As the vape and smoke shop industry continues to evolve, so too must your marketing strategies and priorities in order to keep your store as profitable as possible. As more retail businesses turn to the internet for fast – and often free – grassroots style marketing solutions, the tradition of industry trade shows remains among the top of many successful store owner and manager’s lists of what keeps their business ahead of the competitor’s curve. But, like any marketing effort, there are ways to maximize every bit of your travel and trade show budget too.

B2B, or Business-to-Business, trade shows offer what has otherwise become a rare opportunity for manufacturers, distributors, and wholesale buyers to meet face to face and for products to be touched and felt and better understood.

Often held in regional destination cities like Las Vegas, Atlantic City, or Denver, the sheer number of B2B trade shows involved with our industry seems to be growing as quickly as the industry itself. While the evolution and growth of ancillary events like vape and smoke shop related trade shows is certainly a positive thing, nobody can afford to attend them all, and nobody wants that feeling that they just wasted a whole lot of time and money attending a poorly organized event that doesn’t help them grow their business.

Choosing the right show, in the right place, at the right time can make or break your fiscal quarter. As a buyer, you should be looking for well-established shows with proven track records. Then you need to decide what your own goal is for that show. Are you looking for deals, or hoping to discover the next big thing?

According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), for over 25 years running, the #1 reason for trade show attendees to show up is to see new products. A whopping 92% of those polled in 2013 said that their top priority for attending a trade show was to see the latest and greatest that the industry had to offer.

The exhibitors – manufacturers, artists, and distributors – have taken note of these trends and typically try to time new product launches and promotion with trade shows and events for this reason. So for you, the buyer, it is a perfect opportunity to meet the men and women behind your favorite brands and learn firsthand about the features and selling points for what could be tomorrow’s hottest product.

With that said, the trade show floor is packed with deals on today’s must-have brands and items as well, and the savvy buyer can walk away from a booth with a much better deal then they may get online or over the phone.

Of course, it’s not all about deals. The education and selling points that you can take away from these shows can payoff year round for you and your store’s sales staff.

Ideally, you will be able to attend 2-3 major trade shows each year – near the beginning, again in the summer, and one more in the fall. Again according to CEIR, nearly half (45%) of trade show attendees only make it to one show each year. So, if you can make it to at least two, you are way ahead of half of your competitors.

Also, CEIR finds that 78% of exhibiting companies attend two or more shows each year. You really begin to see these stats in action when you attend multiple shows a year, and more and more faces become more and more familiar. Not only is it human nature to want to meet each other in person and to shake hands with the salespeople you have dealt with over the phone for months, it can have added financial benefits if you meet and befriend the right people.
The Buyer’s Industry Guide Show, or BIG Trade Show, has recognized the desire people have to interact with one another on a personal level, and mixed it with our growing dependence on social media apps. Their Denver show earlier this year featured the unveiling of their free new smartphone app that looks and works a lot like Facebook, but is populated by the exhibitors and attendees of the show.

They launched the app in the months leading up to the Denver show, giving everyone the opportunity to reach out and set up after-hours meetings before they even hit the city. Denver in April has no lack of fun networking opportunities, and the trade show organizers made it easier to plan than ever.

Events like the semi-annual CHAMPS Trade Shows always offer high-grade after parties on the nights after their 3-day shows. These parties, and random dinner or get-together invitations you may stumble into, give you the chance to rub elbows with such a cool variety of people – the people of our industry. Every hand you shake could be the one that takes your business to the next level. For all of its many benefits, that is something that internet apps like Instagram still cannot offer.

Similarly, the internet may allow you to compare a specific product between two separate distributors, but if they both have that product for the same price, sometimes a side-by-side comparison of personalities on a trade show floor can make all the difference between beginning a regretful or a rewarding relationship.

Just like you have a marketing budget, so do the companies exhibiting at the shows, and seeing who is there and how they showcase themselves can let you know who the real pros are. So when you meet a motivated and smiling salesman near the end of the third day of a 3-day event, it’s usually a good sign of the service you’ll get from that company for the rest of the year.

Trade shows do still matter, and they depend on you.

By supporting the artists, distributors, and manufacturers with orders placed at these shows, and with long-lasting and rewarding relationships down the road, the entire industry continues to grow and the rising tide continues to raise all of our ships. SVBS

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Jack “Guru” Riordan is the Senior Account Manager at Masterminded Distribution. Jack brings well over a decade of high level sales and marketing experience to the table. Jack can be reached at 949.420.0507, or by email at [email protected], or visit their website at www.master-minded.com.