Thinking about attending a trade show?

Prior planning will make trade show attendance more useful.

Years ago, I attended a large outdoor trade show with a dairy farmer who was actively trying to expand his business. At the time, I was a loan officer in a territory across the state line from this particular dairy farm. My experience at trade shows, up to that point was as a student, who just went to look at machinery, socialize with other farm kids from other parts of the state and the region, but not to seek out information or two buy products. Likewise, I have attended with semi-retired farmers, who were spending the day socializing. Finally, I attended as a young inexperience loan officer trying to do business with active farmers. Each of these perspectives are quite different, but the most productive use of the trade show is to go and learn about products and opportunities that can advance a business.

Attending with a dairyman, is interesting in and of itself because the daily routine for the farmer may actually include milking cows twice a day. This lead me to my first conclusion, which is time is valuable, and we had a lot to accomplish in a very short time. Knowing that the evening milking has to start at 5 p.m. and that we would arrive, after a two-hour car ride, meant that we would need to be efficient as we worked with equipment dealers.

As we rode to the trade show site, the farmer and I talked about barn ventilation systems, three dealers who would be at the show and a conversation at the power company booth regarding energy efficiency and any rebates for upgrading fans. When we arrived, we interviewed each of the dealers, and provided them with specs we were considering. After meeting with the dealers, we discussed the purchase with the power company, and determined what rebates and programs were available for this type equipment. We then went back to the dealers and collected quotes. We stopped for lunch and evaluated the quotes, and a decision was made to purchase new barn fans. We went to each dealer and let each of them know the decision.

This process took the entire day, and we left with enough time to be back to the farm at 4:30 in the afternoon. On the way home, I asked the farmer why he did this purchase in this manner. He advised me that had been considering the purchase for a long time and this is the only chance during the year that all three dealers would be in one place with him there to evaluate.

This was the entirety of the show for us. We did not stop to look at anything else but barn fans. For the person attending the trade show having a plan can make the experience better. Start with some goals, which may be simple or complex. It may be just to establish a relationship that may be needed several years out, or it may be as specific as picking out and making a deal on barn fans. Planning will make your trade show experience better.

Educators at Michigan State University Extension and Innovation Counselors at the MSU Product Center assist food business operators in the establishment of food related businesses. MSU Extension can assist a community with facilitated conversations through our Extension educator network. For further information and assistance with employee communications please contact your local MSU Extension office. 

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