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VISION Magazine’s Business Columnist, Gail Doby, on Trade Show Value

The Best of Both Business Worlds

My business demands that I attend a lot of trade shows and conferences each year and I enjoy talking with vendors and getting a look at the latest products and trends. I don’t know of any other events where designers can gather so much valuable information all in one place.

An Investment in Your Business
I understand why some designers hesitate to take time away from their business to attend a trade show. It’s a significant commitment of time and money. But, in my opinion, it is one of the best investments you can make for your business. Innovation, inspiration, variety—these are a designer’s stock in trade. You need to replenish these precious resources to keep your business fresh and up to date. You’re not going to do that sitting behind your desk. You need to get out and expose yourself to new designs and new ideas. A trade show is a great way to do that.

Think of it this way: How many hours would you have to spend scanning magazines or browsing the Internet to gather the same information about new products and technologies—assuming you are disciplined or fortunate enough to set aside the time to do so? Where else would you have the opportunity to network with so many colleagues, vendors, and reps? Or to catch up with old friends and associates? We depend on those relationships month in and month out to help keep our business running smoothly.  

The Value of Community
To my mind, a trade show offers the best of both business worlds. It helps me keep current with what is going on in the industry. At the same time, it gives me an opportunity to expand my outreach, to acquire new contacts, to develop new relationships, and to promote my brand.

Especially for sole practitioners and small business owners, it’s important to stay connected with others in the industry. We spend much of our time working alone or as the only member of the team in our profession or trade. From time to time we need to interact with our peers to regain our perspective. No one understands our business better than we do. We have so much we can share and learn from one another and so few opportunities to do so. A trade show not only gives us a reason and a place to gather; it also provides a lively environment that helps to stimulate our thinking and promote dialogue. Inevitably, I always come away with a few valuable ideas or insights that I can apply to my business right away.

Exhibitors are an important part of that community as well. Yes, they are there to promote their products, but they also have a substantial body of knowledge about their products and their industry that they are happy to share. Everybody likes to be recognized for their expertise. Often a vendor or rep will gladly help you troubleshoot a problem or direct you to a resource you did not know about. Plus, it’s always good policy to stop by and say hello to your favorite vendors and thank them for their good service, particularly if they’ve helped you out of a jam.

Professional Development
Trade shows are also an excellent venue for enhancing your skills and discovering new ways to improve your business. You can conveniently catch up on that continuing education you’ve been putting off without worrying about disrupting your normal schedule or overextending your workweek. National and international trade shows pride themselves on featuring some of the best speakers and experts in the industry, so you can be assured of getting a quality presentation or class.

When you think about it, a trade show is one-stop shopping for a designer. You can view product, find out about the latest trends, brush up your business skills, network, and catch up with friends all under one roof. Afterwards, you’ll return to your firm brimming with new knowledge and inspiration. Your investment of a couple of days will keep on paying back throughout the year

Gail Doby, ASID, is the co-founder of Gail Doby Coaching & Consulting whose mission is to help you earn six figures doing what you love.

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