Operators Describe What Helps Them Buy At Trade Shows


Trade shows are an investment of both time and money. Knowing how to get the most out of any show can help exhibitors see the return on investment they were hoping for when they filled out their registration form.

Understanding what attendees like to see is one of the first steps to guaranteeing a successful visit at a show. When heading to a trade show, some attendees like to browse the aisles, while others hit the floor with a specific plan in place and a list of booths they plan to visit.

Exhibitors can increase their odds of getting on an attendee’s must-visit list by providing detailed information about their products and services in the trade show guide. Dave Shoemaker, president of Shoemaker’s Truck Station in Lincoln, Neb., said, “Most of the time the show guide gives some type of an outline of what an exhibitor’s product is. It would be helpful if it were more specific.” Shoemaker noted that he reads through show guides and circles the booths he wants to visit before he arrives.

Shoemaker breaks his show-floor stops into a few categories. “There are exhibitors we already do business with, so I stop by and thank them and look at their new products if they have them. Then there are the targeted ones I’ve circled that I make sure I see and then there are the ones I see that I think I want more time with,” he explained. If time is limited, Shoemaker will leave his card or pick up a card from the booth and follow up when he returns home.

Rick Lewis, owner of TR Truck Plaza in Dandridge, Tenn., has some health issues that keep him from walking a full trade show floor, so plans his visits well ahead of time. “I typically know who I want to meet with before I get to the show. If I’m feeling good, I’ll also do some wandering, but I usually take my list,” he said.

For those who are simply browsing, product demonstrations and displays can help catch their eye. Truckstop operators consistently said they like to see the products they’re considering purchasing. “I like to see an example rather than just a brochure, especially if it is a new technology or a new innovation,” said Bill Vollenweider, owner of the Detroiter Travel Center in Woodhaven, Mich.

Dirk Binnema, owner of Planeview Travel Plaza in Oshkosh, Wis., typically does a lot of browsing at trade shows, but does his buying after he returns home. “I like to come back and discuss the things I’ve seen with my managers,” he said.

Show specials can encourage attendees to buy at the show instead of ordering later. Vollenweider takes advantage of specials and likes to see things an exhibitor bought specifically for the show. “I want to see someone say, ‘Here is this buy and we have 400 cases. A 5 percent discount isn’t necessarily something that makes me buy now,” he said.

For Shoemaker, good show specials can help him justify the cost of the trip. “If you save enough, you’ve covered your airfare,” he said

Robin Puthusseril, general manager of the Greater Chicago I-55 Auto/Truck Plaza in Bolingbrook, Ill., frequently buys at a trade show. To help her make the most of her time, she would like to see exhibitors somehow streamline the ordering process. “Sometimes I feel like we waste time with them collecting our information and putting the order through. It would be great if there were a way to make it easier,” she said.

{HBMHighway Business Matters is a brief semi-monthly newsletter created exclusively for companies that provide products or services to the truckstop and travel plaza industry. Highway Business Matters will keep you informed on trends, tactics, and tips to help you connect to the $65 billion truckstop and travel plaza industry. 

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Mindy Long's photo

Mindy Long

Before launching a full-time freelance career, Long edited NATSO's Stop Watch magazine. Prior to that Long worked as a staff reporter for Transport Topics, a weekly trade newspaper, covering freight transportation, fuel and environmental issues. In addition to covering the transportation sector, Long has written, reported and edited for a variety of media outlets. She was the Washington correspondent for WCAX-TV (CBS) in Burlington, Vt., a criminal court reporter in Chicago and a freelance copy editor for Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine in Washington D.C. Long hold a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Ill., and a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Westminster College in Salt Lake City.More
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