Canvassing an exhibition as large and diverse as the Athletic Business Conference & Expo — with its 260 vendors encompassing everything from sports architecture to team apparel — can be a time-management challenge, if not outright intimidating. It doesn't need to be. AB asked frequent ABC visitors to put on comfortable shoes and walk us through their tricks of the trade show floor. Here's what we learned:
1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK.
The ABC exhibitor list is available in advance. Use it to your advantage before even departing for New Orleans. "Share the exhibitor list with others in your department or organization, asking for their equipment and product needs," suggests Gord Bullock, Athletic Centre coordinator at Havergal College in Toronto. "Establish a hit list and contact prior to the conference exhibitors you know you need to see." Diane Dahlmann, director of MizzouRec at the University of Missouri, likewise encourages the preshow phone exchange. "This will allow you the chance to know who will be there representing the company," she says, "and it will help put you at the front of the line."
2. PLAN YOUR ROUTE.
Many attendees opt to start in one corner of the hall and work their way up and down each aisle until they reach the opposite corner, but those seeking a direct path to specific exhibitors can easily do so. "ABC offers a great map of the trade show floor, listing all vendors and their locations," says Bernie Hurley, sports facilities officer for the Town of Oromocto in New Brunswick. "This will allow you to not only visit the booths you are interested in but travel the trade show floor efficiently."
Dahlmann takes the extra step of breaking down her exhibitor targets into tiers. "Purchasing decisions are first tier, hardcore research is second priority, and general curiosity about a product or service is third," she says, adding, "Grazing is last!"
Says Bullock, "Early-Morning Workouts in the hall are a must if you are preparing to purchase new fitness equipment." Not a morning person? Most ABC exhibits encourage interaction with the products on display during all show hours and during vendor-sponsored activities — an ideal time to "test drive" a product on your wish list, according to Hurley. "Dress for the demo," adds Dahlmann. "Be prepared to actively engage with the equipment you are considering under real conditions."
5. CARRY A SWAG BAG.
"Take advantage of one of the bags that many of the vendors give out as you may wind up with quite a lot of giveaways," says Dru Boulware, director of the Oviedo (Fla.) Recreation & Parks Department. "That's right, free stuff," adds Hurley. "Many of the vendors hand out product samples. Drop by these booths and ask for a demo or ask some questions about their product, and you could walk away with such items as T-shirts, handbags and water bottles." Dahlmann urges you to exercise restraint and keep it green, however. "Only take what you need from a vendor booth," she says. "Promotional materials are costly to produce and heavy to haul home."
6. MAKE REAL CONTACT.
Bring plenty of your own business cards and prepare to part with them. That way, "vendors can send you information that you request, to keep you from carrying information back with you on the plane," says Boulware. Meanhile, collect just as many business cards — if not more. "The majority of the vendors are experts in their fields, which allows you as an attendee to easily add valuable contacts to your contact list," Hurley says. "This alone is priceless!"
7. TALK TURKEY.
Given the show's timing, salespeople in attendance may be willing to negotiate an end-of-year price break. "Ask about show specials," Bullock says. "If you have purchasing authority, you may be able to purchase at the show. I have made purchases at a reduced list price, and that savings has paid for my conference attendance."
8. TAKE PHOTOS.
Nothing will clear up confusion about the myriad products witnessed firsthand on the show floor than visual evidence after the fact. "Make sure you have your phone so that you can take pictures of anything and everything that interests you," Boulware says.
9. DON'T RUSH.
"I've learned from experience," Hurley says. "By rushing through the trade show floor, you will miss so many phenomenal displays and opportunities to connect with industry leaders." Adds Bullock, "I rarely get through the exhibit hall in one visit. Plan on at least two visits to the hall."
10. HAVE FUN.
"The atmosphere is electric on the trade show floor," says Hurley. "Remember, not only is this one of the largest, it is without a doubt the best trade show of its kind. It truly is an impressive sight."
This article originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Ten Tips for Maximizing Your Expo Experience"