Getting the Most Out of Trade Show Season: Tips From a Distributor
It’s trade show season, and it can be daunting to make a plan to ensure the time and financial investment are worth it. We sat down with one of our star sales partners, Savanah Sporer, to get her hot tips and learn how she prepares for success.
Pat: How do you decide which shows to attend?
Savanah: As an attendee, in our industry, our options are pretty limited. There are three big ones a year that I think are worth a trip out of town. I like the PPAI Vegas show because of the Boundless presence and getting to meet other people at breakfast meetings where we have content being shared. That is very valuable to me. Timing and size are everything to me when it comes to trade shows. PPAI Vegas is great because it’s at a good time in the year—not too early in January—and, because it’s such a large event, I’m able to see almost everything I want. The ASI Show in Chicago also comes at a great time of year. Smaller shows can also be valuable; for instance, I’ve been to a local show in Denver, which was great because I got to meet our regional/local reps.
Pat: How do you approach the floorplan?
Savanah: We always have a list of customers who want specific or difficult things to get. For example, one of my customers wants a gold wine stopper. It’s one of those things where it’s like, "Oh yeah, no problem. I can find that for you," and then I get home, do a search, and I can’t find a gold wine stopper. So I go into shows with a list of specific things my customers need.
For Vegas this year, I really did sit down and ask myself, ‘What is it that I feel like I struggle with sometimes?’ And for me, it’s the really easy things. It’s like, ‘Hey, we need tradeshow giveaways, can you send some ideas?’ And it’s like, ‘Oh gosh, there’s millions of ideas.’ Of course, you can drill down to budget and quantities, but you still have so many ideas that come as a result of that search. So, for this show, I had a list of the things I feel like I struggle with throughout the year, creativity-wise.
I had those two different lists on my phone, and then, I looked at the SAGE app (for the PPAI show floor, which is brilliant). I can visualize where each booth is located and determine my route. When I walk the floor, I’m very Type A about it—I don’t want to miss ANYTHING. I start at one end and just make sure I’m going all the way down the aisles.
I also love the new product pavilion. I think it’s cool to see what our suppliers think is cool and what they want us to know about. So I find a lot of value in seeing what they’re highlighting and what they’re paying money to showcase.”
Pat: Do you set up private meetings or just walk the floor?
Savanah: Unless I have something super specific that I want to make sure I talk to a certain person about, I haven’t found it necessary to have individual meetings yet. Of course, we always have suppliers that reach out to set a meeting once they see who’s attending, which I will take if it’s to preview a new product line or something like that. I just walk the floor and make sure I’m going down to the end of each aisle.
Pat: What do you prepare in advance?
Savanah: As I mentioned earlier, I make sure I have two lists of specific and vague customer requests prepared and prioritized. Other than that, I might take a look at who the big suppliers are. Who’s spending big money to be there and to sponsor the event? Who’s upping their presence?
Pat: How do you take notes?
Savanah: The SAGE app for the PPAI conference is awesome—the way you can add pictures and take notes at each exhibitor is huge. You can really easily export that data when you get home into a spreadsheet. And I have those spreadsheets saved in a folder and have been referencing things from 3-4 years back. Those spreadsheets are so valuable to me for years, so I take a lot of photos and notes, even the silly little things. I would say overly taking pictures and overly taking notes is good advice, because you just never know what’s gonna pop up throughout the year.
For events without an app, my photo-taking strategy is to take a picture of the exhibitor name followed by pictures of product. That way, my camera roll is somewhat organized and sectioned by booth. I’ve also used the Notes app on the iPhone; you can take notes there and add photos to those as well, but it’s harder to export.
Pat: What do you do with all that info once you’re back to the home office?
Savanah: If there isn’t an app for the show, I would put my notes in a spreadsheet formatted similarly to how the SAGE app exports. It has the supplier name and ASI number (which I think is helpful to have when searching for some of the smaller suppliers), and then any notes and photos that I took, so that it’s easy to reference back to throughout the year.
Appreciate the time, Savanah! Staying organized ahead of the event, during the event and after the event should make for some great product finds for your customers immediately and throughout the year.
Pat is currently executive vice president of sales at Boundless. Prior to joining Boundless, Pat was vice president of sales for Toppers, a Top 20 industry supplier. Prior to Toppers, he served as vice president of national accounts for Norwood Promotional Products, one of the largest promotional products suppliers in the industry. In his free time, Pat enjoys drinking a cool beverage while attempting to play golf.