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New skills and thrills for retailers: The 2017 trade show roundup

Tori Tsu
Tori Tsu on January 18, 2017 - 6:00 am in Build Relationships, Build Your Brand, Event Planning, Logo Design

Biting the bullet and registering for a trade show is something many retailers put off because of the expense, the necessity of travel planning and the inconvenience of having to set aside regular work responsibilities.

If you’re one of the procrastinators, however, you may want to reconsider your priorities. Skipping your industry’s most prominent trade shows may mean you’re missing golden opportunities to network with vendors, weigh your competition, expand your inventory, learn about new trends and innovations, and gain a fresh perspective on best practices.

Such events can give you an up-close-and-personal qualitative view of what’s going on in the real world — a view that often transcends quantitative number crunching and market research. In fact, surveys show 66 percent of all trade show attendees are motivated by the chance to increase their personal knowledge.

At the same time, you’ll be making other industry players more aware of your brand and hopefully generating goodwill via face-to-face contact in our largely digital world. Those are also good reasons to consider brushing up on your event-marketing skills and exhibiting at such events; Statistica reports that 81 percent of audience members remember booths they visit at U.S. trade shows, and each participant spends an average of nine and a half hours viewing exhibits.

Because your time and energy is invaluable, however, you’ll want to be somewhat selective in choosing the most relevant events to exhibit at or attend. Some general questions to consider:

  • Are a significant number of my current and potential customers likely to be there?
  • How might my business benefit from this event? For example, will it raise my company’s visibility? Help position it as an industry forerunner? Make me valuable contacts? Directly lead to sales? Statistica notes 49 percent of U.S. trade show visitors plan to buy exhibited products and services upon attendance.
  • Is the cost/benefit comparison for this event in my favor?

To help you make the right decision for your business, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best 2017 trade shows for small-business retailers. Consider how one or several might fit into your goals and aspirations for the year.

Kicking off in Dallas, Texas, Jan. 18, this expo is also held 17 other times throughout the year at different U.S. metro locations. The free one-day event co-produced by Inc. 5000 offers attendees resources, access to exhibitors, business-critical workshops, product demos and opportunities to network with thousands of other local business owners. Workshop topics and presentations usually span social media, SEO, business planning, insurance, sales, marketing plans, and financial and tax planning. Exhibitors are usually service providers catering to small businesses.

Set for Feb. 27-March 2 in Palm Springs, California, this event founded in 1999 is expected to attract 3,000 representatives from digital retail companies of all types and sizes. Some 300 speakers are signed up, representing everything from startups to e-commerce disruptors. “The content is what sets eTail apart from our competitors,” the website asserts. “(It) reflects the latest trends and hottest topics in the industry. If you have a pain point, we have it covered.” Organizer Worldwide Business Research LLC also holds eTail events in Boston, Toronto, London and Berlin.

Next slated for March 19-22 in Las Vegas, Shoptalk is a platform for networking, learning and collaboration targeted toward established retailers and brands, startups, tech companies, investors, media and analysts. At least 238 speakers are expected this year. Last year the event drew 3,100 attendees (including 395 CEOs) representing $13 billion in collective funding. This year, 5,000 registrants are expected.

This 21st annual event will be held April 22-25 in La Jolla, California, with sponsorship by the World Alliance for Retail Excellence and Standards. The RMMC brings together decision makers in retail merchandising and marketing, demo, mystery shopping and assisted sales, typically drawing some 250 attendees from more than 10 countries. This year’s agenda is unset, but last year’s featured presentations on teleworking and organizational health; virtual team leadership; new rules for retail differentiation; hot topics in HR law; the effects of omni-channel marketing on staffing; brick-and-mortar retail trends; and overviews of retail markets in Mexico, Australia and New Zealand.

Aimed at retailers and food vendors operating via cart, kiosk, pop-up store or automated machine, this year’s Spree is slated for May 22-24 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The event managed by the International Council of Shopping Centers typically draws some 2,000 attendees from across the world, including retailers, entrepreneurs, shopping center executives, specialty leasing managers and mall managers. Last year 76 percent of attendees reported finding a new product, service or location at Spree. “(It’s) the ideal location to connect with entrepreneurs and shopping center professionals in every stage of the buying process,” the website touts.

Taking place at McCormick Place West in Chicago June 6-9, IRCE fills its 600-vendor, 250,000-square-foot exhibit hall with the latest in e-commerce solutions and ideas and offers multiple networking events. Garnering an average attendance of more than 10,000, the event is targeted toward businesses of all sizes. Some 200 speakers are chosen each year by the staff of Internet Retailer magazine.

