The AAEP trade show offers the unique opportunity to try out and purchase—often at deeply discounted prices—equipment, medications and supplies for your practice. To get the most out of what can sometimes seem like an overwhelming event, it’s imperative to go with a clear strategy. Knowing what you need to accomplish before, during, and after the show is the first step toward success. Here, we offer 11 tips for getting the most out of this can’t-miss annual event.
Pre-plan with a purpose: As soon as you book your tickets, begin preparing for the event by making a list of goals and setting down—in writing—what you’re hoping to achieve by visiting the show. Include your own personal goals and those of your practice.
Read through the AAEP trade show promotional materials carefully and take a moment to visit the virtual trade shown online at the AAEP website. Use the knowledge you’ve gleaned to make a plan for attending the show, including a list of “must-see” booths and “hope to see” booths. And while you’re surfing the web, take some time to research the key vendors on your list so that you’ll have a clear idea of who you need to see, and what you need to learn from them. That way you’ll have useful questions to ask, instead of wasting time with small talk.
Kirk Eddleman, CEO of Equine Sports Medicine & Surgery, a rapidly expanding equine practice headquartered in Weatherford, Texas, also recommends talking to reps ahead of time. “Oftentimes, if you call up the reps from the companies you’re interested in before getting to the show, they’ll be able to tell you about the best perks and deals—and sometimes offer better ones than what they have listed.”
Eddleman also suggests beginning the planning process in early November when the list of show specials is published. “Twenty-five percent of my purchases for the year are made at the show,” says Eddleman. “As soon as that information comes out in November, I look at all the specials and perks being offered and make a list. Then I take a good look at our practice, talk to our accountants and veterinarians and begin trying to predict how much we’ll need of a given product and how any purchases we make at the show might affect taxes.”
Dress for success: Even without a heavy bag full of pamphlets and promotional items, there’s no denying that trade shows can be exhausting ordeals. To minimize fatigue, plan for the long hours of walking when you’re packing your bags: Bring a comfortable pair of walking shoes, a lightweight outfit, a light carry-all bag (or even a small rolling briefcase to minimize shoulder stress) for the materials you gather during the show, and plenty of business cards.
By the book: To keep everything organized, Eddleman recommends putting together a notebook with the trade show map (and your circled, “must-see” booths), the specials in which you’re interested, contact information for reps, and a wish list from all the doctors in the practice. It may also be worthwhile to develop your own version of a lead form to record vendor names, products, contact information and any follow-up notes you’ll want to remember after the show.
With everything in one place, it will be much easier to stay focused when you finally step into the chaos. And though it might be tempting, avoid grabbing every brochure that’s offered to you. Collect only the information that is of interest to you or that could be valuable to others in your practice, and don’t hesitate to have exhibitors scan your card and mail literature and samples to you at a later date. This will save you having to carry a heavy load of pamphlets and samples around the exhibit hall.
Stay focused but open to learning: Once at the show, it’s easy to get distracted; but do your best to ignore the bright, shiny new toys and technologies and stick to your plan. Once you visit the booths on your “must-see” list, then explore, visit with people and check out what’s new and what may be on the horizon. “It’s a great place to learn about up-and-coming technologies and new opportunities that may be coming down the pipe,” says Eddleman. “You can learn a lot about what’s new in the market, and what you should keep an eye out for in the future.”
Ask questions: Dr. Monty McIntruff of the Tennessee Equine Hospital notes that if you want to get the most out of your time at the show, you have to be comfortable asking questions. “Be willing to engage the reps and ask plenty of hard questions; make sure they tell you what you need to know in order to make a decision. And if you still want more info, have them scan your card and send you the information later,” he says.
While you can always call a rep again at a later date, there’s really no substitute for going over everything in person, especially when you can actually play with a product or piece of equipment as you discuss its technical specs and operating procedures. Also, notes Eddleman, “Don’t be afraid to negotiate—sometimes, you can get an even better deal than the one that’s advertised, especially if you shop with a group.”
