "I suggest that you start processing the information while you are still at the show, and especially as you travel back home. Ask yourself, 'What is the top thing I have learned and what will I do with it.'" Tackle the big pile of new information efficiently. In other words, break it into manageable pieces. "If you end up with information overload you will not be able to process any of it," says Bancroft.

The more you keep your goals in mind, the more successful you will be as a trade show participant. Cultivate the employee, the exhibitor and the customer who as a group form a "three-legged stool" of post-show success. If you take careful aim at your target and follow through with a good after-show swing you'll land a retailer's favorite "hole-in-one": more money in your cash register.

Find Out What Lies Ahead

Maybe you can't forecast the future, but you can set the stage for your store's success by spotting trends.

"An entire industry comes together for a trade show," says Francis J. Friedman, a trade show specialist and president of the New York City-based consulting firm Time & Place Strategies. "Even a regional show is a slice of the industry. If you are aware of that you can become more knowledgeable about industry trends and get insight about what's ahead for your market."

Friedman suggests doing these things:

• Converse with booth staffers. Don't just stop by and say "Hi." Watch for slow periods and introduce yourself for a chat.

"Remember they talk with everyone, you'll be surprised what you hear."

• Establish a network with peers.

Build a community of like-minded, non-competing retailers in various towns, then follow up with them regularly through the year. Include retailers in other industries, because trends tend to migrate.

• Benchmark. Are you up to speed or ahead of the curve in displays, management practices, equipment. Keep asking this question as you attend seminars and visit exhibitors.

• Meet the press. Few retailers think of interviewing business editors who are at the show, but Friedman highly recommends it.

"If you can meet with an editor, spend a moment finding out what that person sees as the key trends in business."

"Curiosity should be something you bring to the show," says Friedman.

"Take full advantage of this information-rich environment."

Content Library
Dig through our best stories from the magazine, all sorted by category for easy surfing.
Read More
Content Library
Buyer's Guide
Find manufacturers and suppliers in the most extensive searchable database in the industry.
Learn More
Buyer's Guide