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The brain squad shares advice for making the most of trade shows and other wide-format industry events.




IF YOU’RE READING this article in print, you might have picked up a copy of our September/October issue at Printing United Expo 2023 in Atlanta. Maybe this is your first industry event. Or, maybe you’re a seasoned trade show veteran…

…who’s still following up on what you learned at The FESPA Global Print Expo, the International Sign Association (ISA) Expo, or other earlier trade shows already gearing up for their 2024 editions. Regardless, an event is only as valuable as you make it. Here’s what the Big Picture Brain Squad had to say about maximizing your experience:



    Networking indoors might not seem physically demanding, but don’t be fooled: trade shows are exhausting. Make sure you’re fed, hydrated, and well-rested before hitting the floor. Dress to impress, but also prioritize comfort, particularly when it comes to your feet. Echoing the advice of many other squad members, Elaine Scrima of GSP Companies advises attendees to “wear good shoes – think function over fashion.”

  • You’ll be walking and talking more than you are used to. My voice is typically shot by the end of the second day, and I always rack up the miles.” — Rob Matthews, M3

  • Others caution against overextending yourself. “Don’t open and close the show each day, [or] you’ll never want to go back to the show again,” says David Kaiser of Digitype Design. “Take frequent rest breaks,” adds Jim Dittmer of JDA Creative Color.


  • So much walking and talking makes the days go fast, so perhaps it’s no surprise that “plan ahead” was the most common advice from the Brain Squad. More specific tips often centered around developing a “hot list” of must-see prospects to visit first. Many members also advised scheduling appointments in advance to ensure you meet with the right people. Others pointed out that floor maps – and particularly the planning tools in downloadable mobile apps – can be invaluable for scheduling and navigating the floor efficiently. “Don’t forget to attend educational sessions – I’ve gotten some great nuggets here,” says Brian Adam, Olympus Group.


    Many squad members also emphasized the value of building unstructured time into your schedule. Leaving time to wander without a set agenda might be more productive than you think. “Spend time with some smaller companies,” says Carmen Rad, CR&A Custom. “Sometimes they provide new ideas.” Conversations with exhibitors and attendees alike might also reveal must-sees that weren’t originally on your schedule. “Network!” urges Rick Mandel, Mandel Graphic Solutions. “Others know the best places to go and view.”


  • Whatever your comfort level in social situations, do your best to bring out your inner extrovert. Now is the time to meet new people, especially senior staff of vendors that interest you. Ask about distributors and what else they recommend you check out. Other shops can also be invaluable sources of information and potentially even business relationships (such as outsourcing).

    Exude positive energy, even if greeting everyone with a smile requires effort. Ideally, it won’t. After all, these are your people, and this is your industry – it’s time to geek out. “Explore everything and have fun!” says Tim Roe, Outspoken Signs. “Make connections and identify additional suppliers.”


Words from the Wise

  • Look to share – give more than you take, and you will receive more than you know. The relationships I’ve built by trying to help have proven invaluable to our business. — Brian Adam, Olympus Group
  • Be entertained by people who want to talk to you, but don’t spent too much time. Keep moving. — Norman Critchfield, Hesston Prestige Printing
  • We have purchased at trade shows for many years. We like to talk, test, get a real feel for the equipment and products. I try to have my hot list – last year was Management software. I focused on this, then traveled the floor, just getting caught up in new products and materials. — Kim Magraw, Vivid Sign
  • Since the general lack of sunlight and the hard concrete floors can really tire you out, it’s best to limit the late night partying and fast foods, stay hydrated and keep in mind that you’re there to learn, network and hopefully make some good deals. — Jim White, Go Graphix
  • What do you want as 2-3 takeaways and action items coming out of the show? Build your schedule and set meetings in advance. — Kristi Duvall, The BoxMaker

  • Take it all in. Try to do some pre-show planning or else the day(s) you’re there may be a chaotic mess. — Derek Atchley, Atchley Graphics
  • Don’t take everything that is handed to you, or if you do, don’t keep it. Scan/photo business cards with your phone. Ask sales reps to email photos to you. Save your space for samples of materials and services that you really need, not literature you can download or have emailed to you. — Wade Neff, Strategic Factory
  • Allow open time in your schedule to network and explore companies or technologies that may not have been of interest until seeing them on the show floor. Be observant and spend time looking around and talking to people. Request referrals from business associates to get introductions, and meet the senior staff for vendors you may wish to purchase product. — Brian Hite, Image Options
  • Get your name to as many vendors as possible so that you can learn what is out there and not stay focused on only one type of material. — Britt Hoff, H ‘n’ H Sign Company
  • Map out your must sees first, then meander around to areas of interest. You can run out of time at tradeshows and be overwhelmed. — Linda Fong, Fastsigns Oakland, Fastsigns Hayward
  • Make a list of who/what you want to see and map it out. — Jason Roberts, Futura Color
  • Focus on companies that you do business with, but [also] look at [other]innovations that relate to your wheelhouse. Always ask what distributors carry their product line. — Pat Dacy, 3V Signs & Graphics

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. wide-format printing business, you’re invited to join the Big Picture Brain Squad. Take one five-minute quiz a month, and you’ll be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting wide-format professionals. Sign up here.




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