When you visit a trade show do you only chat with the supplier/manufacturer about the ‘fun stuff’ (like new products, new prints)? If this sounds like you I encourage you to jump outside of the ‘feel good talk box’.
1) Initial contact should be with the owner or key person in the company. Getting to know your suppliers will not come instantly. It is a relationship and will develop over the years, just like any relationship. Be prepared with well thought out questions about the product and company. No matter what industry you are in ask questions about the manufacturing of the product(s). Learn as much as you can about the product, where the ‘parts’ of the product are sourced, where the product is assembled, and yes you can ask about their product schedule. Some manufacturer’s won’t disclose much information but you will be surprised that some will. I discovered one of the largest manufacturer’s production schedule just by this asking this information, what items were put on sale, or when items went out of stock. It was a very hard processing playing mind games when I had to place orders but I have to tell you I was hardly ever out of stock of anything when other retailers would be out for weeks.
2) Make appointments with your top ten suppliers. The supplier will treat you as a dedicated customer and you will be able to develop a stronger relationship sooner than later.
3) Never, EVER talk to the supplier when other competitors are in the booth. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen two retailers in the booth, one is talking with someone from the booth and the other one is ‘just browsing’ around. Now lets call it what it is …most likely the other retailer is listening. If you can meet the supplier away from the booth that is a better option. You can then go back to the booth afterwards to look at the new products, etc.
4) Copied, sealed, delivered. When placing your orders (and if they are on paper, and not on-line) be sure to make a COPY for yourself and put them in a SEALED envelope. Many suppliers will leave orders right in plain view of everyone with name, personal credit card information, items ordered. (Funny story- I was in Vegas a few years back making copies at the FedEx store outside the show. I inserted my Amex card into the photo-copying machine and yes…I accidentally DID NOT push the ‘retrieve’ card button when finished. When I realized what I did the trade show was over. All because of $4 worth of copies!!)
5) Say yes to social invites. If you are invited out to dinner and lunch be sure to accept the invite and work around your schedule to make this a priority. I have been both a buyer and represented a company at a trade show and I was amazed at retailers reactions to being invited out (excused, scheduling conflicts). Accept the invite, make it work, and if you need to re-arrange your other plans do so once you leave the booth. If you are invited out and it is the first time you have been out the other person(s) socially I highly encourage no more than one drink. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people raise the glass to high and way too many times. What was supposed to be a relationship builder becomes a relationship buster.
6) Dress in business attire. I know I might offend some that read this but I have to be completely up-front. Dress appearance makes a big impression. No jeans, modest dress, no wild prints, crazy hair, heavy make-up, no exposure of body piercings. I know we all have our individual way we carry ourselves and that is fine but just be sure to evaluate what you are wearing before you enter the trade show.
7) Be personable with competitors but know what to say and what not to say. If you are friendly with other retailers that is wonderful however be certain not to disclose everything that you are ordering, the times you are meeting with suppliers, etc. I can’t tell you the amount of times one retailer did something that upset another retailer and then a bunch of retailers had a pow wow…at the trade show (and sometimes in front a supplier’s booth). Not good.
8) Wear good quality, comfortable shoes. Leave the discount shoes home. (I have a bunch of them but they are not intended for trade shows. Purchase a very high quality (but professional) pair(s) of shoe. I have 2 pairs of Dansko‘s- one black and one brown.
About Kelly: Kelly Wels is the owner of Green Team Enterprises, a corporation that offers social media marketing and business consulting services to manufacturers, in addition to wholesale product distribution of green Mom and Baby products to retailers within the United States. She is also the author of the award winning book, “Changing Diapers: The Hip Mom’s Guide to Modern Cloth Diapering“.