Why You Need to Be at the Industry Shows

Complimentary meals and camaraderie are just the fringe benefits of trade show attendance.

Pass on these important events at your own peril

By Gordon Hecht, Contributor

“Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends. We’re so glad you could attend, come inside, come inside!”

Way back about 147 years ago in 1973, the progressive rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer released its classic album “Brain Salad Surgery.” They combined elements of classical music and traditional rock and roll with a heavy dose of synthesized instruments. Today, the second part of the first movement (lyrics above) is a radio staple and often played to get the crowds stoked at live sporting events.

Summertime is a grand time for listening to music, both old favorites and new releases. This season is also the best time to travel to trade shows and conventions.

Take it from me, a person who’s spent 2,000 nights in Hampton Inns: traveling can be a pain! Airfares are high and driving is not much better. Once you get to a convention, you’ll need a place to sleep. And you may also have the same bad habit that I have, of eating three meals a day. Add it up and it’s a serious dent in the checking account.

Being at a show means not being at your place of business. After all, if you are gone, who will manage the avalanche of crises that seem to occur daily? There’s a chance that you can return to a business left in shambles.

You may be thinking, ‘No need to travel; my factory rep will show me pictures and specs of the new products and I’ll go with the popular selections. I’ll probably save myself a thousand bucks by just sitting here.”

Like a shopper who sleeps on a 15-year-old Sag-O-Pedic mattress, it’s easy to count dozens of reasons to put off the commitment to change things. There are lots of reasons to say no to going to a show.

But here’s what yes looks like:

Formal Education: Whether you choose the Las Vegas Market, a buying group show like AVB’s August Convention or both, you’ll gain access to presentations by world-class experts in everything from store design and sales growth to recruitment and cash flow management. And the price of tuition is less than I paid to go to Tumbleweed Tech, as classes at the shows are free.

Informal Education: Go to any of this summer’s events and you’ll rub elbows (in the post-pandemic world) with retailers from across the U.S. and Canada. They all face similar challenges and successes. You can belly up to the bar or share a breakfast table with strangers, enjoy swapping stories and walk away a little smarter and with a new business connection.

What’s Hot: Retailers, vendors and your customers are all product consumers. As you walk through the show, look for the crowds. What’s hot at wholesale often becomes the big seller at retail. Listen to what people are saying about the merchandising — how they plan to show and advertise it — and you’ll get a good feeling for what will work in your market.

Who’s the Boss? While Elton John may not have written the lyric “Hold me closer, Tony Danza,” you’ll find it easy to find out who’s the boss at each vendor booth. Great sales VPs and C-suite people want to find out what’s happening at ground-level retail. Take the opportunity to meet them and share your thoughts, even the ugly ones.

Save Up to 70% and More: Vendors become retailers at trade shows and offer their best incentives. There will be Stampedes, “hot buy specials,” extra advertising bucks and discounts on floor samples. Be prepared to add in some extra inventory and chances are good that your savings will be double or triple your travel costs.

Join the Navy and See the World: The U.S. Navy gets more recruits from the Midwest than either coast. That’s because people want to get off the farm and experience a change of scenery. After a couple of years of lockdowns, limited travel and staycations, you need to get away from your store/city/home.

If you only plan one vacation a year, include one of the summer shows in your plans. Conventions are often held in some pretty groovy places, and by some coincidence the Las Vegas Market will be in Las Vegas this year.

Eat, Drink and Be Merry: Restaurant food and cocktails can be costly. In the past year alone, the cost of living has gone up $3 a 12-pack.

My college economics professor Terry Ridgeway preached “There’s no free lunch,” but he never went to a trade show. Attendees are treated to complimentary breakfast and lunch, and when five o’clock rolls around the bar carts roll out at your key vendor booths.

Also check out the free gifts and raffles that vendors offer. Somebody’s gotta win, and it might as well be you.

This summer, plan to dust off that old valise, get a couple of airline tickets or gas up the family truckster and spend some time with amazing products and awesome people in a great American city.

Be sure to see me; I’ll buy you a drink as soon as the bar cart shows up.

Gordon Hecht is a business growth and development consultant to the retail home furnishings industry and a regular contributor to YourSource News. You can reach him at Gordon.Hecht@aol.com.