November 1, 2023

Trade Show Treasure Hunt: Insider Tips for Success

I can’t even count how many trade shows I’ve attended as an attendee and vendor.  I LOVE trade shows!  I love the excitement, the energy, and the networking.  I remember my very first IAAPA trade show.  I had no idea what I was doing.  I was exploring an idea I had to start a Family Entertainment Center.  I remember seeing some speakers and people on the show floor who were so happy and friendly with each other.  It was like a huge family reunion.  There were hugs and smiles.  THAT show and THOSE people made me realize that I never want to do anything besides be in this industry.  It got in my blood, and that hasn’t changed.  It’s more than a job for me.  It’s honestly my passion.  I still get excited every year to attend the IAAPA Expo.  I can’t sleep the night before, and it feels like Christmas Eve. I love seeing all my old friends every year and meeting new ones.  Here are my Do’s and Don’ts for a successful trade show.

Do – Networking

Connect with fellow attendees and industry experts.  Share your experiences and learn from others.  Show up to meet someone new each day.  Make a new friend.  Meet someone you can call when you aren’t at the show.  Break away from your group and sit with and talk to strangers.  I know it can be uncomfortable, but do it!  This industry is among the most kind, welcoming and sharing industries I’ve seen.  Don’t hesitate to ask vendors and peers for advice, recommendations, referrals, or introductions.  If you are shy, come say “hi” to me!  I’m also nervous, but I would love to meet you.  Maybe we can learn from each other! 

Do – Explore New Products And Technology And Evaluate Suppliers

Look at new stuff and seek inspiration and innovation—new games, attractions, and technology.  Gather ideas for enhancing customer experiences, streamlining operations, updating your facility, and retaining rockstar team members.  Don’t forget to evaluate suppliers.  Many suppliers will offer you ongoing support, so you will want to find someone who provides a good product and will get good help.  Build partners with your suppliers.  Most supplies genuinely want you to be successful and not just sell you something. 

Do – Attend Seminars And Training Sessions

You will not only learn during the sessions, but you will also network and meet people.  This industry has a ton of knowledge, and most people will share it with you.  Learn from the teachers AND the other attendees.  Don’t hide in the back of the room.  Sit in the front, ask questions, and get involved.  

Do – Budget And Plan

Discuss pricing, financing, and discounts with suppliers.  Ask for references.  Don’t just talk about price but about Return on Investment (ROI).  The quicker something can pay itself off, the quicker you become profitable.  Ensure you ask about warranties, ongoing costs, freight and install costs, licensing costs, etc. 

Do – Ask Questions – Learn And Share

My favorite sayings are “Rising Tides Lift ALL Ships” and “Rise by Lifting Others.”  Make sure you come prepared to share and help others, but use the two ears and one mouth rule and listen twice as much as you talk.  Even if you have been in the industry long, show up with an open mind, and you will pick up something new to help your bottom line.  Don’t dismiss the new blood in our industry that may see things from a new perspective.  Don’t be that old crotchety person who says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” or “We’ve always done it this way”.  We have to keep growing, learning, and reinventing. 

Do – Take Notes And Plan To Follow Up

This show is a grind!  It’s fun but a grind, nonetheless.  It’s busy, and you will talk to hundreds of people.  Take good notes of vendors, games/attractions, takeaways, and ideas.  Take pictures.  After the show, don’t hesitate to contact the vendors and people you want to do business with and solidify the relationship.  They will likely reach out to you, but it can’t hurt to be proactive and remind them of your conversation.  Vendors speak with hundreds of people throughout the week, and although they try to remember everyone’s situation, it’s tough to remember all of the details.  When following up, briefly recap what you discussed to jog their minds and help them find their notes.  If it’s someone you know you want to do business with, set up your follow-up appointment/call right at the show so you aren’t lost in the shuffle. 

Do – Attend After-hours Events And Parties

I know you are tired after a full day of the show!  We are all tired!  But if you get invited to an after-show party, dinner, or gathering, GO!  This is where the real networking happens.  Don’t bail out, go to bed, or hang out with your group.

Do – Plan Ahead

Events and sessions sell out!  Plan, prepare, and sign up, but don’t be so rigid with your schedule that you can’t pivot.  Be flexible if you plan to be in one place but get a networking opportunity you didn’t plan for.  If you are with a group, divide and conquer and come together to discuss what you saw and learned.  Know your goals and what you are looking for and hoping to achieve.  Many vendors are so busy they book their entire week with customers ahead of time.  If there is someone you want to talk to, consider reaching out ahead of time and booking an appointment with them so you will know they will be available for you. 

Do Not – Forget Your Business Cards

There is just something about a physical business card.  When going to a large booth with many people, scanning your badge might not get you back to the right person to follow up as quickly as a business card exchange can.  This is also helpful when networking.

Do Not – Wear Uncomfortable Shoes

After days and miles of walking, you will thank me for this.  Your feet will hurt, even in comfortable shoes.  Forgo the fashion statement and go for comfort! 

Do Not – Be Rude Or Dismissive 

It may seem like a large industry, but it’s very intimate, and everyone knows each other.  Don’t burn bridges.  Don’t talk negatively about others, about their business, etc.  If you aren’t interested in a product or service, kindly tell them you aren’t interested.  No one likes being ignored.  From a sales perspective, it’s much better to hear a rejection than to keep following up with someone missing you.  Just be friendly and honest.

Do Not – Forget To Eat And Drink

Stay hydrated, and make sure you eat.  This will help keep you going.  It’s okay to suggest meeting with vendors over lunch so you can do business and eat.  They may appreciate the break.  

Do Not – Overload On Swag

So many free pens and goodies!  By the end of the week, you will need a 2nd suitcase to take home all the free stuff.  Businesses spend a lot of money on this stuff.  Don’t take the property if you aren’t interested in the product or service.  Don’t be a “stuff grabber” who comes into booths and loads up on free things they likely won’t use. 

Do Not – Be Distracted

Being on the phone or checking emails or social media will keep you from being present, and you might miss something.  You spend too much time and money to take advantage of the opportunities you could gain from being present.  Enjoy the show, be current, and save those distractions for another time. 

Those are my trade shows “Do’and Don’t’s.”  If we aren’t already friends, let’s change that!  Teach me a new tip or trick.  I want to learn from you!  I’ll be the one with crazy different shoes and earrings each day!  If you see me walking by, stop me to say “hi” and introduce yourself!       

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Amber Lambert

Amber Lambert is the Regional Sales Representative for Betson Enterprises. She began her career in the amusement industry 12 years ago when she started her own family entertainment center she built from the ground up. She also managed a corporate-owned family entertainment center, held a sales role with an industry supplier, and is active in industry associations.