Trade shows are great for your business for a lot of reasons: Great locations, networking opportunities with peers and colleagues, ideas and information that you can’t get while locked away working in your store, meetings with important suppliers, product, product and more product, education, and for some, time away from their stores to reflect, to learn something new and to take a fresh look at their business. 

I’ve been to well over a hundred trade shows and conventions in my career and the one thing that stands out for me the most is this: that one new idea. I’ve always thought that one solid idea you can take back to your business and implement effectively is solid gold. Best of all, it often leads to new opportunities you may not have otherwise considered. Luckily, at successful flooring trade shows, good ideas are all over the place. 

First Pass

trade showMy first pass at any trade show is to get a simple lay of the land. Who’s where, who’s doing what, what’s new, what the show looks and feels like and how people are interacting there. As Yogi Berra used to say, “You can observe a lot just by watching.”

That high-level view can give you a road map on how to best navigate the rest of your limited time. It helps you identify the hot spots – places you want to revisit on your second pass and it also keys you in on places that are not worth your time.

The Buzz

Then I like to talk to people; see what they’re thinking, what they’re looking for, what’s important to them, what’s new, what’s not.

Beyond scoping out the actual products that will make their way to your stores, spending one-on-one time with others in the industry, no matter what their role, is certainly one of the best uses of your time. That’s where you’ll often find the best ideas.

It can be someone you’ve never met who happens to be standing next to you at a product demo. It might be someone whose role is completely different from your own. Talk to them. See what they think. Share your ideas. Have some fun. Make a new friend. Trade shows are a great place for meeting and connecting with new people.

How You Spend Your Time

Many retailers I know spend a good portion of their trade show time with current suppliers. They want to cement and build upon their already important relationships, whether with suppliers, distributors, or even their association of choice. 

trade showThen there are those that like to strut around and be wined and dined, enjoying the attention they get from company execs in exchange for their business. All good.

The Nitty Gritty

Maybe better still is to spend time with your sales reps and have them walk you through the new introductions with an eye toward what fits in your store and why. Ask them to spare you the general pitch, and instead, focus on your particular needs, your store, your market. After pitching the same story over and over, it’s good to break them out of their comfort zone and get them to talk specifics. That alone may yield some thoughtful ideas that make sense for your business. 

After all, the heart of a good trade show is product and a thoughtful discussion of not just new product, but which products are a good fit for you, could be your most productive conversation. 

Continuing Education

Of course, don’t overlook the education component which has become a standard and meaningful part of every successful show. Not only will you get to choose the particular topics that apply to your personal situation, you’ll have an array of the industry’s best speakers willing to share. Invaluable for those who are willing to put in the time and effort. 

It’s too easy to become locked away in your store, chasing the competing demands of your business that finding time for continuing education can be difficult. Invest an extra day as part of your trade show schedule and you’ll be rewarded.

Wander Aimlessly

Some folks have a very structured schedule and as soon as they check off their last to-do, they’re off. I don’t recommend doing that. Instead, linger a little. Free of the demands of your own schedule, you can look around at some of the things you might have overlooked the first time around.

Call it kismet, but sometimes the best idea you’ll find comes from out of the blue. It may be a conversation you have with friends, clients or suppliers over dinner. It may be a passing comment from an old friend you haven’t seen for a while. Keep an eye (and ear) out for these serendipitous finds.

Remember, some of the best ideas come from unexpected sources–be open to them wherever they come from. Again, one good idea you can take back to your store and implement is worth gold. Trade shows are the perfect place to mine for new ideas.