Attending a design tradeshow is often a highlight for a person working in the Kitchen Industry.
With tradeshows finally beginning to come back to in-person events, it is important to plan ahead to get the most out of your attendance.
I recently booked my flights and hotel for the upcoming Kitchen & Bath Industry Show in Orlando, Florida this February, and felt this was a great time to share my suggestions on getting the most out of attending a design tradeshow.
I will also be presenting at The Voices From the Industry Conference at KBIS if you would like to check out my session.
Subscribe to my email list and I’ll keep you updated on the session.
Read on to get my top tips for a successful tradeshow experience.
A Design Tradeshow is the place to see the latest trends, meet with multiple suppliers, get educated and network with other industry professionals.
This is a lot to see and do in a relatively short timespan.
But it also takes you away from your business for several days and can be costly if it involves travel to the venue.
Because of this, you need to ensure that you make the most of your time at a design tradeshow.
If this is your first design show, or even if you have attended many, this post will help you get the most out of your design tradeshow experience.
Attending a design tradeshow is an investment in you and your career.
The key is getting the most out of your time and money.
It takes some planning and can be a very rewarding experience.
TRAVEL & ACCOMIDATIONS
Where to stay is very important.
You will want to book a hotel room that allows you to easily get to the venue.
A great price on a hotel room that is far from the event is not worth it if the expense of getting to the venue out ways the savings.
This can easily happen if you are attending a large show with tens of thousands of attendees. Car rentals, taxis and ride shares will be at a premium price and with limited availability.
Not being able to get a timely ride will be frustrating and disappointing.
Always look for a hotel that is on a transit route to the show’s venue (usually a convention center) or one that is on the official shuttle bus route. You can often find this information on the tradeshow’s website.
I always look for a hotel with a designated shuttle bus. It is convenient since these coaches pick up at the hotel and are only going to the convention center.
At the end of a long day walking a show they are out front of the venue and will take you back to your hotel without you having to think about it. You just need to get on the right bus!!
PACKING AND COMFORT AT THE SHOW
I am a carry-on only gal when I travel for business and recommend this when attending a large design tradeshow.
As stated above, these shows can attract thousands of visitors to a city.
The KBIS/IBS show a few years ago attracted over 100,000 industry professionals.
The last think you want to do is be burdened by too much luggage. I find a carry-on wheel bag and a large tote are perfect for traveling to these shows.
Once on the show floor, you really, really want to be comfortable.
I cannot stress enough to wear comfortable shoes. Yes, you need to be stylish but remember on average you will walk 15,000 to 25,000 steps a day at a design tradeshow.
You also don’t want to bring a heavy knapsack or purse with you.
Don’t weigh yourself down unnecessarily with items in your personal bag that can be left back at your room.
You will most likely be picking up literature as you tour the show and there will be a show sponsored fabric bag available for this.
Something else I have found is that there are not a lot of places to sit and “rest” at a tradeshow.
The object of the show presenters is to keep you moving through the aisles visiting as many exhibitors as possible.
Another reason for comfortable clothing and footwear!
It is not uncommon to see attendees taking a break sitting on the floor against a wall so keep that in mind.
The offering of food and beverage is not the focus of these events and there can be long line ups for sustenance. It makes sense to bring along a few energy bars and a water bottle to keep you going.
If you plan to eat lunch at the venue, try to pick an off time like 11:30 or after 1:30. There may still be line ups but not as crazy as high noon!
One last thing on packing, make sure your phone is charged and maybe even tuck a charging stick into your pocket.
You will be snapping a lot of pictures and there will be competition for the few “public” electrical outlets at the venue.
Pre-register for the design show if possible.
There are often early bird specials available and in some cases the entrance ticket will be mailed or emailed to you.
A word of advice is to check the printout of your show pass. I once pre-registered for a show overseas and printed my ticket on my office printer.
My copy did not print the QR code completely and when I arrived it would not scan. I ended up spending 2 ½ hours in line to receive a new pass! I now double check that everything looks right before I leave.
Early bird registration also puts you on the correspondence list so that you get updates on the show and manufactures events that will be happening around the venue.
This can help you plan what you want to see at the show.
Another big advantage of pre-registering is that you can skip the line.
Every design trade show will offer tickets at-the-door but there can be long lineups to purchase them.
Also, some shows require proof of your business, and you many not have that documentation with you.
This lack of documentation may mean that you cannot get in. I have seen this happen to people in design tradeshow lineups.
WALKING THE FLOOR
Very often I observe people walking randomly down tradeshow aisles looking a little lost.
Before you step foot on the show floor, you should have a plan.
Some shows are so large that it would be impossible for you to see everything.
