It’s spring, and seeing your calendar marked with opportunities to improve business by attending trade shows, conferences and seminars is as sure a sign of spring as seeing your first robin.
I still have fond memories of attending the first trade show that
D&WC sponsored. It was the first time I had ever flown in a commercial
plane, and it was the farthest from home I had been as an adult. At
that time, it was awesome for me to be considered a “real”
business owner and to be taken seriously by the industry.
There was a group of us from our company that went. We all took different
seminars, but I honestly do not recall much about those seminars except
that they had nothing for soft window coverings fabricators—that’s
how long ago my first show was! I do know that the only discussions
we had among ourselves about what we learned in the seminars were
very vague. In other words, we took home more souvenirs of a good
time than information.
So what did I learn at that first show? I learned I could have fun
at the show after hours! Well, there was one more thing. I came away
with confidence I had never had before. For the first time, I really
stepped outside the box and did (most of the time) what a serious
businessperson would do. I invested in education beyond the boundaries
of my home. And you know what? That was the beginning of many educational
trips to trade shows and beyond. I’ve also learned that the more
I put into planning, the greater will be the education I gain from
From these past experiences, I’ve been able to put together a
list of things I should do in order to get the most out of each show
I attend. Yes, I’ll share that list with you.
ONE MONTH BEFORE THE SHOW
• Make appointments to see people you need to see. Plan lunch
dates in the show hall. It’s convenient and it saves time. Always
make time to see those friends whom you only see at trade shows.
• Enlarge the show floor plan on a copier so you can read it.
Fold it up so it will fit in your pocket or bag.
• Read the list of vendors and the vendor ads. Highlight the
booths on the floor plan you want to see. Write the vendor names close
to the booth so you know who you are looking for.
If you need to, color-code the highlighting. These booths should be
your first priority. See them first and then stroll the hall to see
what else might be of interest. This prioritizing is so important,
especially if you are taking seminars and your show floor time is
• Plan a budget for purchasing at the show. I know this is difficult
for those of us who are book collectors!
• Write down the main goal of what you want to achieve at this
PACK AND PREPARE
• Wear comfortable shoes. You have to be kind to your body or
you won’t be able to party after hours!
• Take lots of business cards. Be sure your name, address, telephone
number and e-mail address are on them! Use labels if you have to,
but this information is necessary and you don’t want to have
to keep writing that info on your cards.
• Take a camera with batteries, recharger, film, etc. Be considerate
and ask permission to take pictures.
• You might want to take a mini tape recorder to make voice notes
as you walk the hall. Only do this if you have the discipline to transcribe
the notes later. Otherwise make notes in a small notebook.
• Having a bag on wheels is a must! I use what is called a catalog
case that has many compartments. Pack your bag with large envelopes
to separate some of your collected information and business cards,
a notepad and pens/pencils, a small stapler, highlighter, etc. You
also might want to include plastic to go over that bag in case of
• Plan to wear clothes or jackets with pockets. It’s so
convenient to slip business cards and other small things into your
• Develop a system for filing information: business cards of
those you need to contact immediately, seminar handouts, etc. I always
have an envelope just for expense receipts and I write non-receipt
items, such as tips, on the outside of the envelope.
• Address labels to use instead of filling out order forms by
• PDA for tracking appointments and seminars, or have this info
in a small enough format to fit into your pocket or in your name badge
DURING THE SHOW
• Every day, before you go to the convention center or leave
your room, remind yourself why you are there and what your goal is
for the show.
• Talk to everybody you can at the show and get their business
cards. Networking is one of the prime reasons to attend a show. You
never can tell when a casual conversation at a show will later lead
you to a resource that could be invaluable.
• Pass your business cards out to everyone you talk with. Keep
cards handy by slipping them behind your name badge in its holder.
• After each seminar, make a note of the one most valuable thing
you learned. If you are excited about more than one, be sure they
are written down! Mark these ideas with big stars or highlighters.
This is why you are attending the show!
• Always take a lunch break, and go sit down in the food court
of the show hall to rest your body. Lunch is an excellent time to
plan to meet someone you need to talk with.
