One of the best places to search for suppliers is at a trade show. There are many benefits to attending a trade show to find suppliers:
- Trade shows are where manufacturers and wholesalers typically display their hottest, newest products—often, far in advance of the product’s actual launch to the general public.
- Trade shows let you view a wide range of products all at one time, so you can compare prices, features, and overall quality. You can see and touch the products, and often get free samples.
- Trade shows enable you to network face-to-face with hundreds of new contacts—which is still important even in today’s online world.
- Trade show exhibitors often offer special price breaks only available at the show—good news for a startup business watching every penny.
TSNN.com and Tradeshow Week both have searchable directories of trade shows around the world. You can search by date, location, industry, or event name. You can also find out about upcoming trade shows in your area by contacting your local chamber of commerce or convention center. In addition, your industry trade association may have its own trade show. (Make sure you’re searching for wholesale trade shows. (Some trade shows, which are open to the public, feature retailers and you won’t get wholesale prices there.)
With thousands of trade shows each year, how do you narrow down your choices? Generally, if you are only going to one show, you’ll want to go to the biggest one in your industry. However, it’s also important to find out what companies will be exhibiting. Go to the show’s Web site; if you can’t find a list of exhibitors there, contact the show organizers and ask them. Be sure the show has enough relevant exhibitors to make it worth your while. For instance, if there are specific product lines you want to sell, are those companies exhibiting? Finally, ask others in your industry what shows they think are most valuable.
Before the Show
Get your business paperwork in order. If you haven’t already done so, obtain your business license and tax identification number (contact your state’s department of licensing for these) as well as a resale certificate, which enables you to buy products wholesale (contact your state’s department of revenue). You need these to pre-register for the show and to buy products there. You also need business cards and a professional email address (you don’t want to be emailing potential suppliers from email@example.com.).
Pre-register for the event. Go to the show’s Web site to register ahead of time. You’ll save time on the day of the show.
Know your goal. Are you trying to get an overall sense of all the products available? Or are you looking for a specific type of product (children’s board games) or specific brands? Do you want to actually buy inventory or is your visit just exploratory? Having specific goals in mind keeps you from getting overwhelmed.
Be prepared. Trade-show veterans bring rolling carryon suitcases to lug home all the literature and samples they gather at the show. Also bring several hundred business cards, a calculator, your business checkbook, your resale certificate, a notebook, and pens.
At the Show
Scope it out. Arrive when the show begins to maximize your time. Before you start walking the floor, pick up a show directory, which has contact info for all the exhibiting companies and a map of the floor. (Sometimes you can get this info ahead of time at the show’s Web site). Map out the booths you want to see. Directories often have contact info that’s for retailers only and not available anywhere else, so hold onto these.
Collect information. Get all the literature you can and samples when possible. Suppliers can’t display all of their products, so grab product catalogs. Even if nothing displayed at a booth looks interesting to you, there might be something in the catalog that you want to buy.
Make contact. Talk to people in the booths, but keep it short. Exhibitors are busy, so know the questions you need to ask beforehand. Take notes and exchange business cards. Be friendly and professional.
Look at the big picture. Note overall trends that you see at the show. Are certain colors, materials, or types of products predominating? Even if they are not directly relevant to your business, these trends can give you ideas.
If you see something you want to buy, now is the time. What if you don’t have the budget? Ask the exhibitor if you can place an order now for later delivery, maybe six months down the line, at the same show pricing. Many will say yes.
Karen Axelton is Chief Content Officer at GrowBiz Media (growbizmedia.com), a content and consulting company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses.