Trade Show Strategies


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[T]he coffee and tea industries hold frequent trade shows worth attending, from regional shows and competitions to major events like SCAA, Coffee Fest, and World Tea Expo. These conventions are not only fun but a great way to witness industry innovations, meet suppliers, and mingle with industry leaders. If done correctly, attending a trade show can help you expand your knowledge, develop new product ideas, and ultimately increase your profitability.

For the independent café, trade shows can also be very expensive to enjoy. For one person to attend a four-day trade show in another state, costs can run over $1,000. That’s a lot of money for an independent shop, so it’s important to make sure the expense is worthwhile.

Careful planning can ensure you get the most out of your time and money. If we break a trade show into three parts—the show floor, classes and seminars, and networking—we can better understand how trade shows benefit business.

[T]here is plenty to see and do on the show floor. Sometimes it may seem overwhelming. Decide what is most important for you to see by looking over the list of attendees and writing up a list of which vendors you’d most like to meet, and who you believe would most benefit your company. Reach out ahead of time to those who are your top priority and tell them you are coming. You can often make appointments and make sure the specific person you want to meet with will be at their booth.

Another priority should be to talk with your current suppliers. Meeting the people you buy from face-to-face can give those suppliers a better understanding of your needs, and ensure products match your business. Equally important is the opportunity to discover new suppliers. You may find products that better meet the needs of your business, a better price or a more cost-effective product overall. Talk with suppliers and you may get ideas for how to run your business more efficiently.

You can also find ways to expand your business. Coffee and tea trade shows attract a diverse group of businesses including dishware purveyors, packagers, roasters, and food suppliers. The trade show floor is typically filled with new products you can sell, fresh and trendy design ideas, and new ingredients for your bar to create a deeper drink lineup. As you walk the show and talk to people, take notes and think about how you can take these products and ideas back with you to improve your shop.

[M]ost trade shows also offer a variety of classes, lectures, and workshops that can help you improve your business. These classes are usually conducted by industry leaders with years of experience, and there is usually a question-and-answer period following each class—don’t miss an opportunity to get expert advice about your business.

You probably can’t go to every class, so scout out the courses ahead of time, and attend those that will most benefit your business. Many of these classes are an hour long at no additional charge, although some are more intensive, all-day classes that charge a nominal fee.

[T]rade shows are a great place to meet people within the industry who have new ideas or may have gone through some of the same trials you‘ve experienced. It’s smart business to build contacts with other retailers you can communicate with, whether you’re feeling inspired or experiencing difficulties.

Networking at shows is also a great way to discover profitable new concepts and products to bring back to your shop. Mingling with representatives from other parts of the country or world means you can be the first in your town with new equipment, and new ideas. SCAA says twenty-nine percent of their attendees are from outside the United States. Many of those people will have radical ideas you could riff on (and they’ll be looking for fresh concepts from you, too).

As with visiting the show floor, it’s a good idea to plan ahead when networking. Use the show guide to see which vendors and speakers are attending, and contact them prior to the show. Often other people from the same company will be with them as well. When you finally meet them face-to-face, ask for introductions to other attendees.

Most shows include a series of parties and other networking events. Usually upon registration you will receive e-mails inviting you to some. As you roam the show floor, ask about smaller parties, too. Most vendors will happily encourage you to join their sponsored events.

Although trade shows can be expensive, they can also be a great way to increase your long-term profitability. The return on your investment of attending can be increased sales generated by new ideas, decreased costs by the discovery of better products, and improved business practices through seminars and networking. Careful planning prior to attending a show can ensure you get the most out of the experience.

Chris Legler develops financial strategies and provides CFO services for small- and medium-sized businesses.

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