Shopping at Trade Shows
Credit: Courtesy AAEP A trade show might be the best place to purchase equipment, but you must do your homework to get the best deal.

Whether you’ve got plans to upgrade your veterinary practice, wish to minimize tax liability by making an equipment purchase to help with a one-time write-off (tax code Section 179) or you are in the process of developing your practice or upgrading an already established practice, you are on the hunt for the most current tools and equipment. But you also want to get the best deal on your purchase.

Where can you examine all the new technology and gadgets so you can make the wisest investment?

A trade show is the best venue through which to accomplish this end.

However, many buyers walk into a trade show and are overwhelmed by its sheer size. How are you supposed to cover all that ground, visit a gargantuan number of display booths and still attend the necessary presentations at the conference? With some practical strategies, you can find the best deals and accomplish your goals.

The Venue

Where to start? For an equine veterinarian, one of the best places to shop is at the three-day trade show at the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) Annual Convention. Wally Liberman, DVM, of Panorama Equine Medical and Surgical Center in Redding, California, has spent years outfitting his full-service equine hospital and ambulatory truck through the AAEP venue. He remarked, “The energy and focus at AAEP is all there for the equine practitioner, and it’s hard to find a better place to find everything you might want.”

While other meetings (the North American Veterinary Conference, the Western States Veterinary Conference and the Central Veterinary Conference, for example) might be bigger in size and scope, those venues are geared more toward a mixed animal practice where equipment often needs to cross over between species.

The specialized venue at AAEP provides products exclusively for equine practitioners; this should help consolidate the search in many cases.

Liberman advised, “There is a point at which you get overwhelmed with too much information with too little structure. This ends up with you having to rely too much on the salespersons with the risk that they may sway you into a decision that doesn’t work well for you.”

The Game Plan

To start in your hunt, Liberman recommended that you be clear about what you need, not just what you want. “Be certain about why you want it, and at what price point you’ll buy,” he said.

He offered an important piece of advice for any shopper: “When you buy something, it is yours. Everyone else involved up to that point is gone and you are on your own.”

So, before you pull the trigger to buy, be sure that what you are about to purchase fits all criteria applicable to your needs and financial ability.

When looking for specific equipment, Liberman suggested reviewing products from three different vendors. Limiting it to three allows you to narrow the information to a manageable level while still giving you choices.

“Before arriving at the trade show, know your vendors and understand their products,” he advised.

It doesn’t hurt to contact the vendors in advance of the convention and even set up a tentative appointment to meet at the trade show. “This streamlines your time and conversations,” noted Liberman.

(Editor’s note: The AAEP website and AAEP app have a list of vendors for their annual Convention—with contact and product information and booth number. There is also a Resources section in the winter EquiManagement magazine with information about some of the vendors at the AAEP Convention trade show.)

You can find out a lot of information in advance by referring to company websites and by calling ahead to discuss your needs with a company representative.

Another thing that can help you make a decision is to reference listservs such as ECN (Equine Clinician’s Network) or the AAEP Listserv, where you can query other practitioners about particular products or equipment.

Generally, when you post a question on a listserv, you’ll get many experienced veterinarians chiming in as to the pros and cons of a particular product and how the company has behaved in holding up its end of customer support. This information and life experience is an invaluable resource when doing your homework in advance of the trade show.

Yet another important point that Liberman made was that most companies are represented by salespersons, not necessarily equine practitioners. It doesn’t hurt to ask the sales representatives what their qualifications are so you can make a better-informed decision about the information they are providing.

If buying imaging equipment, for example, when possible talk to practicing board-certified radiologists and/or clinical orthopedic equine veterinarians about specific machines. Also, it is prudent to ask whether such a veterinarian is partial to a particular piece of equipment because he/she is endorsed by a specific company.

At the trade show, you’ll establish contacts with whom you’ll work out the details of a potential purchase. Liberman cautioned against getting “sucked in” to a deal because you feel like you’ve then you might lose sight of what it is that you have to live with once you finalize a purchase. On the other hand, it is good to develop a relationship with a company from which you are purchasing equipment in order to have future questions answered and know about upgrades or add-ons that become available.

Remember, you do not need to buy at the trade show! Most companies will honor the trade show deal for 30 days or until the end of the month. Liberman stressed, “One of the problems with buying hi-tech equipment (for example, imaging equipment) is that it looks different at the venue … compared to using it in your practice. At a big veterinary conference, there is usually no way to try it out unless you sign up for one of the wet labs.”

