Whether it’s your first time attending or your 20th, you must plan ahead, says Lynne McNees, president of the International SPA Association (ISPA), who recommends carefully studying the list of educators, speakers and exhibitors, and setting clear goals and expectations for the event. “If someone is looking for high-level leadership and business education, and they instead end up with hands-on classes geared toward therapists, they’ll be disappointed,” she explains. “So, evaluate what’s being offered when determining which trade shows to go to. If all the areas are impressive, well organized and connect with your needs, it’s an event worth attending.”
To further clarify your intentions and maximize your investment, McNees suggests drafting a tentative schedule. “This reduces stress for attendees on-site and prevents them from getting overwhelmed when exploring the vast amount of options available,” she says. Luckily, planning is a breeze these days thanks to the numerous apps, mobile responsive websites and interactive expo floor maps that are available.
Jesse Cormier, senior director of the Associated Skin Care Professionals (ASCP), adds that without a solid plan you may miss out on classes you want to attend, or run out of time to visit vendors. “Just walking the exhibit hall can take hours,” she points out. “There are so many vendors sharing information, doing demos and offering exceptional bargains, and attendees often underestimate how much time they’ll spend taking it all in.”
The spa business is all about lifelong learning, says Cormier, and trade shows are rife with educational opportunities. “There’s no better place for accessing classes on all kinds of topics, taught by experts in their field—you’re really learning from the cream of the crop,” she notes. Oftentimes, the presentations are immersive and highly interactive, as well. “The speakers are usually happy to answer questions, give advice and offer extra motivation,” says Cormier.
Again, though, you’ll want to peruse the schedule ahead of time and determine what workshops will be most beneficial to your business. Three months before going to a trade show, Dawn Nooney, owner of Renew.calm spa in West Springfield, Massachusetts, talks with her staff about which classes to attend. “You can cross-train and pick courses geared toward your specialty,” she says, noting that inviting front desk workers is also a good idea. “The dynamics of a group change when you’re away from work, and attending a show together serves as a team- building exercise. It also lets your staff know you’re invested in them.” Nooney adds: “It’s important for new employees to realize how big the industry is—when they see how many vendors are at a show, they get a better sense of that.”
Trade shows typically offer special discounts on products and equipment, and also provide a perfect setting in which to learn about partnership opportunities, according to McNees. “It’s common for exhibitors to offer show specials available only to attendees for a limited time, so don’t be shy about asking,” she notes. That said, it’s important to keep your needs and budget in mind at all times, cautions Bruce Schoenberg, owner of Oasis Day Spa in New York City. Vendors might offer tempting discounts on products or equipment, but you need to consider whether these items will be popular with clients, he explains.
If you do have your sights on something, particularly a big-ticket item, Schoenberg also recommends approaching vendors on the last day of the event. “See if they’ll sell you what they have at a discount,” he says. “They may not want to pack everything up and haul it back.” This is one reason that attending trade shows closer to home, if at all possible, can be especially beneficial, adds Nooney, since it’s a lot easier to bring back bulky items when you don’t have to board a plane.
Crystal Cobert, owner of FACES on Beekman Street in Saratoga Springs, New York, attended her first aesthetic trade show 10 years ago and found the networking opportunities invaluable. In addition to establishing relationships with educators, vendors, marketing gurus, web designers and other industry experts, she’s also made lasting friendships. “When you get to a show, the competition vanishes and everyone is chatty, friendly and helpful, offering their best advice regarding products and equipment,” she says.
Since you’ll probably be meeting a lot of people, McNees suggests capitalizing on those contacts by keeping careful track of them. “Write down as many notes about the colleagues you meet as possible, and follow up with them after the show,” she advises. “Whether it’s a simple thank you note or a detailed idea for a potential partnership, keep the positive momentum going to ensure you build a strong network. Meaningful connections are worth their weight in gold.”
After all that networking, and loaded down with new information, contacts, supplies and more, chances are you’ll have a renewed appreciation for your business and all the people in it. “I feel so energized and refreshed when I come back from a show,” says Cobert. “I’m excited to deliver better customer service, offer new treatments and make sure my clients are getting my best.” And it’s that post-show glow that could arguably wind up being the biggest business benefit of them all.
–by Phyllis Hanlon