This year’s event held June 27-28 at Gaylord National Harbor in Washington, D.C., usually draws more than 2,500 retail, chain restaurant and law enforcement professionals, making it the largest retail and restaurant loss prevention event in North America. You’ll learn about loss prevention, IT security, digital loss prevention, brand protection and more. One of several keynote speakers this year is former D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier, now senior vice president of security for the NFL. Lanier will present on “Safety & Preparedness in the 21st Century.”

Set for Sept. 25-27 in Los Angeles, this annual event is co-hosted by the National Retail Federation and Shop.org and typically draws more than 4,500 retail professionals, 60 percent of whom are director-level or higher. Last year’s attendees represented 30 countries and 565 retail companies. Keynote speakers this year include author, New York Times writer and Wharton School of Business Professor Adam Grant; Mariam Naficy, entrepreneur and founder of online marketplace Minted; and Trevor Hardy, CEO of The Future Laboratory, the U.K.-based researcher of trends affecting 14 industry sectors across the globe.

Of course, many other trade shows are centered around specific retail segments. As such, you may be interested in the following depending on your concentration of products and services.

  • The MAGIC Marketplace takes place at the Las Vegas Convention Center Feb. 16-18, focusing on business e-commerce in textiles, fashion and accessories. Seminars and other events review the latest in apparel, footwear, accessories and manufacturing.
  • The American International Toy Fair is set for Feb. 18-21 in New York City. Its 415,000 square feet of exhibit space will showcase more than 1,000 exhibiting manufacturers, distributors, importers and sales agents showcasing more than 150,000 toy and youth entertainment products.
  • Natural Products Expo Westconsidered one of the world’s largest organic and natural products trade shows, will be March 10-12 in Anaheim, California. Keynotes include Campbell Soup Co. CEO Denise Morrison and former Trader Joe’s Co. President Doug Rauch, with 27 other industry speakers also slated.
  • The 120th Annual International Housewares Show will be March 18-21 in Chicago, offering more than 2,100 exhibitors showcasing thousands of new products. Key topics this year include millennial preferences and the impact of smart homes, and keynote speakers are Tom Mirabile of Lifetime Brands, and Leatrice Eiseman of the Pantone Color Institute. Last year’s show featured 2,224 exhibitors from 47 countries.
  • The Global Pet Expo, the pet industry’s largest annual trade show, is March 22-24 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. Last year’s expo drew 1,087 exhibitors in 3,218 booths, with 6,170 attendees representing 76 countries.
  • The National Hardware Show will be at the Las Vegas Convention Center May 9-11. Expect some 1,500 exhibitors of products used to remodel, repair and maintain property, plus networking, new buying opportunities, merchandising ideas, money-saving deals and awards ceremonies. Eighty-three percent of attendees cite checking out new products as their main reason for attending.
  • Interop ITX, held May 22-26 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, bills itself as the most comprehensive business IT conference and expo available. Plans call for 130 learning sessions customized by a review board that includes InformationWeek editors. Topics will include security, the cloud, DevOps, data and analytics, and infrastructure.
  • Jewelry industry trade show JCK Las Vegas is set for June 5-8 in Las Vegas. Offering exclusive buying, networking and educational opportunities revolving around finished jewelry, gems and timepieces, it typically draws more than 2,300 exhibitors and representatives from more than 23,000 retail stores worldwide, including buyers from some 600 major department and chain stores. The show features some 70 industry events and 20 education sessions. Last year 78 percent of attending retailers reported seeking new companies with which to conduct business.
  • The Outdoor Retailer Summer Market is July 26-29 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Last year’s similar wintertime event drew more than 20,000 attendees, primarily independent special retailers with 10 or fewer stores. Attendees typically sell gear, apparel, footwear and accessories for outdoor sports products including adventure travel, backpacking, camping, hiking, climbing, mountaineering, cycling, mountain biking, fishing, fly fishing, health and fitness, military, nutrition and natural products, paddle sports, water sports, SUP, pet products, running, trail running, surf, skate, lifestyle, triathlon, multi-sport endurance, and yoga and Pilates. Sixty-one percent of 2016 attendees placed merchandise orders with new vendors, 71 percent with current vendors. Roughly 8 percent came from outside the U.S.

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Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published in April 2016 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and relevance.

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