With that in mind, he said, “Tell the sale representative that you are interested, but you want them to bring the equipment to your practice to try on a live horse.” Lock in the details of the deal, but don’t finalize it until you’ve had a chance to put the equipment to a clinical test.

In addition, ask questions about the warranty, because once it expires, you’ll need a plan regarding potential equipment failure. Also, find out whether software updates for your new equipment will be available into the future, and if so, how often and at what cost.

Check into what is required to obtain an insurance policy that covers repairs and/or replacement of expensive equipment. Most business liability policies should also have a rider that includes business equipment protection. Talk to your insurance agent about the details of what is covered and to what extent before you add expensive equipment. If you don’t have insurance on all your business tools and equipment, this would be a good time to arrange to do so.

How to Tackle the Trade Show

You’ve walked through the doors into the trade show hall; now where do you start?

First, you’ve done your homework in advance of arrival so you know which vendors you want to visit. Use the program given to you with your registration or your AAEP Convention app to identify the vendors you’re interested in seeing and make a note of their booth numbers and location so you can maximize the efficiency of your time in the trade show hall. Liberman said, “When you walk into the hall, look up. ‘Up’ is where the aisle numbers are posted, and this facilitates your time in locating the vendors you want to visit.”

If buying equipment is a priority, remember that you’re not there to pick up pens, candy or other trinkets given out by the vendors. This time, you’re there to do serious business!

“Don’t get sidelined by anything other than lunch,” stressed Liberman.

When talking to the vendors, he urged the development of your own opinion of a product based on your personal needs for your practice, not as it might apply to your colleagues or the competition.

It is likely that you’ll have to give up some lecture time for scouting out purchases, especially the big ones. Liberman recommended that you designate your shopping time in advance so you know which lectures you don’t want to miss.

There is an advantage to visiting the trade show during key lecture periods, because the trade show hall is usually less busy and you’ll have the undivided attention of the vendors.

If you find yourself trapped by a salesperson and you aren’t interested in pursuing his or her product, there are gracious ways of excusing yourself from the booth. One such strategy is to say, “Please give me a quote because I have to move on.”

Cash Is King!

Liberman remarked, “If you want to tip the tide your way on a deal, have a check or cash in hand, as this gives you leverage for meaningful negotiations.”

For those needing financing, it is smart to come to the trade show already prepared with a business line of credit and/or a loan from your bank that is ready to go. Or know if the company has credit terms for the equipment it sells. If you prefer to do a lease arrangement, know what the interest costs will be and understand the difference between buying and leasing. Sometimes lease-to-buy can give you advantages, but understand the terms. For smaller purchase items, he suggested using a rewards credit card to accrue mileage or product offers from the credit card company.

Another type of vendor is available at most trade shows: the money lenders. There are often a handful of these folks eager and ready to prepare financing for you. If you haven’t arranged financing in advance, these booths should be the first stop in your shopping experience so when you start looking seriously at equipment, you have the ability to deal coupled with the ability to pay up front.

Getting the Quote and the Deal

When you finally find a piece of equipment that you are seriously interested in purchasing, remember that you need not buy at that moment at that show. Get the sales representative to generate thorough paperwork that includes the price quote and all the details such as shipping costs, packaging and delivery, customer service and support, and warranties (how long, what does it include, and possible extension options). Further, include information and policies about returns, refunds and upgrades, as well as added fees such as taxes.

On this written estimate, remember to ask the sales rep to put it in writing that they will honor the deal past the end date of the trade show. Once you have this piece of paper, you can return home, finalize your decision and make a single phone call to your contact salesperson to pull the trigger on the agreement.

Don’t forget to ask about availability of used or demo equipment, which can sometimes be a money-saver. You might find cost reductions as much as 25-30%, but more typically reductions range between 15-20%, which is pretty nice when talking big-dollar numbers. Remember to investigate the terms of the warranty if you look at purchasing a used piece of equipment.

Liberman said a valuable general rule is to “look in the sales representative’s trunk.”

He has found over the years that everyone has add-ins such as discounts, extra accessories or equipment, warranty modifications, etc., that they might be able to throw in if you just ask. “Don’t be afraid to ask,” he said.

Take-Home Message

Trade shows can be an excellent place to do business, but you have to do your homework and be prepared to spend some time investigating various vendors in order to get what you want at the best price.

Of all the important pieces of advice Liberman had to offer, the one he wanted everyone to remember is this: “These are not your friends! This is business!”

In any transaction, the only person who will look out for your best interest is yourself. Happy shopping!

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