Business Basics: How to Gain the Most From a Trade Show

My first NAMA Expo was in October of 1996 in St. Louis, Mo. It was a great show. My partners and I met so many knowledgeable and professional people. It was well worth the investment of time and dollars to travel from Washington, D.C. to the Gateway City. We learned valuable insight from vending industry leaders, caught up on the latest technology (circa 1996!), and we made lasting business connections with many suppliers and operators.

This year's show, the 2007 NAMA Spring Expo, at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas, is just around the corner. The Supervisor Development Program begins Tuesday, April 10, and the trade show floor opens on Thursday, April 12. Both events run through Friday, April 13.

Don't miss out on an opportunity
Are you registered yet? The Expo will prove again to be a great opportunity to learn, network, do business and have some fun. Nearly 5,000 vending business leaders, service providers and suppliers will participate.

The opportunities to meet colleagues, share best practices and discover ways to increase your sales and tap new markets, are limitless.
It's all up to you.

Make the most out of your attendance at the event. It starts with a little pre-Expo preparation.

It doesn't matter if this is your very first Expo, or your 20th. A little planning will go a long way. Here are 12 valuable tips for both veteran and newbie NAMA Expo attendees about how you can maximize your participation in Las Vegas.

1) Identify your current business needs
Take a detailed inventory of your equipment and product needs. Do you need more machines, more Hershey bars or Pepsi-Cola products? Write it down and keep the list handy. The NAMA Expo provides an excellent opportunity to acquire Show Specials and secure the best manufacturer rebates for the year.

Be prepared to negotiate, and you will be able to take advantage of special sale opportunities that are available only during the show.

2) Identify your current business challenges
In addition to equipment and products, identify your top three business challenges today. Be specific. Perhaps it's finding new customers, figuring out how to best position your company in a crowded market, or retaining a quality work force.

Whatever challenges you face, there are hundreds of vending leaders in the same boat, and hundreds of others who are successfully addressing those issues. You can learn from all of them.

Make it a point to discuss these challenges with vending leaders you meet at the show.

Of course, these challenges are always top of mind in your everyday business life, and by having them on the tip of your tongue at the show, you can turn small trade show chatter into an opportunity to glean valuable business advice and insight from fellow vending leaders. Likewise, share your experiences and what works for your company.

3) Register early
Making your arrangements early is smart business sense. Signing up in advance saves you money … not only for the Expo, but also for the hotel and flight. As a member of NAMA, early Expo registration is only $25.

4) Plot Your Course of Action
When you first reach the show floor, pick up an exhibitor booklet and pinpoint which exhibitors you want to visit and the seminars you want to attend. Write down your plan and check off your goals as you achieve them. I counsel all my clients to "Plan the Work … Work the Plan." This goes for marketing plans, business plans and trade show plans. Time goes by fast during these Expos, so time management is crucial.

5) Network in Advance
Before the Expo, speak with your supplier representatives and schedule one-on-one meetings (away from the show floor) with them during the Expo. This is a valuable time to build relationships and an understanding for each other's business. Also, give your operator friends around the country a call to discuss their plans for the Expo. Schedule time to meet for breakfast, lunch or dinner. These are great opportunities to exchange ideas and learn what is working and not working for operators in other markets.

6) Network Upon Arrival
Attend the NAMA Spring Fling networking event on Thursday, April 12 at 5 p.m. This is a great opportunity to introduce yourself to fellow attendees and exhibitors. In addition, attend any special supplier briefings, cocktail parties or dinners. Meeting new people in non-competing markets and expanding your professional network of industry colleagues is critical to your long-term success. Don't forget your business cards!

7) Enroll in the Quality Coffee Certification Program (QCCP)
I attended the Quality Coffee Certification Program last year during the NAMA Expo in Orlando, Fla. Operators, both vending and coffee service, should enroll in this excellent course. Coffee is a great growth opportunity for both vending and OCS. This seminar offers operators a chance to become coffee experts. This knowledge and certification can provide a definite competitive advantage in the marketplace. As a marketing counselor serving vending and OCS operators, I learned a great deal about how to serve a great cup of coffee, the coffee roasting process, the coffee brewing process and the water filtration process.

8) Attend the Educational Seminars and Sessions
All of the educational seminars provide up-to-date information and the latest trends in vending, coffee service, food service and technology. Here are a few you should consider for yourself and your employees:

Sign your supervisors up for NAMA's 3-day Supervisor Development Program. This program was specifically created for your recently appointed as well as experienced supervisors and managers.

Starting Tuesday April 10, this program is designed to equip all supervisors with tools, goals and training to help them become effective team leaders.

Attend Prof. Mike Kasavana's session entitled "Understanding Remote Machine Monitoring." Scheduled for Friday April 13, this unique technology session discusses the ins and outs of wired and wireless telemetry so vending operators can improve profits by detecting product shortages, mechanical failures and insufficient change.

Register for consultant Brad Bachtelle's category management seminar, a comprehensive half day seminar on Wednesday April 11 that provides a proven system for increasing location sales through enhanced product selection and merchandising.
For a full list of sessions, visit the NAMA Website,

9) Reward Your Outstanding Employees
Offering a great employee the opportunity to attend the NAMA Expo in Las Vegas is an excellent reward for hard work and outstanding performance. Enrolling them into the 3-day Supervisor Development Program will be a positive continuing education experience.

10) Dress for Success
Business casual as well as business attire is appropriate for the NAMA Expo. You are representing your business, so how you dress is important. Wearing comfortable shoes also is an absolute must.

11) Take Time to Visit and Engage Each Exhibitor
Each exhibitor invested a tremendous amount of money to meet you …the vending operator and coffee service operator attending the Expo. You never know … a new exhibitor may have a new beverage, snack or machine that may help your business increase its sales or win new accounts.

12) Take Great Notes
Whether you are on the show floor meeting with a supplier or attending an educational seminar, it is important to take notes. Trade shows are action packed and information packed. The only way to remember the who, what, where, when and why is to write it down.

Have fun … but stay focused!

This is your business. Stay focused on your goals and your agenda. Each show is a great opportunity for building your business, learning and continuing education. Late nights can affect your breakfast meetings or early seminars.

Setting goals and being prepared in advance will allow you to get the most from attending the 2007 NAMA Spring Expo in Las Vegas. Getting a firm grasp of what you would like to achieve before and during the Expo will ensure the greatest return on your investment of time and participation.