Experienced Show-Goers Maximize The Expo Experience Thru Planning

Every year, new and returning attendees heading to The PPAI Expo ask the question: How do I best prepare? Although all attendees likely have their own recipe for getting the most out of their show experience, there are certainly some tried-and-true tips and tricks that industry pros have acquired throughout the 18 years the trade show has been held in Las Vegas.

For a trade show spanning one million square feet of exhibit and meeting space, one of the most-cited suggestions is to plan ahead by preemptively mapping out and prioritizing the vendors you’re interested in doing business with. Barb Lea Fuller, owner of distributor Barb’s Custom Imprint Shop.com in Cumberland, Wisconsin, says that forming a plan starts with realistically managing your time. “Don’t attempt to see everything on one day,” she says. “Don’t try to stop at every booth—you will short yourself time to visit those with which you truly have an interest.” She adds, “Most important one? Study the map and have a plan. It’s a marvelous experience.”

One way that show attendees are planning their experience is through SAGE Mobile available for free download in the App Store and Google Play. “Use the SAGE Mobile app floor plan to plan your days, take pictures and jot notes in it, and when you return, it’s all in one place. It’s fabulous!” says Nikki Craig, sales partner at distributor Geiger in Lewiston, Maine. SAGE Mobile allows attendees to create and sort their walk lists, view the floor plan, search for exhibitors and products, view the education schedule, and add notes, photos, video and audio recordings.

For some, charting out a show-floor plan consists of specific techniques to engage suppliers so that purpose-driven conversations can follow. Melissa Hoffman, sales manager at supplier Union, Illinois-based BAG MAKERS, Inc., says, “Bring a list of projects that you are working on or plan to work on in 2020. Bring a client list so you can write down ideas for each of them. Talk to suppliers about your clients and upcoming projects. We can help target specific products and ideas for them.” She adds, “Come with an open mind and a willingness to connect with the suppliers who want to help you succeed and grow your business. Most of us will be there preparing the show floor for many days prior to your arrival. We look forward to talking with you.”

Some pros prefer to come with their needs already outlined for specific upcoming projects. Julie Woodall, account executive for distributor HALO Branded Solutions in Menomee Falls, Wisconsin, says that if you have a big project, it may be helpful to print out and bring details about the job, along with your contact information, because it’s a good way of letting vendors know that you’re serious about doing business, and also maximizing your time, as well as their time. “Vendors will appreciate that it’s a real project with potential for a sale, and you can cut the time you talk about it in half.”

David Berger, partner with supplier Global Promo, LLC in Baldwin Park, California, says that, for him, the trade-show experience is all about rules of 10. “Visit your top 10 suppliers, check with your top 10 clients on what their goals are for the year and find 10 new ideas to share with them during the show.”

But once you’ve determined what vendors you’re interested in seeing, there’s still thousands upon thousands of innovative new products to navigate. Nomi Doherty, account executive for distributor ePromos Promotional Products in St. Cloud, Minnesota, suggests starting with what’s new in imprint methods, brand names and product lines. “Keep an eye out for trends rather than trying to remember every product,” she says. “Think beforehand about what areas/products you need an education on, or a new vendor, and focus there.”

Mark Shinn, president of Newcastle, Washington-based supplier rep firm Incentives West, says that scheduling time to meet with a favorite multi-line rep can be a great way to learn details about the latest in products from their supplier partners. “Give one of your favorite multi-line reps 30-45 minutes and have them give you a personal tour of their supplier partner’s booths that you want to see. It’s best to schedule this during the second half of Wednesday or anytime on Thursday, when there is less foot traffic on the floor, and your reps know all the shortcuts to get from booth to booth to suppliers you’d like to see.”

But throughout the show, some pros caution about being mindful of the number of catalogs and samples you take. “Pick up free samples, however, how many pen samples of the same product do you really need?” asks Dana Maddoux Choate, owner of distributor MAX Marketing Company in Conroe, Texas. “You don’t need every catalog. Learn to say ‘no.’” Fuller agrees with Choate’s sentiment: “Be respectful and don’t grab handfuls of samples.” But, for the samples and catalogs you do bring home, she suggests, “Have a rolling bag (not huge) for samples/catalogs—there are monstrous bags for everyone but carting that along by the handles gets very old.

When coming across products that are of interest or particularly unique, there also comes the challenge of organizing—and remembering—the product names and companies. To keep his material organized, John Oda, MAS, account director with distributor Onyx in Oakland, California, takes lots of photos. “Taking pictures of suppliers’ company names is crucial,” he says. “You won’t remember afterwards which pictures go with which booth.” Shinn has a similar strategy. “Bring your camera or have your phone camera-ready. Take pictures of products and make quick note of which of your clients you’ll possibly pitch items to. Make sure that you know what booth you are at or photograph the supplier’s catalog in the picture with the item.”

But Joan Sherwood Westpy, principal at Westpy Marketing Services Inc., a distributor in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, recommends checking your phone’s storage capacity. “Please be sure there is enough memory on your phone for pictures,” she says. “A couple of times at shows, I didn’t have enough storage. Ugh!” And Craig urges attendees to have a backup battery or wireless charger handy for your phone, especially if you’re planning on using the SAGE Mobile app throughout the show. “Battery backup is a must, as the SAGE Mobile app tends to zap your phone’s battery fast.” Luckily, there are outlets available to charge electronic devices at the show and in the hallway immediately outside of the show entrances.

When it comes to shipping home catalogs and product samples, Oda says to print out or memorize your shipper number beforehand. “If you bought a box through the Expo website to ship back samples and catalogs, bring a preprinted FedEx shipping label with you—assuming you have a FedEx shipper account number. It will save you a lot of time on the last day of the show when everyone is shipping their boxes at the FedEx station. You can estimate the weight now—say, 10 or 15 pounds—and it will be adjusted when they weigh the box for shipping on Thursday afternoon.”

And while these tips and tricks include ways to best organize and plan out your Expo experience, some industry pros stick with the basics. “Be prepared to drink a lot of water and wear comfortable shoes,” says Jeff Schmitt, MAS, vice president, sales, at distributor Cedric Spring & Associates in St. Charles, Illinois. Gary Elphick, CEO of Dover, Delaware-based supplier Disrupt Sports, offers a list of fundamentals to bring to the show: “Trainers [athletic shoes], a water bottle, lemon throat lozenges, a spare phone battery pack, business cards, two pens and a notepad.”

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