Trade show travel

Take a shopping trip on your customers’ behalf

ALMOST EVERY FLOORING RETAILER has product that was sourced as a result of a visit to a floor covering trade show — or trade fair as they say in Europe. But do these events still call out to your showroom, like Sirens to Odysseus, sweetly singing about products that will make your business more profitable? After all, the internet, the email inbox, trade publications like this one and visits from the friendly neighbourhood supplier rep provide plenty of information about what might make sense for your storefront.

During the 1990s, business analysts, consultants, and participants alike debated whether the surge in electronic commerce and Internet purchasing options might soon render the trade show an irrelevant relic of a bygone business era, according to Inc.com. Even after a slowdown in growth in the first three years of this century — due to post 9/11 decline in travel and a global economic slowdown — the trade show industry has grown steadily. For example, these trade shows accounted for more than $100 billion US in annual direct spending and attracted nearly 125 million individuals in 2004.

“In many industries, the trade show has become a must-seize marketing opportunity,” stated Business Week. For exhibitors, “It’s a time to meet prospective customers, get valuable feedback on your product or service, and close sales.” According to Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) based in Dallas, Tex., 92 percent of trade show attendees say they are looking for new products.

The performance of the trade show industry as a whole, as measured by the CEIR Total Index, posted a decent year-overyear first quarter 2018 gain of 1.8 percent. Building, Construction, Home and Repair; Industrial/Heavy Machinery and Finished Business Inputs; and Government all registered robust yearover- year gains. In contrast, Consumer Goods and Retail Trade and Education posted year-over-year declines.

The most important step for the attendee is to find a good show that is worth the time and trouble it takes to attend, Inc. com notes. Businesses should request detailed statistical and other information on past trade shows from the organizers.

Once you have identified a show to attend, good planning is the key to a successful trip. Make your travel arrangements and submit the show registration far in advance. Allow at least 90 days to avoid snags and delays. Decide in advance what you are hoping to get out of the show — if it is a buying trip, know in advance what you hope to purchase.

TOO BUSY NOT TO GO

Certainly, the challenge of all staff at flooring retailers and dealers is taking the time away from the sales floor to travel and attend these shows in Europe, North America and elsewhere. There is a danger of being on the bleeding, rather than the leading edge of fashion, according to Jason Walker, director of sales at flooring distributor Stevens Omni in Mississauga, Ont. His company attends multiple shows per year as either a buyer or as an exhibitor.

“From our point of view, we are so focused on style and design that we want to try and stay as close to the front of the curve as we can without leading it,” says Walker. “On the very front of the curve its high risk so we want to come in sort of just behind that first wave. In order to do that we need to attend a certain number of shows a year, just so we can see what’s coming down the pipeline.”

Even as an exhibitor, he still scouts a trade show as if he was an attendee. Walker notes that he looks at what “both direct competitors and indirect competitors are up to, so we may get some indication of the direction they may be taking.”

Mike Ghazarian, regional manager of Hamilton, Ont.- based Alexanian Carpet and Flooring, says his company gets to at least a couple of trade shows each year in Europe and in North America such as Surfaces in Las Vegas, Nev. The objective is often to meet with suppliers that have been business partners for years. “We just go and see what is new — like when they are launching a product or something like that. If we see something that is new and different, or they have representation here in Canada, we are interested. We don’t like to buy direct and only like companies that have representation in Canada.”

Once you arrive at the show, says Inc.com, review the list of exhibitors to see which companies interest you the most, or better yet, comb the list of exhibitors on the organizer’s website ahead of time. Highlight those companies and check them off as you visit each one, Inc.com advises. Some people like to make one general trip around the entire exhibit floor, highlighting interesting exhibits as they go and making a second, more serious trip to those booths. Be warned that this approach may not be practical for the largest national trade shows, which are often spread over several floors of a huge convention centre.

