Trade Show Dos & Don'ts
By Howard C. London
There are 10 key steps that every pet specialty retailer should follow in order to have a successful tradeshow experience.

Two of the most common questions I am asked in my line of work as a consultant are, “Should I go to a trade show?” and “Which ones are best to attend?” The short answer to the first one is maybe; and the answer to the second is, it depends on your need and level of preparation. Let me explain.

First, a bit of history on trade shows. Trade shows and events have been around for centuries, in one form or another. What the typical trade show is like today is not anything close to a century ago. And the trade shows in the future will not resemble today’s. Have you been to a digital show or event? Or the type you attend from the comfort of your home or office? The virtual shows are becoming more and more popular; and the reasons are simple: Attendance is less costly and much easier.

Then there are the shows and events where you meet with the manufacturer by appointment, and choose who to meet with or not. These may be costly, but they are quite efficient.

Regardless of what kind of trade show you plan on attending, there are 10 things you must do in order to maximize your productivity:

1. Before you plan your trip, you must make a to-do list. The first items on your list should be your goals for the show. Then print out the top 10 manufacturers your business deals with. If you cannot access that list, ask your distributors.

2. Contact each of your top vendors and ask them if they will be at the show, as well as who will be there. Make an appointment with each of your top vendors that will be at the show. Sometimes your local rep will do this legwork for you.

3. Do your homework. Figure out the volume of sales your business does with vendors—even if you buy their product through a distributor.

4. Make a list of questions to ask the vendors at the show. For example: What is new? What will change in the next 12 to 18 months? Are any packaging changes planned? Is there any training or sales material available? Make sure you ask your employees if they have any questions for your vendors.

5. Browse industry publications in the months leading up to the show, as they—especially this one—will show new items that will be at the show. Be sure to write down the booth numbers of those you like or want information about.
6. Use social media to take advantage of the vendors you do business with. Many of them may have show specials on their Facebook page or on their Twitter feed. Be sure to cover all of your bases here.

7. Visit the show’s website to look at the layout of the exhibitors. Print a copy, and mark or highlight the booths you plan to visit. If you leave this to chance or wait until you arrive at the show, you will waste an incredible amount of time finding the booths you want to see.

8. Think about taking another person with you to the show. Another attendee will help to cover all of the booths, take notes and carry samples.

9. Bring an extra phone battery. If you plan to take pictures at the show, be sure to ask the exhibitor first. Remember, taking pictures is rarely allowed, but everybody does it. Do not try to do it at the new product areas, as your phone may be confiscated.

10. Wear comfortable shoes, bring a wheeled bag or backpack, and drink lots of water.

Do your preparation, homework, and follow up, and you will have a productive show.

Howard C. London has been in the pet and animal health industries for 25-plus years, as a retail-chain owner, sales and marketing executive, and business owner. He is currently president of Sales & Marketing Consultants Group (dba Pet Industry Guru). For more information, visit, or email London at