Updated January 4th 2018 – Image credits: freedigitalphotos.net

January comes with the largest Expos in the promotional products industry. Many distributors look forward to these for inspiration for the new year ahead. It’s a chance to meet suppliers, expand our business knowledge, and discover new interesting products. Planning ahead is critical to get the most out of the trade show experience. It’s an investment of money, time and effort, plus time away from the office.  I put together a checklist of sorts for quick reference,  my “show survival guide” to help prepare faster.  Although they are common sense,  it helps prepare faster without the worry of forgetting something.  I keep it in Evernote and edit as needed, and share it with my team so they can prepare as well. After -many- years of attending these fantastic Expos to help make the most of the experience

Here it goes!

Before You Go

• Make a list of the suppliers you want to visit.

• Create a checklist with the top item categories you sell, to look for the new versions. Be prepared to take pictures and make notes. We use Evernote.

• Make a list of your clients and what can interest them.  You’ll want to add notes to each client as you walk the floor and find suitable or interesting items.

• Email your clients. A friendly ” letting you know I’m going to the show, do you want me to look for something in particular? This little tactic will get conversations started with your clients early in the year.

• Use a separate email to register. This is a good idea so the slew of email blasts don’t overflood your main inbox. This is the email the supplier will get when they scan you. This doesn’t work 100% in keeping eblasts under control but it helps.

• Print a supply of cards with your contact info and shipper number. It will simplify the process of requesting samples, and save time as well. You just write the item number in it. We use precut cards from the office supply store and print with our printer as needed.

• Download the mobile app. It’s a very useful tool provided by the shows.  Familiarize yourself with its features ahead of time. Locate entrance/exits spots, restrooms, food courts, rest areas, etc. You will also get a printed map when you register, if you prefer a hard copy, where you can mark the areas you want to find quickly. But it will be faster if you have already located them on the app.

• Locate the suppliers you want to visit on the floor plan. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to stop at every single booth.  You don’t want to miss those important partners.


• Wear the most comfortable walking shoes you own. This may sound obvious, but it’s really important. Make sure they provide good support. You might want to bring an extra pair for the second day, just in case. You will be on your feet all day,  and walking a lot more than usual.

• Wear comfortable clothes.

• Wear a jacket or shirt with pockets. They come in very handy

• Use a lanyard to secure your phone to your clothing. You don’t want to lay it anywhere for any reason.


Essentials To Bring

• Have a wheelie. This is a must for you to carry your supplies and also place samples you pick up. You don’t want to carry backpacks or any shoulder bags. The days are very long and you’ll be putting unnecessary strain on your back and shoulders.

Bring enough water to last you for the day. We had a hard time once finding water fountains. Staying hydrated is so important to keep energy levels up.

Bring “energy” food.  Nuts and low-sugar energy bars are perfect. I also like to bring one apple for each of us, and whole grain crackers. Avoid sugary stuff, they will make you feel tired faster.

• Pack a small bag with personal items. Include hand sanitizer, napkins, wet towelettes, lip balm, hand cream and a mini dental hygiene kit.  And if you are me, lipstick.

• Office supplies kit: Notepad, pens, highlighter, sticky note pads, paper clips, phone charger.

• Photo kit: Bring a selfie stick and a Bentcil – or similar – led flashlight. You’ll want to take pictures on the show. Selfies will look way better than arm-length closeups.  The flashlight will make for better lighting when needed, of items you want to take photos of.

On The Show Floor

• Start the day with a healthy breakfast. You must do this everyday, but especially when you have a long,  intense day ahead of you.

• Arrive at the show bright and early. The earlier the better, like when the doors open. Every minute counts.

• Keep phones and cameras attached to yourself.  Either a lanyard on your neck or attached to a neck wallet. Avoid having to keep track of where you put your phone.

• Be ready to take notes. There is a lot to see and you will not remember where you saw what. Make sure you write all the relevant information like the supplier’s name, sales rep you talked to, item #, client this is for etc. Do it electronically on Evernote or similar, or on your notepad. If you do it electronically you can take pictures to include in the note and have everything neatly organized for when you get back to the office.

• As you walk down the isles, be strict about skipping suppliers that are not on your list. That said, be on the lookout for those who would be worthy of your time. Whether it be products you’ve not seen before, new decoration methods and such, you’ll find some new ones worth visiting. But you just don’t want to waste precious time stopping at suppliers you’re not planning to use.  Time is gold.

• Keep track of where you’ve been. Either mark on the printed map or on the app.

•  If an aisle is too crowded, skip it and come back later.  Maybe is time to take a break. Just make sure you note that you didn’t walk through it.

• When requesting samples, keep a list of the item and the supplier. You may have to request the sample yourself again later. The staff at the booth is talking to lots of people each hour and your request might slip through the cracks.

• Limit your time at each booth.  Some reps are talkers and go into a pitch you’re not interested in. End the conversation politely and move on.

• Ask “what’s new” as you arrive at the booth. This will take the conversation straight to the point.  Ask how these items have been used and the type of clients these would appeal to.

• At the end of each day organize your thoughts and review your notes. Be sure they are clear. Highlight anything that needs to be highlighted, so when you get back to the office you can take action. Prepare for the next morning. Get some rest.


And there you have it!

The days will be long and exhausting but you’ll come back with a renovated enthusiasm for your business.  And if you have the chance to meet with a group of peers, make sure you do. The camaraderie and personal connections, and the information you’ll exchange will be invaluable.

Would you add anything? Would love to hear it!

Have fun!