Maximize Your Investment

7 Tips For Trade Show Attendees

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Each year, thousands of owners and employees from firearm ranges and retailers flock to exhibit halls and convention centers around the country to attend shooting, hunting and outdoor industry trade shows.

Considering the cost of registration and travel, not to mention time spent away from day-to-day business operations, the decision to attend is often not made lightly. The key to positive ROI (return on investment) lies not only in attending the event but also in how effectively you leverage the opportunities it offers. Here are some tips and strategies to help maximize your investment when attending trade shows.

1. Choose the right event.

Selecting the right trade show or convention to attend is a critical decision for individuals and businesses looking to maximize their ROI. Location, dates and costs associated with attending are obvious factors to consider. On the surface, a show located geographically closer to you may seem like the best option.

However, John McNamara, managing director of member services for the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), said it’s important to consider the event’s goals and objectives.

“Most consumer shows and trade shows within the shooting and outdoors industries will have many of the same brands exhibiting,” he noted. “But the focus of consumer shows is typically on growing brand awareness and marketing products to end users, whereas a trade show like SHOT Show helps brands make operational decisions like production planning.” 

McNamara continued, “As a result, it’s not uncommon to see key decision makers like a brand’s CEO, CFO, chief marketing officer, sales director, etc., at a B2B trade show. You don’t typically see these folks at consumer shows.”

With this in mind, if you’re trying to decide whether to attend a particular show or narrow down the field of options, consider how well the goals of the show organizer and exhibitors align with those of your business.

2. Set clear goals.

Again, before you even set foot in the trade show venue, it’s essential to define your objectives. 

Ask yourself the following:

• What do you hope to achieve by attending this trade show?

• Are you looking for potential new suppliers? If so, in what product categories?

• Do you want to learn about industry trends?

• Are you interested in expanding your professional network?

Once you’ve established some goals, it’s easier to tailor your trade show strategy accordingly.

3. Do your pre-show homework.

To maximize your ROI, prepare for the trade show in advance. Research the event, including exhibitors, speakers and schedules. Identify key players in your industry who will be attending and plan to visit their booths or attend their presentations.

Additionally, reach out to your existing contacts and connections to let them know you’ll be attending. This can help to schedule meet-ups in advance rather than leave the potential for a run-in up to chance.

For peak efficiency, make the most of technology. Download the event app, if available, to access maps, schedules and exhibitor information.

4. Create a game plan.

Once you have a list of exhibitors, sessions and events you want to attend, create a detailed schedule. Be sure to allocate time for networking, visiting booths, attending seminars and taking breaks.

Prioritize activities based on your goals while keeping the floor plan in mind. For large shows like SHOT Show, with more than 2,500 exhibitors spread across 18 acres of exhibit space (plus 50,000 attendees), consider how long it’ll take to get from point A to point B.

A well-structured schedule will help make the most of your time at the event.

“If it isn’t feasible to attend for the full week, consider going later in the week rather than when the show opens,” suggested McNamara. “It’s often easier to cover more ground or have meaningful conversations on Wednesday/Thursday or even Thursday/Friday when things quiet down a little.”

This step is also where you should consider whether a “divide and conquer” strategy would be the best way to achieve your business’s goals.

“Bring a team if you can,” said McNamara. “Trying to do a large-scale show like SHOT Show on your own can be overwhelming. Having even two or three people to help split the show floor can help to accomplish all that you want to.”

He suggests giving each person on your team a task to be responsible for, then scheduling a debrief to share information when you return. 

5. Take advantage of cost- and time-saving opportunities.

From registration fees, food and lodging to transportation not only to a show but within the destination city, expenses can add up quickly. Take advantage of both cost- and time-saving opportunities to help maximize your return on investment.

The time saved by staying at an on-site or neighboring hotel is likely enough to justify the cost difference of a more affordable hotel located further away. Book early for the best selection and to lock-in discounted group rates.

If a show is hosted by a membership organization, like the NSSF’s SHOT Show, becoming a member can yield significant savings. 

“You don’t have to be an NSSF member to attend SHOT Show,” McNamara informed. “But your first ticket is included with the cost of membership and each additional is only $35, whereas registration for non-members is $150 per person. Members also receive discounted enrollment for SHOT University courses ($40 vs. $75), as well as other events throughout the year.”

For some shows, like the National Wild Turkey Federation’s (NWTF) annual convention or the NRA’s annual meeting, members can attend for free.

Other savings opportunities may include early-bird discounts, multi-day offers or incentives to pre-purchase tickets online rather than at the door.

6. Attend relevant workshops and seminars.

Time can get away from you quickly when you’re perusing the aisles and checking out all the new products exhibitors have to offer, which is why making the previously mentioned game plan is so important.

Trade shows often offer workshops and seminars led by industry experts. These sessions can provide valuable insights and knowledge about industry trends, best practices and more. Be selective in choosing the ones that align with your objectives and interests. 

“‘The FFLs Guide to an ATF Audit & How to Prevent a NOR’ is a must-attend for both seasoned and new industry players at SHOT  Show 2024,” said McNamara. “Being compliant doesn’t earn you extra money, but it can help keep you from losing your entire livelihood.”

Educational seminars also offer opportunities to learn from your peers and potentially even your competitors.

“It’s important to go with the mindset to network and build relationships, not just focus on products,” McNamara added. “Don’t overlook opportunities off the show floor.”

7. Evaluate your ROI.

Lastly, after the trade show, it’s crucial to assess your return on investment. Review your goals and analyze whether they were achieved. Calculate the tangible and intangible benefits of attending the event to help you refine your strategy for future shows.  

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