I must admit, I love sports-related trade shows. They are the debutant balls of the sports industry when every brand, store, and entrepreneur puts their best and brightest on display in an attempt to catch your eye. You can float down each and every aisle, lingering over the stands that sparkle and twirling quickly passed the ones that bore, trying sample products to your heart’s content. Every vendor has a something different to offer as one of your potential ‘suitors’, and they are all eager for a space on your dance (aka credit) card.
Whenever I go to one of these things, I can’t help but get carried away in the magic, filling up my dance (credit) card perhaps more quickly than I should have. When all is said and done and I am walking away from the expo laden with bags of gear, the magic starts to wear off. Suddenly those bright green compression socks seem a bit, er, loud. The year’s supply of pina-colada-flavoured protein powder doesn’t seem as appetizing. And those biodegradable elbow warmers… I mean really? As the doubt starts to sink in, I feel a little like a uni-slippered Cinderella standing in front of her pumpkin of a carriage, wondering if I should have skipped that dance with Prince Charming and whisked myself home before things got really out of hand.
So what is the deal with expos anyway? Do they really offer good deals or is it all just a gimmick? Do the vendors really bring the “best and the brightest” that they have to offer or is it mainly last year’s stock they are trying to get rid of in a hurry? Are they worth it?
This past weekend I had the opportunity to work for Orca at the TCR (triathlon, cycling, running) show at Sandown Park outside of London. It was the first time I had been on the vendor side of things at an expo, rather than as a customer, and it really gave me some insight into how these things work. As this particular show boasts the title of the “UK’s No 1 multi-sport exhibition”, I thought it would give me a good chance to talk to some other retailers and find out the real story. Based on what I saw, heard and learned from other vendor’s and customers alike, here are ultrarunnergirl’s top ten tips for successfully surviving a trade show as a customer:
(10) Make a list ahead of time
Have you ever gone to the grocery store to pick up, say, frozen chicken breasts, toilet paper and a pint of milk and come back with cheerios, apples and dish detergent? It is pretty easy to get distracted by all the flashing lights and shiny objects inside, so if there is something specific you fancy, write it down on a list and tick it off as you go along.
(9) Sketch out a general budget… but leave some wiggle room for treats.
Give yourself a maximum budget, but in two categories: (1) the essential category (shoes, wetsuit, socks etc… the boring stuff you’d buy some other time anyway) and then the ‘treat’ category (for things like biodegradable elbow warmers… if that floats your boat). You are virtually guaranteed to find something that you absolutely love – or something that at least intrigues you enough to want to buy – that you hadn’t expected. This is what the real essence of expos are about anyway: finding out all about the the next ‘new’ thing.
(8) Pick the right time to go
If there is a particular item you think you might want, go on the first day a couple hours after opening. There is really no need to be there right when it opens and you will just end up standing in line anyway. Nothing will sell out in the first couple of hours (unless the vendor really messed something up). After the initial morning rush, the vendors will be into the swing of things and any glitches will be sorted out, so it is a perfect time to swoop in and buy that doohickey you’ve been waiting for.
However, if you just want to check things out and are looking to score a deal, I would suggest heading over at the end of the expo, a couple hours before closing. Sure, there might not be as many colour or size options left, but vendors will want to reach whatever sales target they’ve set for themselves for the event, which might make them more willing to quietly slash the prices a little more during the final hours. You never know. Smaller retailers or individual entrepreneurs may be more willing to do this in order to get more exposure whereas bigger retailers will probably stick to their price. That being said, it never hurts to try a little side deal bargaining. Worse thing they will do is say no!
(7) Bring a sturdy backpack
Otherwise you’ll end up buying one to carry all the other stuff you pick up, freebies and purchases alike.
(6) Go on a scoping mission
Do one full ‘sweep’ of the venue first before buying anything. Sometimes the same products are on offer at multiple stands, and there may be a better offer/size/colour/style from a vendor at the back of the room as compared to the deal you see from a vendor who is placed right next to the door. It is good to get a sense of what is out there before laying down the plastic.
(5) To eat or not to eat…
If it is an expo before a race, don’t eat anything you haven’t tried before. When is the last time you said to yourself a night before a race, “y’know what? Now is the perfect time to try out that new chicken curry recipe…” (please say never). Any runner knows that a change in your normal diet can really spell disaster out on the race course. Same principle goes for free food samples at an expo. There are usually multiple brands of protein, fruit, and energy bars on offer, all with tiny samples out for the picking. Then you add on the energy drinks, protein shakes, gels… if you aren’t careful, you could easily try 20 news products that your stomach has never coped with before, all in the span of a couple of hours. Believe me when I tell you that it isn’t smart! (My stomach still hasn’t forgiven me for my pre-Boston marathon protein bar buffet).
However, if it is a stand-alone expo, not connected to any particular race – like the TCR show – eat and drink to your heart’s content. I’m all about the free samples.
(4) Talk to the vendors
Normally, I like going into a store and being left alone until I ask a question or specifically seek a salesperson’s assistance. Trade shows are different. Get over it and get used to being bothered and bothering. Vendors are usually really excited to show your their stuff and especially with the more independent/smaller retailers, you can often get an interesting ‘back story’ on what went into their products. Vendors are an important – albeit biased – source of information, so stop being skeptical and use them!
(3) Test things out!
Often at these types of shows, vendors will bring ‘demos’ of certain products to allow you to test things out before buying. You may not get this opportunity in store and you definitely won’t get the chance online, so take advantage! For instance, at the TCR show this weekend Orca had its entire range of wetsuits in every size out for people to try on. These days, most stores charge a fitting fee of up to 20 pounds to try out a suit in order to prevent the cheeky cheapskates who try things on in store and then run out to buy them online. However, at the show, it was free to try on ANY of the suits, free of obligation, and yet some interested customers still didn’t bother. I can’t figure this one out! There was even a tank there to try out some of the suits in the water. No brainer to me.
(2) Know a deal when you see one
At the TCR show, there were some serious deals to be had. While I can’t say for certain, I assume that other expos would be similar. I had always wondered whether vendors jacked prices up for the shows so that they could falsely claim “20% OFF!” and still keep their margins (such a skeptic I am…). This simply wasn’t the case. The deals I saw on products at the show were genuinely much better than normal, generally ranging from 10% to 30% off (some higher). And we’re not talking about last year’s stock – we’re talking about the new stuff! Plus, what I didn’t realize is that retailers are not only eager to impress you, they are also just as eager to impress their competitors. There’s a lot of ego going on under one expo roof and fortunately for us consumers, it ends up working to our advantage.
(1) Don’t leave empty handed
Take the free samples, take the flyers, take the promotions, and buy at least one new thing you can have fun testing out. Go on – you’ll feel better 😀
Coming soon: Product Reviews!!!
Working the show this weekend allowed me the opportunity to chat with the people who are behind some of my favourite brands, such as Nuun, Accelerade, Muscle Milk, Gu, Clif Bar… And I also got to check out some brands I’d never heard of before, like Somnio (customizable shoes!), Balega (a top-selling American running sock brand that recently came to the UK) and a few other unique products. Over the next little while, I’ll be testing out and reviewing some of these products so that I can pass this information on to you. If there is a particular product you’ve been interested in, comment on this blog and let me know!