Running a Shop

Tackling Trade Shows: How to Get the Most Out of Your Visit

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As the calendar flips to April, trade show season is in full swing. One of our industry’s largest trade shows is right around the corner: iFLEX at The Car Wash Show, presented by The Automotive Oil Change Association. iFLEX at The Car Wash Show will be held in Las Vegas April 25-28.

Trade shows can be beneficial events to attend — if you know how to properly utilize the time and resources available.

A representative from a leading special events planning agency recommended the following when it comes to prepping for trade shows:

1. Before you step foot on the tradeshow floor, ask yourself, “What is it you wish to gain by attending this particular show?”

A few days prior to the show, take some time to identify your reasons for attending. A trade show focused on your area of commerce is the perfect venue to get reacquainted with people you see infrequently and to make brand new acquaintances.

Always read the schedule of events and put together a short list of vendors you will benefit from having face time with. It is important not to leave important meetings up to chance, so use this time wisely.

2. Collect information from the exhibitors that interest you.

Do not just grab brochures and handouts from every booth. Look at what each exhibit has to offer; if it is something you are interested in obtaining more information about then take a flyer, if not, move on to the next one. Also, keep in mind that many exhibitors will mail you literature and samples, which will help relieve the weight of carrying it around the exhibit hall. So, do not be afraid to leave your contact information.

3. Network, network, network!

When you are walking the exhibit hall, you should be working the room. Do not be shy about handing out and collecting business cards and talking to new exhibitors. Keep the conversations short but memorable.

4. Take time after the trade show to organize the information you obtained.

After several hours at the exhibit hall and networking you may be exhausted, but remember to take a moment after the trade show — while the day’s events are fresh on your mind — to organize your thoughts, notes and literature by priority. If you came across any ideas that seem particularly useful to you, try to figure out how you can apply them in your own business.

5. Do not let contacts slip away!

These days, most business communications take place via email or text message, which takes the personalization out of meeting someone face-to-face. Trade shows provide the venue to rekindle this interaction within a time frame that allows you to meet new acquaintances and make associations with individuals you normally deal with electronically.

On the back of each card you receive, write down a few key thoughts, for instance, young executive wearing a red dress or manages a lube shop in Hawaii. Then follow up with them within a week of the show, and add a personalized thought to help the individual remember your conversation.

  Arlene Davis, former senior director of meetings and events for the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association, said she believes trade shows like AAPEX and iFLEX are ideal conventions for fast lube operators to attend, because of the many opportunities they present.

“When you go to these kinds of trade shows, you will find every possible type of service on display,” she said. “There’s usually tool and equipment areas, which are very important for operators to visit. There’s oil dispensers, pumps, guns — it’s all there. I believe it’s really important for operators to spend time with some of these tool and equipment people and see some of the services they offer that provide both speed and profitability. Trade shows offer a chance to compare one product line to another, which is vital because margins are so tight, these days.”

So, you might be thinking, “iFLEX and AAPEX sure sound like great conventions, but how do I justify missing work?” Think of them as business investments — you’re going to them to find new ways to make more money. If cost is an issue for you, Davis has a few tips that will not only make your visits more enjoyable, but feasible, as well.

  • Plan Travel Arrangements in Advance—Travel can be expensive, but with a little advanced planning, you may be able to find lower hotel and airfare rates. There are multiple online resources that can help you get the best deals, just be sure to shop around and compare prices.
  • Use the Right People—Hiring the right people to run your shop while you’re away can put you at ease, however, several companies make surveillance cameras you can watch from your smartphone, just in case you’re still uneasy about leaving it in the hands of another.
  • Make Eating Arrangements Early—As mentioned before, trade shows typically are extremely crowded, and, because of that, finding restaurants can be tricky. However, you can make dining reservations in advance, so finding a place to eat will not be an issue. Early reservations will also help you plan your itinerary.
  • Read the Fine Print — When making hotel reservations, make sure to read the fine print so you’ll know what’s included with your stay. Does your particular hotel have a resort fee? If so, what all is included in that fee? Also, many hotels and restaurants have credit card fees, so be sure to read the fine print, as it can save you some money.

While it may seem like a hassle to leave the shop for a few days, it’s important to remember that with a little planning and research, it doesn’t have to be.

Davis said the purpose of industry trade shows is to help operators grow their businesses, but they are also a great time to celebrate the industry, as well.

“It’s a tremendous industry to be a part of,” she said. “Think about it like this: It takes the dry cleaners two days to return clean clothes, but it only takes a fast lube 10 minutes to change a car’s oil. I think that is something that people in the industry should be very proud of.”

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