By Denise M. Roberts

As you head for Orlando, FL and WQA Aquatech, have you given much thought about what you are trying to accomplish there? People in the water improvement industry attend their annual national trade show for many reasons. Some come to renew old friendships. Others seek to forge new relationships and exchange ideas with other dealers from across the US and now, from around the world. Some attendees are primarily interested in the many workshops and committee meetings, not to mention the parties and unique regional restaurants! Still others are new to the industry and eager to absorb as much information as they can in three or four days. Before making your plans to shove off for Orlando this month, why not examine your motives and objectives for attending the show. Check out the WQA show website for an advance list of exhibitors. Consider your objectives, set some strategies and finally, get organized in advance for some serious business.

Strategic reasons to attend:

  • Get fresh ideas
  • Get up to speed on industry trends
  • Learn about new products
  • Research your competition

Network within your industry

Pre-show checklist

  • Visit www.wqa-aquatech.com for a Convention Agenda and list of exhibitors to help plan your show strategy in advance.
  • Make a list of personal contacts.
  • Set appointments with key contacts in advance.
  • Set specific objectives for each day.
  • Block out time to spend at seminars, committee meetings and workshops.
  • Leave some time for parties, entertainment and seeing local sights.

Plan to attend seminars, workshops and presentations
Even before you start calling to set up meetings, print out the convention program pages, then select and calendar the seminars, workshops and presentations that you consider must-attend. Everything else can be worked around those inflexible items. This year’s convention includes some exciting subjects, including new technologies and marketing techniques to help you reinvent your business to meet the challenges of these changing times.

Advance list of exhibitors
Because there are so many things to do at a national trade show and convention, you may want to call specific exhibitors well in advance to schedule appointments at specific times. If you just happen to wander into the booth of someone you need to sit down with, you may find them tied up with other customers or missing in action. Why count on the luck of the draw when you can save valuable show time by scheduling an appointment in advance?

Other pre-show homework
The more you know in advance about the exhibitors you want to target at the show, the better your actual visits will be. Be sure to plan advance visits to their company websites for product information, new product announcements and general company information, including key personnel. All of the industry’s leading trade magazines (including this one) preview the show in the month leading up to the event. Many of the leading exhibitors will run ads in these issues, promoting their booth offerings and activities. Once you’ve determined which booths you want to visit, look for a map for navigating the show floor. Know your inventory needs before the show. More efficient purchasing will save you money by grouping your orders to take advantage of discounts and special offers, as well as keeping you within budget.

Plan your work, work your plan
Don’t count on serendipity to carry the day, though you are bound to bump into unexpected products and interesting people you’ve never met. Get your priorities in order in advance of the show. Start by writing in dates and times for convention workshops and seminars you won’t want to miss. Some of these may overlap with trade show exhibit hours, making it necessary for you to evaluate whether it’s worth your time to soak up information in a seminar, when that same time might be better spent making contacts on the show floor. Only you can decide. Once you have penciled in all the meetings you plan to attend, it’s time to set phone appointments with key suppliers in advance, using your WQA exhibitors’ list.

Be ready when the show opens
Avoid the first-day confusion at the show by pre-registering. This year, the trade show opens at 11 a.m on March 19 and March 20 and closes at 5 p.m. each day. That means to maximize your efforts on the first day, you may want to be lined up at the main gateway to the trade show floor just before the show opens. Since research tells us that three out of four attendees walk to the right when entering a show, you might want to deliberately walk to the left. That way, you will be among the first to visit booths at that end of the hall and get the jump on the crowd of visitors bunched at the other end.

Work the show efficiently
If you are planning to attend with an associate, you might want to consider splitting up your contact list in order to better cover the entire show in limited time. Remember, time on the trade show floor is precious. Don’t feel pressured to stop by every booth or listen to every sales pitch; skip irrelevant booths and focus on those that interest you most. Bring along a lightweight cloth bag with handles to collect flyers, business cards and literature. That evening, review collected materials and consider selected follow-up calls before the show closes.

Network, network, network
No matter how tired you are, attend a few seminars and all the group meals. Target industry leaders and contacts you want to meet. Spend some time each day circulating and schmoozing. When you finally catch up with a person you’ve wanted to meet, ask him or her to join you outside the hall where it’s quieter. If it’s an industry leader, you will only have a few minutes to make an impression before he’s distracted or led away. Speak to as many people as you can while waiting in buffet or bathroom lines. You never know who will turn out to be a great contact. And be sure to bring twice as many business cards as you think you’ll need!

Some practical tips:

  • Eat light and rest up for a few days prior to the show.
  • Pack comfortable shoes, wear business-casual clothing and remember you are there to represent your business.
  • Allow enough room in your suitcase(s) for bringing back more than you take. This includes literature, freebies and product samples.
  • Some exhibitors provide bags, but come prepared by bringing a comfortable carry-all for all that literature.
  • An updated show guide will probably be provided when you arrive. Take some time to revise your plan if necessary.
  • Make sure your badge is in plain sight at all times for networking opportunities.
  • If possible, request literature and samples be mailed instead of having to carry them with you.
  • Have a pen and notebook ready for notes and use business cards to jot down information on the back.
  • Take advantage of show specials, discounts and sales where they are truly bargains, and are needed.
  • Keep track of orders placed so you’ll stay within your budget.
  • Take a break after a few hours to refresh, have a snack and get some fresh air.
  • If you have a problem you’d like to solve, come prepared with questions you need answered.
  • To maximize time spent with vendors, be direct and assertive when communicating.
  • If you get caught by a long-winded salesperson, don’t be afraid to politely interrupt them and remind them you have a lot more to see at the show.
  • Take advantage of networking opportunities with people who do the same thing you do for a living to share ideas and industry knowledge.
  • Leave the show a little early to avoid long lines for buses and cabs.

And don’t forget to have fun!

About the show
WQA Aquatech USA is the only venue representing every segment of the increasingly complex and dynamic water treatment and residential, commercial and industrial supply market. This comprehensive water quality forum will provide you with the latest information, tools, resources and strategies you need to build your business. You’ll have the opportunity to visit with top manufacturers, suppliers and service providers, attend business and technical educational sessions and network with colleagues and experts who tackle the same challenges you do every day.

About the author
David Martin is President of Lenzi Martin Marketing, Oak Park, IL, a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404 or by email, dmartin@lenzimartin.com

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