HOMEWORK, STRATEGY, EFFICIENCY

Planning ahead before attending a trade fair is paramount for Jeanette Martin, owner of Mybc Consulting based in Abbotsford, B.C. She gets to trade shows two or three times per year, and is active as a director on the board of the Surrey, B.C.-based B.C. Floor Covering Association, which is hosting its Flooring Expo on October 25 in Burnaby, B.C.

“I get the show exhibit agenda and I’ll plan what education pieces I want to sign myself up for,” says Martin. “If there is a possibility to go in the day before — that’s what I like about Surfaces — they cram a lot of learning in before you even take away time from the show floor. Then I will look and see who is the newest player that I haven’t seen in years past. “I will circle the hardwood floor manufacturers that I already deal with as well as the supplies booths that support them.”

Walker explains that he’s inundated with email booth invitations after registering for a show but doesn’t feel obligated to follow many of these up. “When you sign up they (show organizers) share that email list with other exhibitors. We typically don’t do that to our customers. We usually know who is going to attend so we direct target them either in person or maybe with a more individualized email as opposed to just an email blast to thousands of people.”

Invitations via postal mail happen far less now than in the old days, according to Walker. “Now it’s almost exclusively email. “Generally, if we are attending we have already researched the show,” he says. “Most of the time I tend to not wing it. I have a plan.” Walker adds that at a show he’s usually there as an exhibitor as well as an attendee so his time away from the Stevens Omni booth is tightly scheduled.

Martin is also careful about her time: “If I know one of my reps are going down (to the show) I will make a point of scheduling a one-on-one in their booth instead of just walking by the booth and hoping to get served.”

Another part of Martin’s routine has evolved over time. “On the days when there are classes as well as walking the floor I will stack it to where I go to a class, walk the floor for a couple of hours, come back and take a class, then walk the floor. Then it doesn’t feel like you are running to class to class.”

She likes the opportunity, when walking the floor, to reconnect with people she sees in those classes. “You can approach them and go ‘we we’re just in a class together’ and carry on that relationship building.”

Walker echoes the strategy of partaking in seminars or education. “I always used to try to attend at least a couple of these courses,” he says. “Now my schedule personally doesn’t permit for a lot of that. However, I always tell dealers who are attending that they should go — especially retailers because retailers get stuck in their stores.

“At Surfaces or some of these large shows there are tremendous education courses going on in all fields, whether it’s on product installation, accounting, social media training, how to better market their companies, all of that type of stuff.”

According to Walker, “if you’re going to take the trouble to fly across the country or to a different country and attend one of these shows and you don’t attend one or two of these seminars I think you are selling yourself short.” His reasoning is that with the rapid change of both technology and products, everyone should use trade shows to stay abreast of developments.

Martin does have a beef with the treatment she receives on occasion. “A lot of them, the big guys,” she says, “they tend to think its a family reunion with the sales reps. The times I have walked by booths and they are huddled together and chatting, and I don’t get approached. I have a buyer’s badge because the show delegates the buyers from the exhibitors.

“When I don’t get approached, especially as a female in this industry, it drives me insane. They have a great display about the new and approved product and I’m walking all around it and no one is approaching me to explain it.”

Another pet peeve shared by trade show goers everywhere is also articulated. “The biggest challenge is how local hotels tend to jack the price up at the hotel during the convention or the trade show,” says Martin. “Normally, you can go stay at the Luxor for $45 a night. During surfaces it is $140.00.”

ALL ABOUT VALUE

This challenge is certainly one that doesn’t discourage Martin from attending. “I believe trade shows are invaluable to stay on top of your business because if you don’t go and see the products available for your customer — your customer is going to go to ‘Professor Google’ and they believe they will become the expert on that product.

“It is not their job — it is our job when we choose to be in this industry. They will come back to you and say I saw this and this and this and you will look like a fool. We have to stay one full step ahead of ‘Professor Google.’”

Martin believes that “we do that by physically going out and seeing these products, getting education and putting ourselves in environments where we learn this stuff.”

Or to put it another way, it’s all about learning the trade at shows.

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