Getting the Most Out of Trade Shows

MJSA's Mary Walek asked me to do a session called "Shop the Show" in New York. When I first read the description of the presentation I had to give I had to think hard. Don't we all know how to shop already? And at a trade show too, where we know why we are there.

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By Charles Lewton-BrainMore from this author

MJSA's Mary Walek asked me to do a session called "Shop the Show" in New York. When I first read the description of the presentation I had to give I had to think hard. Don't we all know how to shop already? And at a trade show too, where we know why we are there.

At around that time I was in Tucson and visiting a house full of accomplished jewelers and gem cutters. So I threw a mini focus group on this question. Well, actually it was a birthday party for one of them, and I sort of took advantage of my friends. We had a good discussion about important things to consider when attending a trade show for the first time (well, actually at any time) All to them had a lot of experience. The participants in this ad-hoc focus group were Helen Blythe-Hart, Sharon Fosko, Bill Gangi and Greg Genovese. Michael Coan of FIT contributed an item or two as well.

Planning and Research

  1. Go through your show guide before you go.
  2. Make a goal
  3. Define your needs
  4. Rank, prioritize your needs
  5. Set your budget before you go
  6. Make your list before you go.
  7. Rehearse your shopping list.
  8. Know what 'quality' is before going
  9. Be knowledgeable: do research before going. Compare prices at 5 sources
  10. Be able to identify one of a kinds (i.e. you won't see that again) from things you can easily obtain again.
  11. Have a list of questions prepared to ask about a major purchase.
  12. Make a list of pro's and cons to make your decision.
  13. Some people "lower their credit limit preemptively", that is drop their card spending limit before going to the show. Really.


  1. Have your hotel a walking distance from the show.
  2. Use the hotel safe for your valuables
  3. Make sure you dress for comfort (shoes! wear the right ones)
  4. Carry water, food and water with you (what a delicious coffee that $6.00 show latte is!
  5. Don't shop hungry!!
  6. Don't drink alcohol when shopping. Watch out for those cold medicines too…..
  7. Use a pack; it goes on your back easier to carry. Make sure it has few zippers for security.
  8. Kit: have a calculator, plan your pack, pens, notebook, stapler, post it notes, high lighter marker, business cards etc.
  9. Use your notebook to take notes, and list sources and comments. Tape in or staple card into your notebook. Blythe-Hart uses an alphabetical address book method. And have more business cards than you'll ever need
  10. Have all licenses ant tax licenses proof with you.
  11. Carry forms with your tax discounts (ST3: you leave them with the person to avoid tax.
  12. Watch out for electrical cords and other hazards when at the show.
  13. Know where the exits are.
  14. Shop the perimeter of the show at the end of the day, this is where most of the free giveaway items are and you don't want to be carrying them around all day - you pick them up at the end.
  15. Don't get sucked into other people's enthusiasms.
  16. Avoid the 'bigshot moment', do not buy for ego or baggage.
  17. Don't let other people's problems become yours.
  18. Don't regret your purchase, (are you sure you need that?)
  19. Go to places you know from before
  20. Go to your known dealers first, then buy what have to have first (the bread and butter), then add other items. Comparison shop.
  21. Check out a crowded booth, there may be a reason.
  22. Spend the most time you can at the show and shop at the end-tempered by the 'it wont be there later' problem for 'one of a kinds'.
  23. Have your credit references lined up.
  24. Plan a certain percentage of money for surprises
  25. Communicate well and reflect your language so things are clear. i.e. he says "this machine will solve all your casting problem of any kind without any learning curve" and you say "So "this machine will solve all my casting problems of any kind without any learning curve-do I understand that right?" and if the salesperson is honest maybe they will adjust or amplify on their remarks.
  26. If you don't like how you are being treated walk away or politely say I'm just looking at the moment.
  27. What are the maintenance costs (ongoing and consumables) for the tool?
  28. What technical support is there?
  29. What warranty is there?
  30. Ask about delivery on large items.
  31. Try a tool out, and talk to users to get more understanding of it.

Getting a Deal and Negotiating

  1. Ask if floor models can be reserved for sale/pickup at the end of the show, often there is a discount available, especially on the heavy items.
  2. Negotiate with vendors.
  3. You can ask politely "Is there any movement available on the price? And accept a 'no' if that is the answer.(remember you catch more flies with honey).
  4. Behave well as a buyer, take your responsibilities seriously, be a good customer, it is your 'credit rating' and trust in you that you are dealing with.
  5. Respect your dealers time.
  6. Only after you have a bunch of things do you ask for terms, do not ask for a discount on a single item.
  7. Having said that, at $500 a discount is possible, $1000 plus a discount is more likely and at $1500 expect something. If you wish to ask for a discount the more you buy the better a price you will get.
  8. The better a customer you are the bigger discount you get (like at a casino).
  9. The more courteous you are the more you will get.
  10. If granted terms then pay up on time, behave professionally.
  11. Make sure you have enough to buy with before you ask for terms.
  12. Wait till you've made your decisions before you ask for a better price.

Buying from Stone Dealers

  1. Don't try to impress the stone dealer
  2. No one has 'color memory'; if you want to match something bring it with you.
  3. Find a dealer that you trust and support them.
  4. "Look the dealer in the eyes and ask for full disclosure, if they do not answer well get out of there"
  5. Trust is very important.
  6. Have some sort of carrying bag for stones (pack etc) they can actually get heavy.
  7. Get receipts and contact information and staple together at the booth (store receipt with the stone!)
  8. Is it the right one? Is it?
  9. Don't ask a dealer "do you think it is a good price?
  10. Walk away for five minutes before buying (note this does not always work)
  11. Don't waste a dealer's time.
  12. Don't ask to see a million items.
  13. There will always be something else to make you happy.
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Charles Lewton-Brain

Master goldsmith Charles Lewton-Brain trained, studied and worked in Germany, Canada and the United States to learn the skills he uses. Charles Lewton-Brain is one of the original creators of Ganoksin.

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