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Trade Secrets of the Trade Show

C. Rosenberg

With their opportunities for industry knowledge, product information, and new contacts, trade shows can be key business-building tools… if you know how to use them

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

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GET WHAT YOU GIVE As with all business dealings, at trade shows your return will correlate with the investment — what you put into it will determine what you get out of it. It’s imperative to start with a good deal of thought and planning

B alloons, music, contests, hands-on demonstrations, and lots of free gifts. Sounds like a dream birthday party? A trade show is indeed like a big party for the insiders of a field; for many businesses, it’s how they network, learn about new suppliers or services, and showcase their own products.

“A trade show, in many respects, mimics the old marketplace environment,” says Menachem Lubinsky, CEO of Lubicom Marketing and Consulting, and founder of Kosherfest. “This includes the noise of people doing business, the anticipation of what every vendor is showcasing, and the sheer social environment where people from a given trade meet one another. There’s a buzz and excitement that’s unmatched in any other setting.”

Behind the hubbub, real work is getting done. In the US, trade shows are the most profitable business-to-business strategy. If you’re a business owner — retailer, wholesaler, or manufacturer — this means that you’d better be there. But it’s easy to make newbie mistakes or miss opportunities if you aren’t prepared. Here’s how to make the most of these sometimes overwhelming, often expensive events, with tips from experienced vendors, consultants, and trade- show coordinators.

Do I Have To Go?

You consider yourself pretty knowledgeable in your field. You read industry journals and follow social media to stay up on trends — and you’re making good profit. What do you stand to gain from attending a trade show?

“Attending shows allows me to see what’s trending, compare quality from different manufacturers, and get a feel for the people behind the products,” explains Chezky Nussenzweig, a buyer at BeJeweled, an upscale jewelry store in Monsey. He attends jewelry shows in Las Vegas and New York several times a year. “Since manufacturers are eager to see returns on their goods, meeting at the show allows me to get good deals.”

At a show, attendees can meet new vendors or buyers, and learn about previously untapped resources, such as smoother financial transactions, better technological communication, or service for damaged goods — all of which can enhance customer service.

Relly, a buyer at an e-tail business, attends trades shows in Chicago, California, Utah, and New York for one primary reason: meeting with account and sales managers. This allows vendors and manufacturers to better understand each other’s goals. Furthermore, the relationship-building that happens at shows is the key to getting solid deals.

Since trade shows allow for immediate communication and easy, accessible outlets for exposure, attendees can get answers to their questions right away. This is a lot more productive than countless missed phone calls or back-and-forth e-mails.

Many business owners attend shows with a goal of attracting new clients, says Honig. But if they go with an open mind, they’ll notice opportunities other businesses can offer them, such as banking, marketing, and other services

There’s an added benefit for the frum entrepreneur, too, according to Lubinsky: “Trade shows eliminate some of the discomfort of sales calls, as well as halachic and hashkafic issues that can arise with opposite genders in an enclosed environment.

“At a trade show, a well-presented booth is already in place, so there’s no need for a basic introduction,” he continues. “Sellers are there to do business and are only too happy to meet anyone, and buyers are looking for something new and different. It’s a perfect combination.”

Dealing with the Dealer

One of the perks of trade shows is that deals can be struck on the floor, quickly and in person. But without the ability to do thorough background checks on new companies or new products — how does one practice due diligence?

“It’s difficult to tell who is honest before dealing with the company for a while,” Nussenzweig admits. “I’m in the industry long enough to tell a good piece when I see one, but you always have to be vigilant.”

He once purchased a small stock of jewelry made from quality material, but the manufacturing was shoddy — stones kept falling off. He pulled the pieces off the shelves and reimbursed his clients, but the supplier refused to reimburse Nussenzweig.

Avoiding lesser-known vendors out of fear, however, could lead to a missed opportunity for a good deal or new quality merchandise. To protect from big losses while allowing for a degree of risk, keep orders from new vendors small at first, until they prove themselves.

Another way to investigate an unknown company is to “feel out the representative,” suggests Duvi Honig, founder of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce, Parnassah Network, J-Biz Expo, and other initiatives. “If the company hired outside help to man their exhibit, or sent an unknowledgeable individual (who keeps saying he needs to ask his boss, for example), don’t expect good service. A passionate, knowledgeable employee who supplies competent answers is the one who’s likely to serve you well.”

Still, with hundreds of exhibitors at a show, how do you know which vendors are worth your time? Search brands online before the show to see if the type of items interest you, advises Relly. Call the company in advance to learn which senior employees are attending so you can look for them at the show. Trade shows don’t have too many gatekeepers, so you can typically speak directly to higher-level managers instead of only the salesperson manning the booth.

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