I recommend that you access the shows floorplan online, print it off, and then highlight the exhibitors that you really want to visit.
Most shows will have a list of exhibitors online, often with a bio on the products and services that they offer.
Spend some time going through this list well before heading to the venue.
Once you highlight the must-see vendors, you will start to see where on the show floor you should be spending your time.
If your time is limited you need to focus. This may mean that you only visit one section of the show.
It is better to do this and to see vendors that make sense to you rather than walking around aimlessly.
I will plan a route and check off the vendors as I visit them to ensure I am getting good value from a show.
If I am attending a show to gain information on specific type of product, I will spend each day of the show doing specific things.
Here is an example of my schedule of a 3 day show when I was specifically looking for decorative kitchen hardware to carry in my showroom.
- Prior to attending: I reviewed the exhibitor list and show floorplan and highlighted all vendors that carried decorative hardware. I planned a route through the show. A few of them were way back in the corners and I did want to see every decorative hardware vendor.
- Day One: I did a quick walk through of the show floor following my route to scan the decorative hardware booths. I took lots of pictures and add notes to them on my phone. (Check what is available on your smart phone for doing this and practice a little before your go). I did have many of the vendors scan my badge so that I could receive more information when I was back home for my records. That night, back at my hotel room, I reviewed the pics and notes and decide which venders were worth spending more time with.
- Day Two: I visit the vendors I had highlighted from my research from the day before. I search out a sales representative in their booth and had them give me a tour. If appropriate I schedule a follow up “meeting” with them by phone or in person. I also collected some literature from them if I was really interested.
- Day Three: I spent the last day doing a more general walk of the show. I had highlighted some of the exhibits I wanted to see like new product showcases and special exhibits and popped into booths that caught my eye.
- Back at the Office: Based on my research I was able to make an informed decision on some decorative hardware lines to carry in my showroom. Attending the show and approaching it this way was valuable and saved me countless hours of trying to research these firms. I also came away with some great finds!
My preference is to walk shows alone or with only one other colleague.
If you try to view a design trade show with a group, you will find that it will be difficult to keep track of everyone, and you will spend more time looking for each other than interacting with the venders.
If you must attend in a large group, suggest to the team that you all spread out and reconvene in an hour or so to compare notes.
This way you can get the insights of the others, but you can view at your own pace.
If you are there for the day, you can do this a few times.
You can also make a game of it by having everyone pick their top booth and visit these venders as a group near the end of the day.
SOCIALIZING AND NETWORKING
Design tradeshows offer ample opportunities to socialize and network.
Venders often have off site events and you will be running into other designers that you only get to see in person once or twice a year.
For invites to manufacture events you should check with your local supplier to see if there is anything planned for the show. Often you need to be “on the list” to attend and arranging an invite before you leave is a good idea.
If you attend an offsite supplier event don’t huddle with your work buddies but get out there and make some new contacts.
Maybe you can have friendly competition with a colleague on how many new contacts you can make at an event.
Also, know when to cut your losses. I have attended events that were so overcrowded and loud that it was impossible to network, and it made more sense to make a discrete exit.
Also, look for networking events that have a start and stop time.
Some great examples can be on-the-floor events that run at the end of the day until an hour or so after the floor closes. Or a breakfast meet & greet event to kick off your day.
These types of events allow you to spend a set amount of time networking with the group and then move on to something else.
If you like to meet up with designer friends you only see a few times a year, preplan a lunch or coffee date.
Reach out before attending the show and get the “date” into your calendar.
This way you know you will see them and will not have to rely on a chance meeting.
If you decide that dinner would be great, make a reservation. Restaurants fill up quickly and again, you don’t want to stand hours in line.
Once you are back at the office from a design tradeshow, put aside some time to reflect.
If you work for a firm, you could put together a presentation of the show and share it with co-workers that did not attend.
This way additional people will benefit from your trade show experience and it forces you to organize your notes.
If you work on your own, still spend some time organizing your notes. File these notes on your computer and look at them when you plan the following years design tradeshow schedule.
I find that regularly attending design trade shows is a great way to keep up with the Kitchen & Bath industry and encourage you to attend when possible.
Happy travels and maybe I’ll see you at KBIS this year!
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Jan Rutgers has been designing kitchens and products for over 25 years and is a recipient of Kitchen & Bath Design News’ Top Innovators in 2020 for the Kitchen & Bath Industry. She has designed more than 1000 kitchens learning valuable skills with each one! Her experience in Kitchen Design, Millwork Manufacturing and Product Development has led her to create VESTABUL SCHOOL OF DESIGN where she educates and mentors people passionate about the Kitchen Design Industry.