In Vegas for the show? Then do more then scratch the surface. With a detailed plan and the right follow up, you can maximize your investment in Surfaces. Products debuting at the show, for example, can set you operation apart from the competition-if you act fast.

You may think it’s a stretch to see Surfaces as our industry’s institution of higher learning, but that is exactly what it is. It’s not merely a trade show, it’s a learning center: a hands-on introduction to the most innovative and eye-catching products around-all hatched by the top R & D minds in our business. You can expect these new offerings to be off the charts aesthetically. You can also expect that most will have performance and/or sustainability stories worth knowing. And it’s not just products. Those of you who invest the time to participate in seminars, demonstrations and other presentations will likely to walk away with a wealth of information-even before you set foot in the exhibit hall.

But by now, we all agree: Working this huge show is a challenge. How do you ensure that every mile you cover nets results. And remember, you are there to see and be seen. That, too, is part of the learning experience. Retailers from all over are drawn to this Mecca of floor coverings. Every year, it warms my heart  to see seasoned  pros fondly reconnect with old friends and share their business know-how. 

There is a lot going on and Las Vegas has many distractions but remember, as a business owner you are investing your time and money to attend Surfaces. No doubt you will have some goals set even before you even pack for the desert (Don’t forget to bring a sweater, it gets chilly in the evening.) That’s fine, but you can also implement a system that ensures the resources from Surfaces work for you on a much deeper level. That is why I encourage you to create a Personal Action Plan. It means planning ahead before the show and, while at the show, keeping a sharp eye out for opportunities that you can embrace in your business. Most important, it means following-up. 

Before the show,  create a timeline grid for each day and schedule appointments with all the vendors you want to see. Ideally this should be done in the weeks leading up to Surfaces, but you can often schedule something during the show. (Be sure to exchange cell phone numbers in case there is a change or someone is running late.) Some of the best offers and display packages you see might be time-sensitive or have other limitations so it pays to be among the first in line. And remember to leave some time to roam around and do some tire kicking.  You never know what you will stumble across.    

Of course once Surfaces is behind you the real work begins. That’s when you digest what you saw and figure out how to take maximum advantage of  your experience. All too often, when you think about what made an impression on you, it all seems to blend into a blur. This is why you should devise a Personal Action Plan for the show. It really is a matter of deciding what made an impression on you-then following up. I suggest that you take notes as you explore the exhibit hall.

Don’t despair if you are not a note-taker. The stack of  business cards and literature you collect from the exhibits you visit are also a huge resource. One bit of advice, however: When you get home from the show don’t wait to do your review. After a week or two your memory will fade. You may be unable to connect those business cards with the products that caught your eye. This review exercise will take about 30 minutes of your time in a quiet, uninterrupted place. (I suggest you come into your showroom a little early right after you get home so you can make this happen.)

Organize the business cards, brochures, and product samples you brought back. Sort them into  product types and use a color code system to indicate your level of interest. A red dot stuck to a brochure, for example, means “high interest;” blue may indicate “moderate interest;” and  yellow indicates  “reference only” (vendors you may need someday). Once you get  your stack of materials color-coded, you are well on your way to implementing your Personal Action Plan.

As part of your follow-up it is also a good idea to schedule a meeting with the local territory rep and  review the items from his company that earned a red dot. After the top priority vendor meetings, tackle the blue dots and determine if those products work for you. Place your sample orders as quickly as possible, as it can take a while to see these new products materialize. There will be a lag time between ordering and delivery but you want to be included in the very first shipments. Acting fast will ensure that. Then, request any special point-of-purchase materials you might have seen at Surfaces. Be especially welcoming to  “Green” labels that can be applied to qualifying products already on your floor.

Your follow-up should be comprehensive. Making new contacts is great but don’t forget to follow-up with the companies you are already doing business with. If you have not done so already, do a product inventory of what you have on the showroom floor. Ask yourself what new additions you have room to add.

Through the entire process keep in mind that every square foot of your showroom should be working for you. If a product, (or an entire line) is not generating sales consider a replacement. Many retailers find it helpful to create a product grid (See chart). As you add/drop products, update the grid. This will tell you at a glance if your selection is missing something a specific product style or a specific price point. Grids work best when they are category specific: carpet, wood products, and hard surfaces. Include all the manufacturers you carry in each product grid. It’s all on your computer, so updating it should not be difficult. 

Retailers who have done this swear it is their “bible. ” because it helps them determine what  products to add. It can  be a real eye-opener as you plot your current products on the grid. You can immediately identify holes you have in product types, face weights, constructions, or price points that you were not even aware of!

Of course, all of the examples in our chart are fictitious, but did you recognize the “hole” in this product line-up? This retailer has NO product in the $20.99 - $22.99 price range. And, that would become an immediate item to add as part of the Action Plan. With the powerful combination of the product Grids and your timeline to interview vendors for new products, you have now effectively created your own Personal Action Plan for 2008. 

You are already a good businessperson or you certainly would not be surviving in this difficult selling climate. But  you can always sharpen the business tools that enable you  to run your company even more efficiently. Make your investment in attending one of the greatest floor covering shows and it will pay you extra dividends all-year-long.