Trade Show Do’s and Don’ts

Dec 8, 2009

The current poll on the Performance Business website ( shows that the vast majority of readers plan to attend at least one national trade show this fall.

That’s good news for business in general, of course, and hopefully an indicator of better times on the horizon as we make our way through the recession.

Over the years I’ve worked with various writers and show veterans on articles designed to maximize the trade show experience. Beyond the basics of “wear comfortable shoes,” “bring enough business cards”  and “use mints,” here are some simple do’s and don’ts to keep in mind, whether you’re headed to SEMA/AAPEX in Las Vegas, IMIS in Indianapolis, PRI in Orlando or some combination of the three.

DO—Plan Your Attack in Advance. Use show planners like ours on page 40 of this issue, as well as exhibitor lists and floor layouts available at each show’s website to create a must-see list. Then, leave plenty of extra time to explore new companies.

DON’T—Ignore Booth Numbers. Trade shows are big, and if you set up appointments, make sure you aren’t wasting half your time walking from one end of the convention hall to the other and then back. For instance, at SEMA, booth numbers that start with 1 are in the North Hall, 2 in the Center Hall, and 3 and 4 in the South Hall—and there’s a lot of space in between.

DO—Look at the Calendar. If you really need to meet with the owner or president of a company, plan on looking them up the first day or two. Generally, by the last day of the show, most upper management is usually out of there.

DON’T—Try to Carry Everything. From catalogs to posters to giveaway items, you collect a lot of stuff at trade shows. Bags with wheels or backpacks are the way to go.

DO—Bring Hand Sanitizer. Maybe you’ve heard reports about the flu in the news?

DON’T—Forget to Write Things Down. You might think you’ll remember all the details from every meeting you have, but once back at the shop, booths and people tend to blend together. Quick notes on the back of business cards are good. Notebooks or computer documents with a page devoted to each meeting are better.

DO—Stay Hydrated. Lots of water helps avoid headaches, improves concentration and can counteract the effects of overdoing it the night before.

DON’T—Leave Valuables Unattended. My stolen camera at last year’s SEMA Show is Exhibit A!

DO—Take a Second Look at Project Vehicles. At a busy show it’s easy to hurry by show cars with nothing more than a glance at the paint and wheels. But as our project vehicle rundown in this issue (see page 30) reveals, builders put a lot of work and detail into these custom creations. If you come across some models you see a lot of in your own work bays, spending a few minutes examining what was done to them and taking some pictures can give you new ideas to take home.

DON’T—Forget to Stop By and Say ‘Hi!’ The staff here at Performance Business loves it when readers drop by with comments, suggestions or news of your shop. Your first chance is at SEMA, where we’ll be in Booth #20957. Hopefully we’ll see you there!