You’re in a room the size of a football field tangled in a maze of display booths and packed to the brim with people. Welcome to the trade show. Now what? Where in the world do you begin?

Don’t wait until you walk in the door to ask yourself these questions. You’re spending good money and time on that trade show, and you want to make the most of it. You can, when you prepare, take full advantage of it while there and follow up properly afterwards.

The best thing

Photo by GIE Media staff

An industry, B2B trade show provides a valuable venue for:

New merchandise. It’s the only place that showcases the latest products from so many companies—all at once, all under one roof.

Manufacturers and suppliers. You can talk with dozens of people representing thousands of products and services.

Competitive prices. With so many reps and products, you can afford to shop around and negotiate for the best deals.

Seminars. From financial management to warehouse organization, they help you grow your business and increase profits.

Networking. There’s nothing like meeting people face-to-face and making connections, and help each other further your nursery businesses.

Choose the right shows

Focus on those that best meet your customers’ needs, and your business’s goals.

Do your research. Scour the Internet for top trade shows geared toward B2B, and compare exhibitors, products and seminars.

Know your market. Be clear about what your customers want, and select the shows that answer to that.

Photo courtesy of American Hort

Before you go

Get optimum results from a B2B trade show when you:

Pre-register. You’ll get the best show, hotel and airfare rates; and avoid long lines at the door.

Research your inventory. Know your priorities, merchandising plans and business focus, keeping room for new products.

Know what to pack. Bring inventory information and your dollar-spending limit. Don’t forget business cards—and comfortable shoes.

Know the exhibitors. Study the show directory for their categories and ordering performance, and consider reps who may be new to you.

Make appointments. Reps’ schedules fill up, so contact them weeks ahead to arrange meetings, then again just before the show, to confirm.

Take in everything. Go through the trade show’s entire agenda, to decide your focus and fit in as many reps, seminars and social time as you can.

Photo by GIE Media staff

While you’re there

As you go from booth to booth:

Keep an open mind. Be eager to talk with people, to see what you can learn, and offer. Stop at exhibits you wouldn’t otherwise think of; and at already-familiar ones, prepare to be surprised.

Talk to people. Reps and other wholesalers can offer valuable industry information and insights. Also go on those trade show-arranged tours of the city’s businesses in the industry.

Collect information. Gather as much product literature as you can. Make sure you get people’s business cards, or input their contact info, so you can follow up, especially more than once, if you don’t hear from them.

Plan to do business. As a marketplace, the trade show is the most economical setting to do business. Exhibitors are happy to take orders, and frequently offer attractive pricing for those placed at the show.

Attend seminars. These bring you up to date with new products and changing issues in the industry. They also provide countless ideas that you can put to work at your business, often immediately.

Get sociable. Whether as casual interactions or at formal events, mingling gives you the chance to exchange ideas, learn more and make those connections that can lead to strong business relationships.

After the show

The trade show may be over, but that doesn’t mean it’s through with you. Once you’re back home and running your business, take these ten steps:

Be organized. Spread out all those business cards and brochures, and order them by importance. Then set up a schedule to email or call a certain number a day.

Be in touch. Contact people ASAP. When you do, your wholesale business will stand out from the others.

Be personal. Write a generic thank-you email that you customize for each person, saying where/when you met and why you value the contact.

Be visual. If you exhibited, include an “action” photo of your booth. Regardless, photos of you with some of your merchandise can speak volumes.

Be specific. Offer the particular benefits gained by doing business with you, such as irresistible selection, service and prices.

Be generous. In your emails, give more—an informational white paper or video, newsletter subscription or first-purchase discount.

Be persistent. If you don’t hear back within a couple of weeks, assume the person is just busy, not disinterested, and contact them again.

Be festive. Hold a promotional event for your local customers, letting them know you attended the trade show and how it serves them.

Be inquisitive. Host a customer focus group and ask their opinions about the new products that interested you from the trade show.

Be patient. It takes time to figure out how to best put the trade show to use; and to build those successful business relationships.

A learning experience

Long after the trade show doors have closed, you can still benefit from the vendor contacts, product information and industry insights you received from your time there. You may or may not stay in touch with the people you met and followed up with at first, depending on their offerings and your business needs. But hang on to everyone’s contact info anyway. You very likely will see some of the same people, or the businesses they represent, at the next B2B trade show and you could find then that you’re a perfect match. Finally, take what you’ve learned from this trade show and make it work for you, even more so, at the next.