Attendee registration? Check

Plane ticket? Check

Hotel reservation? Check

Now that you’ve made all of your logistical arrangements to attend the AWFS®Fair, it’s time to map out a strategy to maximize your investment in time and money.

If you don’t plan ahead, you’ll waste precious time either walking around the exhibit hall aimlessly or ricocheting randomly from booth to booth like a human pinball.

Having been there and done that over my 35 years of participating at trade shows, I offer the following tips that have helped me leave Las Vegas and other cities with a sense of accomplishment.

  1. First and foremost, get acquainted with the arsenal of planning tools available on the AWFS Fair’s website. This includes an interactive floor planup-to-date exhibitor’s listeducation schedule and show features. These tools are invaluable for crafting your personal plan of attack before you head to the show.
  2. Develop your hitlist of companies you want to visit by taking a few minutes to scroll through the alphabetical exhibitor list, making note of the company name and booth number of those you are familiar with either first-hand or by reputation.
  3. As an oversight, if there is a particular type of machine or supply that you plan to investigate at the show, then check out the product categories feature that accompanies the interactive floor plan. You might see one or more companies listed that you missed on your review of the exhibitor list that you deem worth meeting.
  4. Prioritize the companies on your list as “must see,” “should see” or “like to see.” If you are traveling as a team, divide and conquer. Break the master list into smaller lists and assign each team member a product category or categories.
  5. If you didn’t already do so during the registration process, check out the extensive College of Woodworking Knowledge seminar schedule and other educational programming. Dozens of sessions are offered throughout the show on a wide range of technical and business management topics.
  6. Once you register for seminars and workshops, you can block out those times on your show schedule and then set up appointments with the crème de la crème of your “must-see” exhibitors.
  7. When you get to the Las Vegas Convention Center, make a bee line to the showcases for the AWFS Visionary Awards entries and first-time exhibitors. This is an excellent opportunity to take note of products being introduced by both established and new machinery and supply companies.
  8. Make sure to have your badge scanned by exhibitors of products that interest you. How fast the exhibitor follows up with requested info after the show is a just one litmus test of their organization and customer service.
  9. Jot down notes after each booth visit using your tablet, notepad or even the back of a business card.
  10. Don’t stay too long at any one booth, there is so much else to see. Especially find a polite way to exit any conversation with an exhibitor you are not interested in doing business.
  11. Remove your blinders. You might be pleasantly surprised at what might catch your eye as you stroll the exhibit hall. You might even experience a light bulb moment that could transform or grow your business.

Rich Christianson is the owner of Richson Media LLC, a Chicago-based communications firm focused on the North American woodworking industry. The former Editorial Director of Woodworking Network, Wood & Wood Products and CWB magazines, Rich has toured more than 250 wood product operations and attended dozens of industry trade shows and events during his more than 30-year career.