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By David Suzuki
Posted: April 23, 2008, from the September 2007 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
The hustle and bustle, the excitement, the distractions, the exhaustion and the extremely sore feet. Most spa professionals have experienced it—the trade show.
It seems as though no matter how ambitious one’s mindset is before entering the show floor, most events come and go with many attendees missing the entire objective that justified their attendance to begin with. In other words, the show experience winds up being an aimless tangent that merely confirms which pair of shoes you will definitely not wear the next time you anticipate being on your feet all day.
Business or pleasure?
Trade shows are perceived as fun and extracurricular—a chance for you to have an opportunity to let down your hair for a day or two and not have the stress and worries of being the boss. And a trade show can be just that, a business vacation.
Nevertheless, if you go in unfocused, you will likely come out with a wallet full of credit card receipts and a sting of uncertainty about what you bought and why. This feeling can be so surreal, some almost refuse to believe what they have done. That is, until the boxes begin to arrive and the credit card bills begin arriving. Then it definitely feels real.
Preparation, preparation, preparation
The fact of the matter is, regardless of how much fun you plan to have at a trade event, you must also plan and prepare for the business that needs to be realized there or it can easily slip away from you.
Remember, this is your one opportunity to speak with the manufacturers, attend their classes, touch, feel and try the products that you are considering investing in, and gain opinions from other industry experts and peers. A trade show also serves as a great medium at which to gain better-than-retail pricing, flexible terms, lower interest rates and more extras than you may normally be offered.
With some event organizers boasting upwards of 500 different exhibitors and a seemingly endless venue of educational workshops, the question of where to start at a trade show can sometimes be one of the most overwhelming obstacles.
The strategy of visiting a trade show should be similar to any plan you intend on implementing for any business venture. Be prepared, establish your objective, complete the research, perform your due diligence and close the deal.
Although establishing your objective can be as simple as a few words—“I would like to purchase the best skin care line available”—meeting and succeeding with your objective is quite a bit more complex and requires pertinent information that is specific to you and your business needs. You often need to start your planning and preparations long before the trade show even begins.
The easiest way to understand and consciously declare the full scope of your objective is to create a list of required attributes and concerns you may have about your objective. Required attributes can encompass the product itself, as well as the company that you ultimately decide to partner with. The following is an example of what a required attributes list may look like.
Education. Education should be provided at your location and included in the purchase price of the product. The company should also have an education department that performs advanced education and can lend education and application support, both on an ongoing basis.
Qualified educators. The company should have licensed, experienced, qualified educators who are independent of its sales team.
Warranty. A product should come with a minimum one-year warranty, particularly for electronic devices.
Lead generation and Web site listing. The company should have a lead generation system that refers new customers to your spa via its Web site.
Customer service and knowledge. The company should have knowledgeable team members and excellent customer service.
Industry references. The company and product should have trusted industry references that can verify quality and reputation.
Professional references. The company should be able to provide references of other businesses that own and operate its products and can verify their experiences with them.
All-inclusive. The company should provide you with the product and everything necessary to operate and succeed with it inclusive in the quoted purchase price. Examples of what is expected: all necessary education at your location, shipping, applicable tax, accessories needed to use the product, a marketing kit and so on.
Intended use. The company should provide a written verification of the intended use of the product to ensure it falls within the scope of your esthetic licensure and current insurance policy.
Proof of manufacturer liability insurance. The company should provide a copy of the declaration page of the manufacturer’s liability insurance. This is as pertinent as making sure a contractor working in your home is licensed and bonded.
FDA registration. The company should provide a copy of the manufacturer’s proof of registration with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that legally permits it to manufacture products. This is applicable to both esthetic and medical devices, as both are viewed as medical by the FDA.*
UL- or CSA-safety testing. Typically with regard to electronic devices, the company should provide a copy of the manufacturer verification that the product itself has been tested to Underwriters Laboratories (UL)- or the Canadian Standards Association (CSA)- safety testing standards.*
ISO registration 13485:2003/9001:2000 (two separate registrations). The company should provide a copy of the manufacturer’s proof of registration with the International Organization of Standardization (ISO), indicating the business is operated and its products are manufactured up to the highest quality standards known worldwide.*
Efficacy. The company should be able to provide the science that supports the product’s efficacy via written documentation or through education seminars. Proven results are a must and ultimately help define what it is that you are really looking for, as there can be much confusion with similar types of products.
Cost. The cost and budget requirements should be met.
Patented. The company should have evidence its product is unique or patented.
Upgradeable. The product should be able to be upgraded in the future.
Once you have created your required attributes list, you are now ready to research. Start by searching online for as many companies as you can that provide the type of product line you are looking for. Pay special attention to those who will be exhibiting at the next trade event you will be attending. However, do not limit your consideration based exclusively on attendance. Use your required attributes list to weed through the riffraff and discover the manufacturers who appear to meet your criteria. Archive the other material, and note the names of the products and manufacturers so you do not become distracted with them in the future.
Surveillance and observation
Take to the phone and request that complete information be sent from each company that appears to meet your criteria. What you should be observing at this stage is:
1. How you are welcomed as a new customer
2. How quickly your packet of information is sent to you
3. The follow-up that may or may not happen
4. The content and quality of what is in the packet
These four points, in conjunction with the quality of the company’s Web site, will generally give you a clear indication of whether or not it is a company that coincides with your business philosophies, expectations of service, quality and ideology. This is another crucial decision-making threshold that will help narrow your focus. If at this point it does not feel right, scratch this manufacturer off of the list.
Use the information sent to you to complete as much of your required attributes list as possible, and then contact the manufacturers to verify or request additional information that may not be included in the package. They should be able to quickly e-mail or fax this information. Whether or not they can meet your demands and fulfill all of your requests will determine whether they remain in consideration.
When all of the smoke clears, you will likely be deciding between one or two companies and typically will already have a strong personal preference for one. Separate the rest of the research and literature from that of the top-selected manufacturers, and then break out your sticky notes and trade show preview book.
Trade show schedule
Flag the page of the preview book that shows the trade show floor map, and then find and mark the location of the manufacturers’ booths that you need to visit. Review the entire preview book for any classes the selected manufacturer may be putting forth and flag them as well. Highlight items on your required attributes list that either were not addressed or need to be verified at the show, and proceed to contact your sales consultant to ensure that she will be present at the show to help you clearly understand what show specials will be offered.
Making your schedule at this point should be a walk in the park, as the lion’s share of your serious work has already been completed and confirmed. There is no need to waste time with manufacturers who clearly do not meet your criteria, and doing so only clouds your decision-making process. Once you have made your appointments in the booths that you need to visit and have included the educational class times into your schedule, your priorities and objectives for the show are clear. The rest of the trade show is available for future ideas, browsing, interesting classes, and, yes, even a little fun.
Closing the deal
Closing the deal is a term that, for whatever reason, seems to be exclusively applicable to salespeople or individuals who are in pursuit of conquering. Armed with diligent research, price quotations, show specials and an acceptable required attributes list, it is you who will be closing the deal and conquering at any given event.
Point being, arrive at the show knowing who you will likely partner with and purchase from, how much you will pay, your method of payment, and what further information you need to obtain or verify to justify and feel good about your purchase. A $6,000-plus investment should never just happen. Investments for your business need planning and careful research, as they will remain a fixture in your life for much longer than the two- or three-day event.
Remember that success can only be defined by one person—you. Do this, and your path will be clear.