There’s Value in Trade Show Participation

by Marnee Palladino, MARN, Inc.; edited by Stephanie Bray

While we may not be 100 percent back to the pre-Covid normal, things have opened up and face-to-face events are happening again, just as MANA Board Chair Tommy Garnett’s May 2023 editorial shares with us (and encourages us to participate in). As a longtime colleague of Garnett’s, I consider him something of a mentor and role model; perhaps my enthusiasm for trade shows is at least in part due to him.

My previous article mentioned how successful MARN’s post trade show campaign was without covering the value of the trade show itself. And while following up with newly generated leads is undoubtedly crucial, today I’d like to focus on just how rewarding the shows are themselves.

A common structure for a manufacturers’ rep firm is to represent multiple suppliers, which means it’s likely that some of your manufacturers are already pros at doing trade shows, while others may need to be convinced that they’re worth the investment. MARN, for example, has one supplier who signs up for every Design-2-Part (aka D2P) Show and another who just recently did their very first trade show ever. It was a success, since I’m sure you’re wondering — their booth was well executed, their music encouraged traffic and their strategy of uploading drawings and starting quotes right on the showroom floor was something we had never even thought of doing but now highly recommend.

Besides the obvious face-to-face encounters with hundreds of potential buyers, there’s also the joy of being face-to-face with your manufacturers. I always encourage those who work within MARN to participate in the bigger shows. While I have certainly met all the critical staff at our manufacturers, some of our team have not (until they’ve done a show), and it’s a great feeling to put a face to the name.

If you’re lucky enough to succeed in working a show with more than one of your suppliers, there’s also the opportunity for key players from your manufacturing lines to meet each other. This can strengthen and validate your rep firm — solid, physical proof of other successful suppliers whom you represent — but it’s also enormously satisfying to watch them engage with each other; reviewing capabilities, discussing possible synergies, and sometimes even agreeing to send work each other’s way.

Let’s also not undervalue the opportunity to bond with the people we work with in our own rep firms. Remote work being the new norm, our daily phone calls and emails may keep everyone on the same page, but they don’t keep us connected the way a shared cup of coffee or a chat in the break room once did. We are, after all, social creatures, and let’s just admit it — social media can’t compete with spending actual time with each other. In addition to strongly encouraging my co-workers to work the trade shows with me, I also make it a point to include activities outside show hours — booth set-ups and take-downs, dinner and drinks. It’s gratifying to see suppliers and rep firms all jumbled up and enjoying a rare chance to be together.

Just because remote work has become the new norm doesn’t mean we should let ourselves forget the value of in-person opportunities. Trade shows have earned MARN work in ways that couldn’t have happened if we weren’t physically present (we once earned work simply because I recognized someone and called out to them). They’ve made it possible for MARN’s team to not only touch and handle manufacturers’ parts but also work alongside the people who made them. They even provide opportunities for seasoned show-goers to learn something new (as evidenced by our first-timer starting bids during the show itself). Trade shows are the perfect way for reps to not only drum up new business but to strengthen the relationships that keep their business flourishing.

Marnee Palladino is CEO and president of MARN, Inc., a manufacturers’ representative firm in Middlebury, Connecticut. In 2020 she was elected to the MANA Board of Directors. Prior to launching MARN in 2014, Palladino worked in sales and marketing for Palladin Precision Products (now one of MARN’s principal manufacturing lines). After graduating from Cornell University with a Bachelor of Science in facilities planning and management, she worked in Manhattan for a financial corporation and later launched ML Project Management Consulting.

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