museums&MORE Summer 2018
Getting the most out of your trade show experience

Tips on navigating the trade show floor and working with vendors

Buyers, when a vendor says hello to you in the isle of a market or show, extend a nice “hello” back to them. Vendors are hungry for that first contact and the chance to show off their products. That simple “hello” could start a great business relationship or a longtime friendship.

Vendors pay thousands of dollars to see buyers at shows and markets, and they’re under pressure to gain new customers. One of the only ways to do that is to engage buyers as they walk by, so take a few minutes (if you can) and listen to what they have to offer. Sometimes they’ll show you items you may not have seen with a glance of the booth.

Be patient

If you do not have an appointment with a vendor, be patient and respectful of other buyers that do. Always ask the vendor if this is a good time to see them, if not set up a time to come back. Also, understand common courtesy when seeing a vendor, do not yell at them in a middle of a meeting, do not ask for products from their booth during the show or market and take your turn with style and grace. Courtesy goes a long way with a vendor and your fellow buyers.

Don’t feel guilty for not buying

Sure, you will make friends in this industry, but you must separate your friendship from your buying choices. Sometimes your friendships will get you great deals with the vendor, but they are only great if you can sell them. Also, do not let vendors pressure you. If they do; excuse yourself from the booth and tell them you will return later after you have had some time to think about the product(s) they are offering.

Share successes and missed opportunities

Many vendors get ideas from other buyers that they are willing to share to make your retail location more profitable. If you are seeing a longtime vendor, start with your reorders and some small talk. This will give you time to get your thoughts together and look around the booth. It is always a good idea to ask your vendor to show you new items.

Share your mission and expectations

If your company cannot have items made outside the USA, let your vendor know that. This will save time for everyone involved and help the vendor show you items that will work for your location. If they have nothing for you, they might be able to suggest a booth that will.

Be open and honest

Let them know if their costs are too high or that the artwork needs a little help. Feedback is invaluable to your vendors and they cannot help you as the buyer unless you let them know your needs on costs and designs. Buyers ensure you are paying your vendors under the terms you agreed too, as they have bills to pay as well.

Working together on costs, terms and art is very important in these vendor/buyer relationships, as everyone wins when all these points come together.

Tommy Brown is the retail manager/conservation buyer for the Saint Louis Zoo and a member of the Zoo & Aquarium Buyers Group (ZAG). He also is a member of the Museums & More editorial advisory board. 

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