Attending a trade show, especially for the first time, can be intimidating. With some large shows covering more than one million square feet of exhibit space and featuring thousands of exhibitors and hundreds of education sessions, you need clear goals and a plan.

Now that trade show season is in full swing, we had three World of Concrete attendees – Andrew Herbst, James Baty and Travis Mold – weigh in on key tips to help you prepare for a trade show, along with a few of our own tips for show success.

1. Set goals and classify your needs

Bobcat Product Specialist Talks to Trade Show Attendees
Product specialist talks to attendees about the new R2-Series compact excavators at World of Concrete.

Before attending a trade show, there’s a bit of groundwork you need to cover first. To get started, set your business goals and identify what you want to get out of the trade show by asking yourself a few questions:

  • What type of work will I be performing in the next year?
  • What machines and attachments will I need to complete that work?
  • What problems am I hoping to solve for my business by coming to this trade show?
  • What business objectives am I trying to accomplish?
  • What companies are attending this show?
  • Which booths and sessions should I visit to achieve my business goals?

Answering these questions will give you a clearer idea if this tradeshow is a good fit to meet your business needs before you register for the event. You’ll also have a better idea of your goals for the trade show overall and can tie them to business objectives to create a clear and strategic plan.

2. Register in advance

While this might seem like common sense, registering for a trade show in advance is a crucial step. Trade shows have limited availability and different policies, so do your research to find out what’s required for you to register. Some trade shows are as simple as registering online while others have more specific requirements for attendees to register. Trade shows also have different pricing structures. Typically, there are discounted rates for early registration.

3. Make a plan

After you’ve registered for the trade show and put together a clear list of business needs and goals, you’ll want to develop a list of show exhibitors that manufacture the equipment you need. Once you have your list together, compare it to a show map to determine each exhibitor’s location. Mapping out your route, and timing if you can, will allow you to get as much out of the trade show as possible.

“I always plan ahead before attending trade shows, especially this one (World of Concrete),” says Andrew Herbst, maintenance and facility manager for the US Bureau of Reclamation. “There’s typically a list of all the vendors and trainings that are available, so I pick what vendors I want to see and what trainings I want to attend before the show.”

Bobcat Company Exhibit at World of Concrete Trade Show
A glimpse into the Bobcat exhibit at the 2020 World of Concrete trade show.

While making your plan, don’t forget the importance of comparing multiple equipment brands. Trade shows are one of the best places for you to easily evaluate and compare manufacturers. While you can’t compare the machines and attachments side-by-side, you can take time to ask representatives at each booth to walk you through any advantages their products have. By taking detailed notes, you can easily go back and reference them as you move from booth to booth.

You’ll also want to make sure you’re allowing enough time in your plan to actually test some of the equipment. At certain trade shows, attendees have the opportunity to see, touch and test equipment under real jobsite conditions. Testing the equipment will allow you to see how the specifications come together, so you can confidently compare the performance between various brands and products.

While it’s important to plan ahead, it’s also good to keep an open mind once you’re at the show and to stop by booths and sessions that catch your eye. Trade shows are great places to learn about new technologies, brands and products that weren’t previously on your radar.

“You have to be nimble and able to adjust to what the crowd offers you,” says James Baty, executive director for the Concrete Foundations Association.

4. Dress the part

Whether your primary goal is to find new equipment or you’re just wanting to network, dressing the part is essential. Remember, you are there on behalf of your business. Depending on the show you’re attending, this could mean dressing in business professional attire, a suit blazer paired with khakis and a nice button down, or business casual attire, casual collared shirts paired with khakis. While it’s essential to dress appropriately for the show, don’t underestimate the importance of bringing a comfortable pair of shoes – there will be lots of walking!

“Comfortable shoes are crucial. I always bring earbuds with me, too,” says Travis Mold, warehouse business manager for Sellen Construction. 

5. Be ready to learn

You’ll also want to make sure that you’re taking advantage of all the new learning opportunities being presented to you. Trade shows are a great place to learn about emerging markets and different ways to use your equipment as well as get any questions you may have answered by industry-leading experts. They also often have expert-led seminars for attendees to learn new skills, solutions and creative strategies to improve their business.

“There’s such a wealthy range of classes that are offered [at World of Concrete] that can really round out contractors in many ways,” James says. “Attendees are able to work on a combination of skills. They can gain knowledge that’s based specifically on their industry, as well as skills that might lead them toward a management position in the future. When contractors combine their buying power here along with education, it sets them up to be leaders in their industry.”

6. Be social

Trade Show Attendees Looking at a new Bobcat Skid-Steer Loader
Attendees check out the new R-Series skid-steer loader at World of Concrete 2020.

Last but not least, make sure you’re being social and enjoying yourself. While you are attending the trade show on business, it’s important to remember that extra social events are great places for you to network. Networking is a great way to connect with your peers and build new contacts in your industry. By networking on both a national and international scale, you can also get career advice, support and stay up-to-date on the latest industry trends, among other things.

While the idea of attending a trade show may seem overwhelming at first, it’s a great place to expand your knowledge and meet new people in the industry. With a plan in place, you can set yourself up for a successful trade show and capitalize on the two- to three-day event.

Don’t just plan for trade shows, check out these five annual planning tips to keep your business on track, too.

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