Keep moving: While you want to be sure to get what you need out of your time at each booth, McIntruff also recommends trying to avoid getting sucked into spending too much time with just one person. “Be courteous but keep moving,” he explains. “If you let exhibitors know (nicely) that you are on a tight schedule, you’re more apt to get someone to skip the fluff and cut to the chase.” Sometimes you won’t be able to avoid spending a lot of time at a certain booth—especially if you’re thinking about making a big purchase—but for all other visits, try to develop your own, internal alarm clock and avoid hitting the snooze button unless absolutely necessary.
Strength in numbers: Both McIntruff and Eddleman suggest taking a teammate (or two, or 10) along to share the burden and the experience. “Going with another person is definitely the way to do it,” says McIntruff. “You can help each other stick to the plan, share responsibilities [and] ideas, split up to cover more territory, and then go back and look at things together. You’ll get more done and have more fun in the process. It’s just very difficult to do it all alone and enjoy it.”
While it may not be possible for small practices to send multiple doctors, Eddleman recommends bringing as many people as you can spare. And if you can’t spare the extra doctors, why not take your office manager, techs or even interested friends or fellow veterinarians from neighboring practices? Techs can often bring a wealth of technical knowledge while office managers or financial people can offer advice on money matters.
Anytime you have a team, it’s a good thing,” he says. “Even if you aren’t all from the same practice, reps are more willing to deal with groups and offer bigger discounts. Frequently they don’t want to wheel and deal with just one doc, and you’ll have more power with bigger numbers. We typically take 10 to 20 from our practice each year, and since the show is in Texas this year [where Eddleman’s practice is located] we’ll probably bring an even bigger group.”
Impulse purchase . . . with a purpose: As a general rule, it’s a good idea to avoid impulse purchases. But sometimes, especially at the AAEP trade show, some deals may just be too good to pass up. If that happens, great, says Eddleman. But no matter what, don’t buy while you’re standing at the booth.
“Always walk away that first time around, go back and discuss the product with your team members, and evaluate whether it’s something you need or just want, and if it will really add value to your practice. You can always go back later.”
McIntruff adds that when you’re trying to determine whether a good deal is really as good as it sounds, keep these two factors in mind: 1) your plan for the upcoming year; and 2) spending that needs to happen before the year is over for tax purposes. “Sometimes it’s hard to pass up some of the really good deals, but if you are not very aware of your practice’s needs and what you currently have, it can be easy to overstock,” he explains. “I recommend not buying beyond two quarters, and if you are not sure that you need it, it probably isn’t going to be that good of a deal, no matter what.” Finally, he adds, “Never buy on price alone; pay attention to quality.”
Press the flesh: As with most trade shows, many of the biggest deals and most important connections you’ll make at the AAEP annual conference will take place far outside the exhibition hall. Because so much networking happens after hours, and there are so many events from which to choose, Eddleman recommends dividing your team up and attending as many functions as possible. And even though you may be exhausted from a day spent working the floor and attending seminars, try to schedule time to go back to the hotel, maybe grab a quick nap and a shower, and then head out for an evening of socializing. The results are sure to be worth the extra effort.
Don’t forget the follow-up: Long hours on the trade show floor are enough to wipe anybody out. But before you flop down on the bed and toss all those brochures into a pile in the corner, take a moment to organize the information you’ve gathered. Consider sorting products by priority and even adding sticky notes to help jog your memory when you finally get around to going through everything back home.
“I like to collect all the information on the products I’m interested in but didn’t want to buy at the show for whatever reason—these might be big ticket items, new technologies, or simply a product that looked interesting but I wasn’t sure we needed—take it all back to the hotel room and organize it a bit,” says Eddleman. “Then, a month or two after the show, I usually start following up on things I was interested in.”
Demo days: At any trade show, there are going to be those people who make a decision to buy a product based on price alone, or because they’ve been sold a bill of goods. To avoid finding yourself in this situation, especially with tech-intensive purchases, Eddleman suggests scheduling a time for the rep come to your practice and do a full demo.
“Something that worked like magic at the show [might] fall short in a real-world situation,” he explains. And if the product represents a significant investment, be sure to get references.