Trade Show Tips For First-Timers

Have you ever been to a trade show abroad? It can get wayyy crazy and overwhelming!

Trade shows are a great way to scout for new suppliers and get fresh product ideas. With advanced planning and preparation, you can maximize your trade show trip into a very productive and profitable experience.

Here are some key tips to remember:

1. You Have To Pay…

Admission a trade show is usually free, but it comes with expenses. You have to account for airfare, accommodations and daily expenses, but it’s an investment.

There are local trade show in the Philippines that you can visit, but I highly recommend traveling abroad. It has a different atmosphere and is an entirely new environment buzzing with innovation. You can be the first to bring whatever product, service or technology from abroad to the Philippines.

China is a popular destination as it practically manufactures everything, but there are trade shows around the world that specialize in different niches. Example: The Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas, or automotive trade shows in Germany.

Prepare your hotel and airline bookings ahead of time, since trade shows are peak tourist seasons for the host city. For me, the monetary cost is worth it. It’s an invaluable learning experience that can’t be found in an MBA classroom or Youtube.

2. … But There Are Ways To Save.

On our recent trade fair trip to Guangzhou, we received 3 nights complimentary stay at the Westin Pazhou. It easily saved us a lot of money, especially since the Westin is a 5-star hotel and is the nearest hotel to the actual trade fair venue.

Trade show organizers offer a lot of incentives for foreign buyers to attend. The organizers market the attendance of foreign buyers per country to the exhibitors they are marketing to. Take advantage of the fact that you are a foreign buyer and get invited to special plenary sessions with industry leaders, welcome banquets among incentives and perks. Recently, we were invited to trade shows in Taiwan that even offered to shoulder our airfare! (We passed because I am too pregnant to travel already.)

3. Supplier Scouting

Before the actual trade show event, ask the organizers to e-mail you the list of exhibitors. Trade shows cover thousands of square meters of space and it can be physically and mentally exhausting going through each one.

You can be more focused and less prone to distractions when you have a game plan. List the top product categories/industries you want to check out first. Because of the notorious size of trade fairs and the crowds they bring, it can be very discouraging and nakakatamad to go back to look for a booth you went to.

Taking it a step further, you can already touch base with exhibitors in advance and ask them to bring samples for you to buy.

4. Samples= Life.

For me, the main perk for going to trade shows are the samples, samples and samples! Aside from all the learning and networking, being at the trade show allows you to see products up close and determine the quality and fit to your business.

Instead of the usual tedious process of exchanging e-mails, negotiating, coordinating,  paying, then waiting waiting waiting for your sample to arrive, you can buy samples of products you like right then and there!

Extra Tips:

  • Exhibitors usually wait until the last day to sell their samples, especially if they only brought one of that item.
  • Make sure you bring cash, or have a friend who has WeChat Pay or Alipay, as those are the preferred methods of payment.
  • Establish a good rapport with exhibitors. If you share more about your business and they feel you are sincere and want to establish a good relationship with them, they can give you the samples for free!
  • Bring your largest luggage and stuff everything there – brochures, freebies, samples. Then bring a small one to take with you to the trade show itself so that you don’t have to carry so much heavy stuff.

5. Take Photos & Write Everything Down

My memory is not as reliable as it was pre-babies, so I’ve learned to keep a record of everything during trade shows. There’s just so much information exchanged that it can get confusing remembering who is selling what and at what price!

Ask exhibitors to write the prices of their items on their brochures for your later review.

Also, ask for their calling cards and snap a photo of the calling card beside the item you are interested in. This will come in handy when you come home and start contacting your prospective suppliers.


6. Be China Ready.

Whether you’re going to a trade show in Guangzhou, Shanghai, or Shenzhen, be ready for the crowds and for the smoke. Even if the venue prohibits smoking, you’ll be sure to grasp faint (or heavier) hints of cigarette smoke.

Crowds can also be overwhelming as locals can elbow their way through popular booths.

Language isn’t a big concern as most exhibitors speak English well. Once in a while, you’ll have language barriers but it’s nothing that a few fingers pointing and taps on the calculator can’t solve.

I hope this article has been helpful in planning your first trade show experience. If you’re interested in learning more, we share more trade show and product sourcing secrets at our Sourcing and Importation Workshop.


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