The Trade Show: RSPA RetailNOW Reflections

Mark Frasco - President


Trade Fairs, as they were originally conceived, were street fairs featuring vendors of goods as varied as the needs of the growing communities who attended. From crops to various sundries, street fairs have existed for hundreds of years.

As our society became more mechanized and geographically diverse, the industrial age leveraged the street fair concept, featuring market segmentation – the trade show. Now, there are literally thousands of trade shows in America and around the world. Each show focuses on some area of service or product. Buyers and sellers unite to share new products or services, meet partners and solidify relationships that will lead to business growth success. As right as that sounds, the model has become a bit passé, depending on the attendees’ outlook and intentions.

Guidelines to maximize the effectiveness of your trade show initiative:

If you’re attending:

  • Attempt to learn who will be exhibiting. With a bit of work, you can usually attain last year’s list.
  • Write down your goals. They should answer the questions:
    • Why am I attending? For what specific purpose?
    • With whom do you want to meet or reconnect?
    • Who might help expand your network?
    • What specifically do you want to learn? (Hopefully, to help you solve some problem or fulfill a need you have back at the home office.)
  • Expecting that you already know some people or organizations attending, reach out to them a few weeks in advance to arrange a meeting at the show.
  • For those you don’t know, research them online, and reach out to them expressing your interest in meeting them.
  • Before you attend, build your post show process.
    • How will transfer what was learned to the right people at your organization?
    • How will you thank and follow up with those people you met?
    • What will you do to make each interaction you had memorable and sustainable, as needed?
  • Block out time in your calendar, before you attend, to process all the information you gathered. We all find ourselves behind and somewhat overwhelmed upon our return. Do your best to block out an appropriate amount of time after the show to follow up on all the various contacts you made.
  • Especially for the most important contacts you made, keep them on your desk or in your reminder system to follow up periodically, ask for advice, offer information that will be useful. Remain relevant.

If you’re exhibiting:

  • Those merely attending the show need a plan, but with the high cost to exhibit, it is critical to gather the right people in a room months before a trade show in order to set out your goals.
    • Again, why are we exhibiting? Because we’ve always exhibited is not a good answer. Because our competition will be there and we need a presence might be reality, but not a good answer. Specifically, what do you expect to know or have accomplished after the show that you don’t know or have today?
    • Build a list in preparation and make assignments with dates tied to each item. This needs to be done months before the show.
    • Rather than hope the right person walks by your booth, determine who it is that you want to meet with. A few weeks before the show, invite them to meet you at your booth, while giving them a good reason to accept your offer. Fill your calendar, allowing white space for unplanned meetings, before the plane lands.
    • Again, before you build your booth on the floor, have a follow up plan in place. Prepare a letter or message of thanks, before the show. Within a week following the show, send those cards and letters, suggesting appropriate follow up activities. With good planning, you can have your inside sales or administrative support people help with the heavy lifting.
    • Every trade show interaction has a cost associated to it. Be sure you have a sustainable system in place to justify that expense. Most of us are good at staying close to the “A’s”, but struggle to remain connected to others, who often can be rising stars in your system.

For COACT, this was our fifth RSPA RetailNOW trade show. We were introduced to the show through our affiliation with ScanSource. Since our first show, our client-base in this market segment has expanded exponentially. Each year, we enjoy the opportunity to help our clients grow their businesses. We now have processes in place to help our clients who are attending or exhibiting to accomplish the goals that we jointly set out. We supply the process and the people to assure that their trade show investment is justified and useful.

To our clients, thank you for your continued support and trust. To those we met this year, you can expect to hear from us. We are excited to help you install a process of business growth and prosperity.

Questions or comments? Please contact Mark Frasco at