Even if you are not meeting someone, sit at a table where other people
are sitting—especially if someone is sitting alone. Ask permission
to sit at their table. Strike up a conversation with anyone else sitting
at your table. It’s a great opportunity for networking because
these are likely to be people you would not ordinarily meet. There
could be lots of good surprises in your conversation.
• As you talk with people, ask them what they are seeing at the
show that is important. Many times I have found this to be an invaluable
resource for me.
• Ask vendors to send you information instead of carrying it
with you. Get their cards and note on them that they will send you
info. If they don’t, then you can call to remind them. Requests
for information at busy shows sometimes get lost in the shuffle.
• Voice concerns/recommendations/needs and praise to the vendors
and show staff. Putting on a show and vendoring is expensive and hard
work! Please let vendors know that you appreciate their presence and
help. Thank the show sponsors for making this opportunity possible.
• Thank your seminar instructors. A seminar presentation is only
a very small part of the extensive preparation a speaker goes through
to bring you valuable information.
• Make it a point to be prompt for seminars. It’s a much
appreciated courtesy by the attendees and the speaker.
• Drink a lot of fluids. Although water is commonly known to
be better than soft drinks, sports drinks that contain electrolytes
are even better.
When you get tired at a show, it is not just from the walking and
standing. Some of that fatigue comes from lost electrical energy.
The construction of a convention hall floor pulls electrical energy
from your body. Carpeting is no protection from this. Sports drinks
help to replenish this lost energy. This tip comes from someone who
used to set up trade show booths for Fortune 500 companies.
• Turn your cell phone off during seminars and other events where
a ringing phone could be disruptive.
• As you watch samples being made, consider if you really do
think the product would be valuable to you. If so, ask to take the
samples with you.
• Be sure to have the show floor plan with you at all times.
If you did not enlarge the floor plan, tear it out of the program
and fold it to pocket size for easy access. Mark off the booths that
you have seen.
• If you are a member of a group (friends, associates from home
or industry friends) make it a point to split up and meet new people.
Even have meals with new friends you have just met. I can’t stress
this enough. It wasn’t until I was attending a show alone for
the first time, that I realized how valuable new contacts were.
• If in a group, all should exchange cell phone numbers so you
can communicate during the show.
• If you are a store owner, observe how displays are done so
you can get ideas for your store.
• Do not purchase impulsively. See what you need to see first
and then go to other booths if there is time. Then decide what would
be the best investment for your goals and your budget!
• If you do not see a sign for a show special, ask if there is
one. If you are interested in display items, make an offer. Many times
the vendor is glad to reduce his or her packing time.
AFTER SHOW HOURS
• Make time to have fun with old friends or new friends.
• Find time to relax. For many, a nice bubble bath is the perfect
AFTER THE SHOW
• Go over your information within the first week back home. The
longer you wait the colder it gets and the less you will remember.
Do it while you are still on a high from the show.
• Schedule time on your calendar to follow up on vendors you
want to work with.
• Add a reminder about a month out to be sure you have received
requested information or ordered items from the show.
• Go over your seminar notes and determine what you can utilize
and when. Put these things on your calendar to implement.
Attending a trade show should be fun, but that is not the primary
goal. Aside from your specific needs, it’s a time for tremendous
educational opportunities. It offers a unique opportunity for diversity
within your industry. In other words, you as a workroom, have the
opportunity to see the hardware, fabrics and trims your designer clients
will be using.
Designers and decorators can see the newest workroom tools and techniques
that can inspire them to incorporate these new ideas into their designs.
Your designer-clients also can see and understand better why your
prices are higher if you attend the shows and if you use the latest
technology. In other words, you can go home and raise your prices!
Stein, CWP, WCAA past board member, is a 26-year veteran of the drapery
workroom industry. Having owned drapery workrooms
as one person and as a company of nine, she is now president of Workroom
Concepts a consulting firm offering educational resources to the
industry on its Web site (
www.workroomconcepts.com ). Her experience
in both the retail and wholesale window covering arenas has contributed
to her success as a business consultant. A professional speaker and
writer, she has authored several industry products including Order
in the Workroom, The Price List, Workroom Specifications and Price
Your Work with Confidence, available