After the Shows: Practical advice for trade show novices as you navigate the most important shopping trip of the year

After the Shows: Practical advice for trade show novices as you navigate the most important shopping trip of the year
If you're there with a colleagues you can split up and send groups out on fact finding expeditions to seek out interesting stands you may want to look at together in more detail later

In my last two articles on the right way to do trade fairs I’ve covered preparation before the show and how to get the most out of a show when you’re actually there. In this final instalment we’ll deal with what you should be doing after you’ve returned from a successful visit.

What you do after a show is equally as important as what you do before and during. All that hard slog around a trade fair can be wasted if you don’t follow up on contacts or leave a pile of promotional information in the corner of your office to moulder until you’ve forgotten about them. So the first job on day one is to empty out those carrier bags full of business cards, catalogues, samples and order forms.

Make sure all the relevant information about the companies you’ve spoken to and expressed an interest in contacting again is stapled together. It’s also a good time to make some notes about each of them, especially if you didn’t do this immediately after your meeting. It’s very easy to forget who it was you spoke to and which products you were interested in if you only revisit this information several days or even weeks later.

Organise all your new contacts in order of importance. There will be some details for companies you placed an order with, others you only spoke to, and some where you just grabbed a card or a catalogue because of pressure of time or the lack of someone on a stand to speak to.

Obviously the most important of these three categories is any paperwork relating to actual orders. Make sure you check over any order forms carefully and double check that you have everything you wanted. If you have a catalogue and price list it’s good to check items off against these. Also ensure that there’s nothing there that you didn’t mean to order or have since had second thoughts about. Add all the order values together to check that you’ve not exceeded your budget (you did set a budget didn’t you?) If you have don’t panic, It’s usually not too late at that stage to contact a new or existing supplier and change the order. With smaller companies it will usually take them a few days to recover after a show anyway.

Once you’re sure everything is as it should be you can make arrangements to pay any pro-forma amounts and then file the paperwork ready to receive the goods. It’s also a good idea at this point to start thinking about where any new ranges will feature in your store. Do you have to make room for a new display? Are you planning any sort of special launch for a new range, including special offers and discounts?

You may also need to think about putting these new ranges and products on your website. Most companies these days have web-ready images they will happily send you on disk or via email. It’s a good idea to get ahead of the game while you’re waiting for new stock by using these images on your social media platforms to let people know what you have coming soon!

The second category in your post-show haul will be those people you spoke to but didn’t place an order with. Now’s the time to make sure no one really important slipped through the net. Even if you don’t intend to do any business with some of them immediately, it doesn’t do any harm to make contact via email to remind them of your meeting. Making that contact after a show may pay off later and you might even want to arrange a visit by an agent to your premises to discuss things in a bit more of a relaxed atmosphere than you may have had on the day of the show.

If there are any catalogues or cards for people you know you’re never going to contact, file them away with some notes or bin them. Just keeping them knocking around will only confuse you when you find them again. This can include the third category of the card or catalogue grab you made from a stand where you didn’t actually talk to anyone. But don’t be too hasty on these. If you picked up the details, there must have been something that snagged your interest. It’s always worth checking out their websites or Googling the brand or the product name to make sure you’re not missing out on something you might have overlooked if you’re too cursory about it.

Finally, if you’ve been given some samples of products don’t just treat them as freebies, they’re given away to help you remember their products and properly assess them. Give them a test drive and make notes of what you thought. Attach these to the empty product containers or wrappers or to the promotional material you also got from the manufacturers or distributers. If you think they’d be right for your store, make a small order and let your customers try too. Be careful though as many samples may be from stock that’s close to its use by date, don’t let them go to waste by ignoring them for too long!

As with the first two articles here’s a list of key things to do and avoid:

Do check through orders as soon as possible to make sure you’ve not overspent

Do go through promotional and contact material from the show as soon as possible

Do organise the information you have and connect it with notes you made at the time

Do make notes while things are fresh in your mind (if you didn’t do it at the show)

Don’t leave promotional material to languish in a carrier bag for weeks

Don’t waste samples, many of them will be close to their use by dates

Don’t discount cards and catalogues from companies you didn’t speak to, there must have been something that made you pick them up

Don’t lose contact with new prospects you met at the show. Make a connection early so neither of you forget who you are.

Ian Middleton is a retail consultant and writer/commentator