Trade Show Attitudes—Beyond the “Power of Positive” Platitudes


During the recent 2015 Exhibitors Academy in Las Vegas, we were treated to one of the most engaging keynote addresses one could hope to have. Presented by Jefferson Davis—better known as the “Tradeshow Turnaround Artist”—his hour-long address had the nearly 100 Academy attendees furiously taking notes and competing for attention during the Q&A session.

There were more than a few highlights to Davis’ talk, and we’ll cover those as time and space allow here, but the core of his presentation, and the concept that everyone talked about continually throughout the Academy’s two-and-half days of learning sessions and roundtables, was that of how exhibitors perceive their time at a trade show—and how those perceptions can either swing your profits and growth in the aftermath to the black or sink your time and investment in just being at a show firmly into the red.

Without a doubt, attending a tradeshow as big as SHOT Show entails a tremendous amount of work, especially for exhibitors who have to deal with the logistics of getting their display to the show, staffing their booth during the event and then getting it all packed up and moving on to the home warehouse or the next show on the calendar. This causes many to feel trade shows are something that have to be merely endured. But, according to Davis, it’s just that attitude, that a show is something you have to get through and nothing more, that will absolutely prevent you from profiting all those days, weeks and months after the show. Why? Because working a trade show as an exhibitor is an investment—both in time and money—and investments are something from which you should expect a return.

Davis presented a very simple model for focusing on the investment and return, rather than the logistics. It looks like this:


Correct Perspective
+ Execution of Strategic Practices
= Maximum Tradeshow Results

I’m going to break down this formula over several news posts to, so let’s start with the first part of this equation, the CP, or Correct Perspective.

Lest you think this is going to be a speech about putting on your “happy face,” CP is anything but those so easily issued platitudes of “If you just think positive, it will be positive.”

CP, according to Davis, actually has a number of tangible components. The first is that you, as an exhibitor, must be clear with yourself (and likely your accountant) about just what it is you think you’re buying when you invest in exhibiting at SHOT.

Too many think they have to be at SHOT because not being there means they’ll be forgotten; in other words, the show becomes nothing more than making an appearance. Others think they’re buying floor space or opportunity or chance. While any of these could be considered the reason you write that check each year, if that’s what you limit your thinking to, there’s not much for you to focus on in the way of returns and increased profitability over the rest of the year.

I bet “profitability” caught your attention. Good thing, because that’s what you should be thinking of when you think about the investment you make in attending SHOT each year. In that light, according to Davis, what you’re really buying, then, is face-to-face contact that results in:

  • Placement and building of your company, staff and product identity. This is your brand and reputation, and there’s no better or easier way to establish and then remind everyone else of both than when you have the captive, trade-dedicated audience that is SHOT Show.
  • Face-to-face contact with the right.  Getting your product to the consumer is a team effort between you and dozens of people within our industry—from manufacturer to wholesaler to retailer and, yes, the members of the press who will be telling your story through hundreds of magazines, blogs, You-Tube channels and other media platforms throughout the year. Uninhibited by consumer relations, SHOT Show is your primary opportunity to fine-tune your network of inter-industry relations, something you won’t have the opportunity to do throughout the rest of the year without racking up thousands of frequent flier miles.
  • An exchange of information relevant and timely to all those in your supply chain, a direct result of the face-to-face time afforded by your show attendance. This, in turn, drives …
  • A commitment to action. In other words, because of your decision to exhibit at SHOT, you have better established your company brand and identity, which leads to improved interaction with the people most likely to help your business grow. With those “right” people and the ability to arrange face-to-face time with them, you have exchanged all the right and necessary information regarding your company and products, and it is that exchange of information that will prompt all those “right” people to commit to action—buy your product and move it along to the consumer.

All of this is really no more than a way to see the forest despite the trees. If you can see the forest—the building of a network that commits to your product and helps you sell it all year ‘round—then setting up shop at SHOT quickly becomes the thing you most look forward to each year. And isn’t that always a much better attitude to have?


Chris Dolnack is Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @ChrisDolnack.