By Irina Missiuro
With trade show season starting up again, we thought it would be fun to talk with veteran exhibitors about the must-have items they’re always sure to pack for a show. Read on for tips on what you may want to throw in your suitcase!
Many trade shows make it easy for exhibitors these days by providing showcases, tables, and chairs in their booths. But this may lull exhibitors into a false sense of security, believing they need only appear with their wares to fill the cases. However, experienced exhibitors are well aware that when it comes to trade shows, Murphy’s Quantum Law is in full effect: Anything that can, could have, or will go wrong, is going wrong, all at once. For many exhibitors, this means adopting the Scout Motto of “be prepared.”
“I would say the number-one object to bring to a trade show is a small box of tools,” says Belle Brooke Barer, owner of Belle Brooke Designs Inc. in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In hers, she makes sure to have zip ties, pliers, wire cutters, double-sided mounting tape, binder clips, and scissors. “You never know what the situation will call for, and I’m always able to rig what I need with these items,” Barer says.
Not only does Scott Petrillo, vice president of sales for Paul H. Gesswein & Co. Inc. in Bridgeport, Connecticut, pack a toolbox for every show, he makes sure it’s always well stocked with items such as screwdrivers, wrenches, and zip ties. He says, “The goal is to help our setup and make the booth look better.”
Jean Poole, national sales manager of Umicore Precious Metals USA Inc. in Riverside, Rhode Island, also declares a toolbox a must-have item for shows. “I have had too many mishaps over the years and required all kinds of tools and tape to keep the booth together when things get broken,” she says. In addition, Poole tries to always bring a stepladder. “I am too short, and the booth is too tall,” she explains.
Being prepared for Sarah Graham of Sarah Graham Metalsmithing in Basalt, Colorado, means making sure she always has her laptop and a reliable internet connection to give her access to her pricing database. “Inevitably, people want to know what the jewelry costs with a different diamond weight or a different metal combination, and if I can’t give them an accurate price on the spot, I can’t close the sale,” she says. “Fortunately gone are the days where an internet connection in a convention center costs hundreds of dollars—we now have access to unlimited data and are able to use our phones as hotspots.” She recommends making sure that you have this all set up and you know your passwords before the show so that you are ready to go the first time a client asks for a custom price.
Between jewelry to fill the showcases and the tools needed to avoid things from falling apart, it’s easy to lose track of everything you have to pack for a show, which is why having an organized system in place is key.
“The one thing we’ve done that’s really made life a whole lot easier is place a checklist into every suitcase,” says Jack Gualtieri, co-owner of Zaffiro Jewelry in Portland, Oregon. That way, he and his wife Elizabeth know exactly what’s inside. “And everything is compartmentalized into smaller boxes,” he adds. All the jewelry is packed into pelican cases that protect fragile pieces during transport. Once all the contents are in their spots, they take a photo to remember the way everything was packed. When they need to wrap up after a show, they can save time by knowing what goes where. Similarly, they do a mockup of the showcase by laying out all the jewelry on a large piece of silk. At the show, they don’t need to waste time figuring out how to arrange everything—they just look at the photo they took a couple of days before.
John Blythe, wholesale sales manager of Todd Reed in Boulder, Colorado, always brings an Under Armour backpack that contains all of his must-have documents and materials. He says, “It is convenient and makes traveling much easier!” Blythe takes it everywhere. “I walk to the Javits [Convention Center] each day from my hotel, and it is great to have an easy way to cart important items back and forth.”
Organization is also key for keeping track of things you pick up at the show, such as business cards from potential customers.
A traditionalist, Poole likes to bring a “lead book”—a notebook to which she staples cards and notes for each lead. “Some people prefer to scan a badge, but that leaves very little room for notes. I prefer physical cards and notes,” she says. After the show, she makes and distributes copies to the appropriate sales rep for the territory. “It’s old-school but works well,” Poole says.
While many exhibitors look at trade shows as a chance to get out of the office or out from behind the bench, the change in routine can wreak havoc on the body.
When traveling long distance, the Gualtieris always arrive to the location of the show a day early to get used to a new time zone and have the time to plan in advance. They also bring their own pillows when they travel, preferring memory foam ones because, in addition to being comfortable, “they squish down tight” and are easier to pack. “There’s a lot riding on these shows,” Jack explains. “We need a good night’s sleep—otherwise we will be preoccupied with getting rest.” In addition, they bring Emergen-C powder drinks to keep hydrated and ensure that they intake enough electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals to stay alert.
Heather B. Moore of Heather B. Moore Inc. in Chicago has been attending trade shows for twenty years, so she knows she’ll need a way to recharge. To de-stress after a show and squeeze in some exercise, she likes to bring her yoga mat. “[Hotel] gyms don’t always have that,” Moore says.
To unwind when she returns to her hotel room, Mikel Garrett, event coordinator at Rio Grande in Albuquerque, New Mexico, travels with a Wonder Boom Bluetooth Speaker. “It is amazing how this helps you relax and decompress after a long day,” she says. She also recommends making sure you stay hydrated.
And don’t forget one of the key components for having a good show experience: comfortable footwear. The hours spent standing in your booth, often on concrete floors, mean that trade shows are not the places to break in new shoes.
“Comfortable shoes are the trade show holy grail,” says Garrett.
In addition to packing comfortable shoes for setting up and taking down a booth, exhibitors should keep them on hand during the show so they can swap out their dress shoes during breaks or any downtime. Poole recommends making sure that all the shoes you wear at a trade show are comfortable because “sexy heels look good but hurt the legs in a long trade show.”