Tips for Shopping the Trade Show Floor

The national show is upon us, and once again, those of us who have prowled the aisles of numerous trade shows will be checking out the cool new stuff for pools and spas! Besides comfy shoes, you might want to go armed with some ideas to make the most of your time at the show and discover something great to make your business even better this year.

First of all, when I attend a trade show, I like to look over the map of booths and write down the ones I don't want to miss and set them up in order so I don't waste as much time crisscrossing my route all over the show hunting for them. I also like to start on the edges of the show, where the smaller, newer booths are located with the "little" items I might otherwise miss.

When shopping the show, DO sweat the small stuff! I've found some of the best ideas for my retail store at out-of-the way booths. I like to find unusual items that will make my customers say, "You always have the coolest stuff!" Changing up the basics in your store keeps it fresh and fun. 

When you do find something interesting, buy small quantities of it and stick to stuff that might make good gifts for family and friends (or yourself) in case it sells slowly. Remember, especially with something new or unusual, it isn't enough to simply put it in the store and expect it to sell itself. Train your staff and also yourself to talk it up, show it off, demonstrate, display. 

For example, one of my most successful products I discovered out in the back 40 at a show was Aqua Golf, a floating golf game. I didn't just put the box out and point to it, though — I set up the game and hosted Aqua Golf tournaments in the store every Saturday. Customers got one whack at the golf ball after spending a particular amount. I marked each attempt to see who got closest to the pin and the person who got the closest won a $10 gift certificate to the store. I added about three thousand dollars in PROFIT to my store that year, just from Aqua Golf!!

Keep your eye out at the show for products like that, buy in small quantities and then promote the heck out of each one. Also, be sure to shop the deals — many vendors offer show specials. Avoid getting too carried away, though, and negotiate quantities and when you wish to take delivery.

See the vendors with whom you have an ongoing relationship and buy from already and make sure to check out all the new innovations. You want to be conversant with the newest technology and try what looks good, but you also don't want to be the one who gets the bugs out of the new product a manufacturer has rushed out on the market.

Beware of the "overpromise" and "underdeliver." It is easy to have fun and get carried away at a show and make decisions you might regret back home in the harsh dawn of reality. Test new products back home in situations you can control, like your own pool, before you offer too much to customers. Sometimes manufacturers' reps are not totally accurate in their claims or guarantees for a product, so read the fine print. In particular, make sure they will back up their warranty claims.

Driving to the show? Try going to a few booths at the end of the show and see if you can purchase stock in the booth at a discount. Often the vendor would rather sell the booth items than carry them home and you can score some good deals this way.

Finally, talk to people! Network and introduce yourself to other participants, talk to people on the shuttle bus. Some of the most valuable and satisfying relationships we have made in the industry come from people we have met at shows, sometimes resulting in friends for decades. You can often learn  as much, if not more, from your peers you visit with informally than from the formal seminars. 

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