For online retailers, trade shows are an incredible opportunity to source goods, connect with wholesalers and manufacturers, and expand their product lines. There is a right way and a wrong way to attend tradeshows. To get the most out of your experience, you need to prepare.
Your first step is to find the tradeshow that’s right for you—there’s a tradeshow for nearly every industry imaginable. One good source for locating tradeshows is www.TradeShowWeek.com—you can search for shows alphabetically, by city and state, by industry, or by month. You can also try Googling the phrase “trade show” and your industry name. Tradeshows also advertise in the magazines and publications that cater to their market, and they’ll give you plenty of advance notice so you can plan ahead.
Requirements to Register
Because trade shows are only open to the industry insiders, you have to register to attend. You can pre-register on a tradeshow’s website and receive your badge in the mail. You save yourself a lot of time standing in line when you arrive. There’s almost never a cost to register and you will have to provide proof you’re a legitimate business:
• your business license, or tax ID
• your resale certificate
• a photo ID
• a business card or check in your business’ name
A Wealth of Information
Be sure to pick up a show directory when you get there—they’ll contain contact information for every exhibitor at the show. Very often the phone numbers and websites in them are intended for retailers only and aren’t available anywhere else. Get as many different supplier catalogs as you can. The products on display are only a fraction of their product lines. Even if you don’t see anything at their booth that interests you, they may have hundreds of other products in their catalogs that may be perfect for you.
Know What You’re After
If you aren’t looking for a specific product, start by canvassing the show and making notes on which suppliers you want to talk to. Make a list of the questions you want to ask before talking with their reps. Product sourcing expert Lisa Suttora, of WhatDoISell.com, cautions, “They get very busy at these shows so you want to be brief and to the point. Know specifically what you want to find out… so you don’t waste their time or yours.”
If you’re in the market for a specific type of product, you can look at the tradeshow’s website and see what exhibitors will be there. If you sell boxing gear and attend a sporting goods show, you might look for the suppliers that sell boxing equipment. You can get their booth order numbers and map out a plan for navigating the show to hit every supplier you want to talk to.
Have a Product Sourcing Mindset
Having a game plan doesn’t mean overlooking exhibitors who aren’t on your short list. Says Suttora, “If you’re going to look for specific products, that’s fine. But you also want to keep your mind open [and] look at all the suppliers because you never know when you’re going to come across a product or a supplier that you may not have thought about that could be very good for your business.”