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Kicking it Right at Trade Shows

Kicking it Right at Trade Shows

Trade shows are back, baby! After more than two years of Covid closings, vendors and retailers are flocking back to some of the country's most extraordinary trade show events. As a retailer, you are likely looking forward to learning about the newest products and the best opportunities to grow your business. Whether it's been a few years since you've attended in-person shows or you're a complete newb (along with 50% of others attending), we've put together some tips on executing your best trade show experience. 

If you're looking to attend any of the MAGIC shows, FFANY, or others this summer before you pack your bags, follow these pre-, during, and post-trade show tips to ensure you're maximizing every opportunity to grow your business at some of the industry's top events this year.

Trade Show Planning to Follow-Up

A successful trade show experience hinges on taking the proper steps from preparation through follow-up. Consider taking these steps to maximize your trade show return.

When to Act

Your Move

Before 👟 Check the calendar of events
👟 Register early
👟 Book your accommodation and travel
👟 Determine your focus
👟 Pick your kicks
👟 Sync up with colleagues
👟 Be mindful of the show schedule

During 👟 Guard your time
👟 Hydrate!
👟 Socialize
👟 Categorize your cards
👟 Be a savvy seminar shopper
👟 Network
👟 Take advantage of tech to "link" up
👟 Don't forget the fam

After 👟  Reflect and evaluate for next year

Before the Trade Show

A successful trade show experience begins with pre-event planning. As soon as you know you want to attend a show and your budget allows it, follow these steps.

Check the calendar of events

With over 13,000 trade shows to choose from in the USA alone, it's crucial to settle on the one(s) which fits your business needs. Keep an eye out on industry blogs, local business listings, and LinkedIn, to see which shows your favorite brands are attending. If you're still not sure, you can refer to guides like EventsEye to see what your options are.

Book your accommodation and travel

If you forget to do everything else, just be sure to book travel and accommodation early. Large shows can attract huge crowds of people, and the sooner you book, the more money you'll save and the less stress you'll have scrambling to book somewhere, which could end up being miles from the show.

The goal is to maximize your time at the trade show, and the less of it you spend traveling from your hotel to the show, the better! 

Determine your focus

Trade shows can be large, intimidating, and exhausting for participants. Prepare by knowing what you’re shopping for before you arrive. That way, you can deprioritize products you’re not interested in and focus on what matters most.

Review the trade show floor plan

Whether you’re attending a smaller show or one as large as the multi-floor Footwear Show New York Expo, reviewing the vendor floor plan is crucial to a successful experience. Map out the most efficient way to walk the floor to hit the vendor booths you are most interested in seeing.

Pick your kicks–wisely

Hopefully, it goes without saying, but the right shoes matter in a trade show environment. Chances are you will be walking on a quarter inch of commercial carpet laid atop a cold concrete slab. You probably know what the right walking shoes are for you; Make sure that that's what you wear on the trade show floor.

Sync up with colleagues

A good trade show experience starts with proper planning in the weeks and months before the event. Ask your vendors if they're going to be attending the show. You might find that you can put off meetings by syncing up with people when you meet them at the trade show. You also might learn about which vendors are not investing in trade shows, which is valuable information. You may want to explore why specific companies are going to certain trade shows while others are opting to pass.

Be mindful of the show schedule

Pay attention to the trade show floor schedule. Typically when the floor first opens, it will be mobbed by vendors and customers. While that creates a vibrant opportunity, you might not see everything you'd like.

In comparison, you’ll likely find that booths have much more capacity during meal times and as the trade show reaches its logical end. At those times, the previously swamped salespeople will be eager to make new friends.

During the Trade Show

Once the show begins, the clock is ticking for you to complete your list of to-dos. Make the most of your experience by sticking to your plan and incorporating the following tips.

Guard your time

Trade shows are a great way to see many vendors quickly; however, that also means that many vendors will want to meet with you. Be sure to guard your time by spending it with the people most positioned to help your business now.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

Whether you’re attending a convention center or a hotel trade show, you'll find you do much better if you have water with you at all times. Fortunately, you probably won't need to buy it, as most vendors know this, and there are ample opportunities to find complimentary drinks along the way.

Check out the nightlife and socialize

Speaking of free drinks, make sure to plan some fun time in the evening, recognizing that you're likely in for long days between seminars and shopping the trade show floor.

Parties with vendors and dinners with salespeople are part of the experience, but make sure they don't detract from what you're trying to accomplish.

Categorize your cards

Vendors have a way of categorizing leads, and you should too! You’ll typically have a stack of business cards with you when you come home from a trade show, and if you don't jump on them right away, you probably won't remember which ones are most vital for your business. 

A straightforward framework for categorizing leads involves writing the number one, two, or three on all the business cards you collect. The cards labeled ones are high priority. The ones marked two should be of medium importance, and the ones designated as number three might be something novel you could add to your lineup given the opportunity.   

Expect salespeople from various vendors to contact you in the days after the trade show. Having them well organized will ensure you know if that’s a call you want to take as soon as it comes in. 

Be a savvy seminar shopper

Many trade shows have an education component, and you should review all the available seminars. Keep in mind that your time is limited, and if there's a topic that you could learn about by stopping at a vendor’s booth, you might not wish to attend that seminar. 

Time hack: Most shows will publish their seminars online following the scheduled time, so keep that in mind for a post-show opportunity.

Education matters; just make sure you're spending your time wisely. 


Networking is not just about the vendors. The trade show will be filled with people like you who have challenges similar to yours. Take the time to sit down at meals and introduce yourself to other attendees, and you’ll likely find unique ways to solve the challenges everyone in the room deals with regularly.

Here's a pro tip if you are too shy to start a conversation– just ask someone to share the most interesting thing they've seen at the show. In addition to starting the conversation, you'll likely learn about a new vendor or service.

Take advantage of tech to "link" up

Here is a high-tech trick for making fast connections: Chances are you're already on LinkedIn, but did you know that the platform makes it super easy to connect with other retailers or vendors? In addition to traditional handshakes and introductions, you can use LinkedIn to connect with on-site attendees in just a few quick steps. Simply follow these instructions to tap your phone to someone else's and be linked in a few clicks.

1. While attending your trade show, open LinkedIn’s My Network tab and tap the “Connect” button. 

2. In the pop-up menu, select “Find Nearby.”

3. As you meet with vendors and colleagues, ask them to do the same so that the app can populate a list of attendees. 

4. Tap to connect!

Psst! Don't forget the fam

One of the most entertaining things about trade shows is the free vendor giveaways that may include pens, tablets, bags, candy, phone grips, stress balls, or other goodies that might tickle your spouse or kids. Snag some swag; just keep in mind the space limit of your carry-on bag. 

After the Trade Show

Once a few weeks have passed, it’s a great time to assess how valuable the show was for your business. How you evaluate that should be customized to your goals. For example, were you looking for new vendors (and did you get new vendors), or were you simply looking for a way to network with others? 

If you attend several trade shows, it might be hard to remember how valuable one was when it comes time to register next year. Be sure to firm up your thoughts and make a note of them while the show is still fresh in your mind. 

Taking Steps Toward Success

When you attend a trade show, you are working. Your days (and nights) will be full, and you will surely go to bed tired. The key to successful trade show attendance is preparation and execution pre-, during, and post-show. 

Use these tips as a guide, and you’re sure to maximize both your experience and return on investment. 

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