There’s No Biz Like Show Biz

By Stuart Craig

The holidays are just a memory, and spring break is right around the corner. Hey! It must be nearly trade-show season. Ah, the annual pilgrimage to the City of Sin, where gambling is king–whether that’s with your personal money in the casinos, or with your open-to-buy at the convention center. Those annual multi-day marathons at the SnowSports Industries America trade show take their toll on one and all, but there are ways to beat at least some of the grimness.

Map Out Your Strategy

According to Sandy Black, vice president of retail operations for Intrawest, “Shows are very time-wasting, so you want to try to work the show efficiently. If you end up running back and forth for your appointments, you piss away a lot of time.”

And, as the saying goes, time is money. “Time is at a premium for everyone,” says Craig Wilson, vice president of Flow boots and bindings. “From a retail point of view, figure out who you need to see at a booth and make an appointment ahead of time. There’s nothing worse than not being able to see the guy you need to see if you just go by, and Murphy’s Law says that he will absolutely not be available.”

Before The Show Even Begins

While nuts-and-bolts details of managing the daily grind are important, pre-trip planning is crucial for both retailers and manufacturers. And that doesn’t mean merely making appointments ahead of time (which is a given).

“Pay attention to deadlines,” says Gary Bracelin, Morrow’s Northwest rep. “Go to the pre shows, get in, get it done, get the best discount. Then you can look at other options.”

Take Care Of Yourself

“Wear comfortable shoes, and don’t get drunk the night before the first day,” advises Bracelin. “If you live by those two rules, you’ll have a great show.

“Take the time, stop, and eat one decent meal a day, and get some sleep,” he adds.

Yep, those are the basics. The few golden rules of working a trade show that many talk about, but few actaully follow.

“We spend all five days at SIA, and we have appointments every hour,” says Mark Richards, president of Val Surf. “It’s pretty grueling, so I take it easy. I go out, have a nice dinner, maybe do some order-writing in the room, then that’s it. I just keep telling myself that it’s the most important business trip for us.”

Find A Buying Strategy Right For You

Buying, like pre-show planning, is not an exact science. For some retailers it’s a matter of numbers, open-to-buy reports, and spreadsheets.

“We go into shows with complete historical information on our sales,” says Black. “We’ve figured out our open-to-buy, and we go knowing exactly what we want. Until you’ve seen all the programs from all the different vendors, you can’t really build your own program.”

Such discipline may have to do with size: while all Intrawest resorts for the most part buy independently, Black functions primarily as “Intrawest support” for the 171 stores run by the company. He notes that, “Some deals are big enough to do company-wide,” a situation he oversees.

For others, buying is a little more fluid, a delicate balance between emotions and equations. “In our business, operating from your gut, rather than just by numbers, can be od,” says Richards. “Obviously you have your budget, and other sales figures, but I don’t have preconceived open-to-buy. I think you lose some flexibility that way by having clearly defined open-to-buy figures. I think as a result we can adjust to trends quicker than big corporations.”

Success Is In The Details

But whether retailer or manufacturer, numbers jock or seat-of-the-pants pilot, the key ingredient is intelligence.

“The smart buyer does not base his buy as a percentage of what he bought, but as a percentage increase over what he actually sold,” summarizes Flow’s Wilson, “and the smart reps already know what they want to sell to their accounts.” Success, he believes, is in the details. “A rep should be able to tell the dealer what was booked last year, what was reordered, and if the rep is really on the ball–which he needs to be–what is still in the store. If you don’t have that information, you miss an opportunity.”

Manufacturers, meanwhile, will miss an opportunity if their booth isn’t effective. “Design your booth to grab attention,” says Jono Zacharias, sales director of 686. “If someone has never seen you, his or her impression is from the booth at the show. The whole image of the company is important. You have to make sure your image is available.”

It’s not, therefore, merely “build it and they will come;” it’s “build it well, and they will come.”

“I don’t like to drag someone out of the aisle. I prefer to let buyers make their own decisions,” says Zacharias. Once they’re in, bolstering their pleasant experience is another facet of good booth craft. We like to give something special, a little present on the way out,” explains Zacharias. “It’s a reminder, as well as a ‘thank you’ for taking the time to check us out.”

But beware, cautions Morrow’s Bracelin, of offering too much of a good thing: “Cookies and girls at your booth, both seem to be a big draw. But I don’t know how much they actually affect sales.”

And just as dogs can smell fear, retailers can sense authenticity–or the lack thereof–immediately. “I can usually tell in a few seconds if a new clothing line or some new thing will work in my store,” says Richards. “Likewise, you can spot something of value pretty quickly. Not just the look, but the talk and hype that’s going on at the show. That adds to my decisions.”

Avoid Temptation

At the base, trade shows exist for one reason: all the wares from all the suppliers are in one place to help dealers make decisions. But there’s a kind of Biblical parallel. Shows are like the Garden of Eden, a paradise of product, right down to that pesky apple.

“Shows are emotional, and it’s easy to get caught up in them,” says Black. “I don’t believe you should spend money at a trade show. Purchasing today is way more sophisticated than most of us believe, so to go to a show, go into a booth, speak to vendor, and then write paper, I’m not sure it addresses your true needs.”

Richards agrees: “I don’t use trade shows to write orders. I have found that when I do write at the show, they’re not as accurately placed, and the sell-through is not as good. I find it’s better to order while in the store.”

The shows, Richards says, are for shopping, not buying: “I use shows for looking, for comparing vendors. I usually make order decisions before going, and most of our snowboard orders, for lines we’ve dealt with year after year, I have those done before the show.”

Think Outside The Box

And in case all this advice for show survival, like the show itself, catches you up in its emotional whirlwind, here’s the Monty Python approach: something completely different, just for perspective.

“The best trade show starts November first,” says one retailer under the promise of anonymity. “That’s when you can get on the phone and tell manufacturers what you’ll pay. Every year, they’re cutting deals earlier. Supply is greater than demand. Next year, the deals will probably start in October.”

The backlog of product left over from last year, the large amounts of stuff sitting in limbo in Asia, the prospect of a warm winter, and a continued production schedule mean that insane deals, sadly, are everywhere.

“Sam’s Club is selling the same brand name boards I have for $199.99. That’s less than I paid for them!” says the indignant retailer. “Why spend the money to go to Vegas? My only ‘trade show’ is being on the phone in the fall. I’ll save my money and go to Baja and have some fun.”

ng, and most of our snowboard orders, for lines we’ve dealt with year after year, I have those done before the show.”

Think Outside The Box

And in case all this advice for show survival, like the show itself, catches you up in its emotional whirlwind, here’s the Monty Python approach: something completely different, just for perspective.

“The best trade show starts November first,” says one retailer under the promise of anonymity. “That’s when you can get on the phone and tell manufacturers what you’ll pay. Every year, they’re cutting deals earlier. Supply is greater than demand. Next year, the deals will probably start in October.”

The backlog of product left over from last year, the large amounts of stuff sitting in limbo in Asia, the prospect of a warm winter, and a continued production schedule mean that insane deals, sadly, are everywhere.

“Sam’s Club is selling the same brand name boards I have for $199.99. That’s less than I paid for them!” says the indignant retailer. “Why spend the money to go to Vegas? My only ‘trade show’ is being on the phone in the fall. I’ll save my money and go to Baja and have some fun.”