Kbis trade show vegasThere’s a lot of hubbub going on about the recent announcement of the 2011 Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS) in Las Vegas. For most cabinet dealers, it’s the “must attend” show of the year. This got our gears spinning over at The Dealer’s Voice: what can you do to make sure you get the most of attending trade shows? After all, many of these events are not cheap and half the time people walk away feeling like they’ve sat through a few dozen in-person infomercials.

So if you’re planning which events you’ll be going to in 2011 here are a few ways to get the most out of them:

1.   Limit yourself to 1 – 2 shows per year

There’s the obvious reason that taking too much time away from your business is a bad idea. However in my experience most trade shows tend to feature the same exhibitors. It doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense to see the same presentations over and over.

2.  Choose trade shows specific to your industry

A lot of generic builder shows will market heavily to cabinet dealers. It helps them cast a wide net to boost attendance. However, these builder shows don’t have much to actually offer those who only focus on cabinets. Stick to shows like KBIS that actually cater more specifically to what you do.

3. Plan your purpose, not your activities, well in advance

Before booking your flight and buying your badge ask yourself:  “What do I hope to accomplish at this show?” Maybe it’s a new complementary product or a new manufacturer line. Maybe you want to get a general idea of what other dealers are up to. Think about what products and services are important to you and don’t spend too much time at the Kohler booth unless plumbing is part of your business model.

4. Decide who will get the most out of attending the show

Typically sales team members attend these shows.  It is probably a good idea to include your ops people at least once per year since they’re the ones that live with the products day-to-day.  They also have an opportunity to nurture manufacturer relationships on these trips. Your design team may also benefit from new ideas and networking with other designers and manufacturer reps.

5. Look for freebies and deals

Avoid paying full price for hotels, event tickets, and possibly even airfare by working with your vendors.  Many manufacturers have coupon codes that offer discounted (or free) admission.  Be sure to look carefully at mailers and emails from your vendors and check with your sales reps for their discount offers.  Manufacturers may also offer discounted hotel rates within their block. Talk to manufacturer reps before you purchase tickets to see what kind of savings you might be able to get – it never hurts to ask.

6. Nurture relationships with manufacturers

It can be very interesting to observe how manufacturers treat you in these group settings at trade shows.  Sure, one-on-one, they make you feel like their most important dealer.  But when you get them in these settings, you often find out where you really stand. If you’re considering taking on new product lines do your homework first so you can be ready with good questions to ask. Don’t forget to take notes after talking with reps, especially if you’re trying to decide between two competitors – you’re not a walking cabinet manufacturer catalog

7. Find out what other activities you can incorporate into the trip

Is there another business-related activity that you can incorporate into the trip?  For example, at a KBIS show in Chicago, my group was able to include a tour of a manufacturing facility in Indiana about 90 minutes away. Don’t forget to treat yourself and your team to something fun or try to squeeze in some sightseeing. Obviously, these shows are rarely, if ever, all work.

8.   Hold a post-trip debriefing

When you come home, have everyone that attends the trade show write up a one-page summary of what they saw and what they took from the trip.  Then, have them present this to the entire team, or location, at a company meeting within a couple of weeks of the show. Take a few minutes at the meeting to single out really good presentations.

Sometimes you may find that some trade show attendees on your team did not have a positive experience. Talk with any employees individually that did not seem to get value from the trip.  Find out how it could have been better for them – and if they have a similar experience at the next industry event it might not be worth returning the following year. In the end, it doesn’t make sense to keep going to shows if you’re not getting any value from them.