Trade shows are exciting but overwhelming. We’ve put together some helpful tips to keep you on point the next time you’re attending one.

The bright lights, the constant buzz of crowds, and the array of flashy products can be intimidating when you first step into a trade show. It’s easy to get lost in the mayhem, which can mean costly, disorganized orders or inefficient uses of your time. Make the most of your attendance at the next trade show by going in prepared and with a plan of action.

This year Lucas, who has gone to over 30 trade shows during his two years as a buyer, offers some helpful new suggestions for approaching your next show.

1. Do your homework

Do a careful review of your sales and inventory reports to know what your budget is and which products to prioritize. Make sure you are covering your basic, fundamental bestsellers by assuring that there is room in the budget for them. On the flipside, be on the lookout for the latest trends and have space in your budget to accommodate them. Try to gauge what your customers are looking for by surveying loyal customers or gleaning information from the workers who are manning the register at peak hours (like the weekend). They may have noticed something about the popularity of a product that you may have missed.

Lucas is a big fan of using social media to find current and upcoming trends. Instagram and Pinterest are great platforms to get a feel for what’s trending. For example, search for a handful of keywords relevant to your store’s interests on Pinterest to see popular motifs and themes. Popular trends are constantly cycled through as users tag and like new content that pop up on these platforms.

In addition, post pictures of new products on your store’s own social media pages to see if they generate any demand from your customers. Snap a picture at the trade show and post it on Instagram or Facebook. Ask your followers if they would love to see it in your store. You’ll find out interest before you even have it in your store. This is also a great way to engage with your local customers and foster that online social media presence. 

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Some trending items on Pinterest using “novelty” as a keyword.

3. Get to know your vendors

Most vendors at NYNOW are striving to provide exceptional customer service to impress old and new customers alike. Return the great customer service by being your own ideal customer. Be patient and friendly to the vendors working the booth. Even if the person you’re talking to is a temp hired by the vendor, word travels easily and you do NOT want to be the buyer with the bad rep.

Striking up a solid, amiable relationship with your vendors will do wonders for your future orders. If a vendor views you as a great, easy customer to deal with then they’ll want to work harder to accommodate your needs. Having that strong rapport between yourself and your vendor could mean getting some special treatment whether it’s the first to hear about upcoming products or specials. 

Time is precious during a busy trade show with a packed schedule, but that never excuses you from being rude or inconsiderate. Remember that how you treat your vendors could impact your future business relations with them and vice versa. 

4. Take notes from the vendor.

Vendors spend countless hours designing and planning the layout of their booth and product displays. Take a clue from them when you’re buying new products to sell them at their full potential back at your store. The product display grabbed your attention and won you over for a reason. Taking back only a fragment of how the product was displayed will lessen the impact it has on your customers.

For example, say you come across a product with a wide range of colors that are displayed in a captivating way at the vendor’s booth. Choosing to only buy one color from the range will cut down on the power of seeing the whole range displayed together. There is power in seeing the whole ensemble together instead of the single soldier so try to throw a wide net. Make your customers fall in love with the product by taking a lesson from the vendor and mimicking the ways that they sell their products.

Ask the vendors if you can take pictures. Most will gladly allow it. Use it as inspiration when you bring these products into your store for the best way to display them. Why spend time figuring it out when someone’s already done that for you? In addition, it’ll make a great teaser to throw onto social media to get your fans excited for future products.

5. Have the right stuff

  • Print Your Store Details on Stickers or Stamps

Don’t waste time having to write or dictate your information each time. Get your shipping address, store phone number, and email consolidated on a handy label, business card, or stamp. Label paper is available at office supply stores and there are plenty of free templates online for custom sticker labels. Self-inking stamps are a perfect alternative to labels and business cards if you don’t want to fumble around your bag looking for loose scraps of paper.

Lucas loves to keep business cards in the plastic sleeve that most trade shows give out.

Self-inking stamps are a long-lasting alternative to business cards.
Self-inking stamps are a long-lasting alternative to business cards.
  • Payment Info

Make the most of your and your vendor’s precious time by having your payment information squared away. If you plan on getting terms for your order then make sure you have all of your documents prepared to make the process easy for everyone involved.

  • Rolling Bag

Save your shoulders and your back with a rolling bag to lug around all your new catalogs and samples. Lugging a bag on your shoulder will add up by the end of Day 3, especially if you’ve been walking all day. 

  • Snacks

It’s going to be a long few days so bring your own snacks and a reusable water bottle to recharge. Save yourself from the inflated prices of water bottles and snacks at the convention center. Trust me, it adds up. 

P.S. Going to NYNOW? The immediate surrounding area of the Javits Center is a bit barren, but walk a few blocks north or east and you’ll find plenty of diverse and affordable food options.

  • Cardigan, aka dress in layers

Old man Lucas loves wearing cardigans with big pockets to trade shows to keep all of his essentials on hand. Moreover, it’s important to wear layers to the show so you can easily shed them if it gets too warm. Weather in NYC can be a tad unpredictable so with potential snow on the horizon for NYNOW ’17, be prepared to weather the cold AND the warmth of a busy convention center.

* If you’re checking your coat at NYNOW, take a picture of your coat check tag on your phone! It’s good insurance in case you lose your tag and you’re scrambling to find it with a long line of cranky people behind you.

6. Network horizontally

It’s not what it sounds like! Horizontal networking is a fancy way of saying “talk to your peers”. Strike up a conversation with buyers from other stores. See if you can find stores that target a similar demographic as you. Learn what products are doing well at their store and how they’re selling them. Perhaps you’ll find your next bestseller by word-of-mouth.

7. Buy according to the 80/20 rule

Before you leave, walk around your store with the 80/20 rule in mind. The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, says that 80% of your results will come from 20% of your efforts. In sales, think of it as 20% of products will represent 80% of your revenue. Figure out which products are most likely to be in your 20% and try to allocate 80% of your trade show budget for those items. Use the remaining 20% to test items you’re less sure about.

Apply this concept to your inventory as well. Consider that 20% of your inventory is driving 80% of the sales at your store. What are these bestsellers? Do these products have anything in common? Understand the underlying theme of the items boosting your sales and plan to expand on that.

8. Give it time

Don’t rush into decisions, but keep yourself on pace. You don’t want to rush through the whole show and miss some unseen, hidden gem. 

When approaching huge vendors with a large, intensive catalog, plan to allocate some time later so that you’re not wasting your entire day looking through everything at their booth. Take the catalog back to your room that night and give yourself time to pick through the catalog. Lucas often did this with catalogs involving books, a product that involves some more intensive reviewing than other items.  

According to NYNOW’s survey of the Winter 2016 NYNOW Market, almost 80% of buyers planned on placing their orders after the trade show. Absorb as much information as you need to while you’re at the booth, but always take back some homework to review potential products at your own pace when the show is over. With so many vendors and products, it’ll be easy to forget the unique characteristics of each product so make sure you’re taking notes! Mark up catalogs at the end of the day with general impressions that you had with the product when interacting with it in general.


The amount of work that needs to be done during a trade show can be intimidating, but take it step by step. Planning ahead to optimize your trade show experience will prove to be invaluable as you plan for the fast approaching holiday season. Make it easier for yourself by ensuring that you’re well-prepared before entering the bustling frenzy of your next trade show.

If you’re attending NYNOW Winter 2017, stop by and say hello! FCTRY will be at Booth #7838!

Stop by and say “I can’t live without Unicorn Snot” to get $5 off your order at NYNOW.
It only works if you say it in person.  🙂