May’s Fabulous CHA Prep Tips

CHA is no longer months away – it is only several weeks now! While it’s an exciting time for crafters wondering what the next big things will be, and what our favorite companies will release, it can also be stressful if you’ll be attending the show. There’s a lot of preparation that goes into attending a trade show! I have attended as a buyer, working booths, covering the show as a reporter for this website, walking the floor as a designer, and more. I have seen things that make me cringe and been wildly impressed by show floor professionalism as well. Having attended a number of shows and walked many a CHA-floor mile, today I want to share my top suggestions and tips for getting ready.

For anyone working or attending:

The show is long. You get thirsty, and the temperature on the show floor is often not anything like the temperature outside. Those are some factors that remain the same no matter what occupation you are attending in. For anyone going, I have the following suggestions:

* Wear comfortable standing shoes. Oh, you’ll be walking a lot, but also make sure the shoes you have on are comfortable not just for covering distance but also for standing up on a hard floor all day long.

* Bring plenty of water and quick snacks. Being dehydrated and hungry is almost a given at CHA, but try to at least reduce that by being prepared and having some water and crackers, granola bars, or other quick snacks on you for a fast pick-me-up.

* Bring lip balm, hand sanitizer, a light sweater, and lotion. Not only can the show floor fluctuate from hot to cold, but it is more often than not very dry in the hall – making Chapstick and lotion much needed amenities.

* Write down contact phone numbers, important booth numbers, times, and other pertinent information in more than one place before you leave home. I keep a written list in my small CHA notebook, as well as in my phone.

* Bring a small notebook and some pens. Don’t get caught without a pen and paper – you never know when you’ll need it.

* Do some tests on your CHA wardrobe before you leave home. Squat, bend over, lean forward, and generally move around in front of a mirror in your outfits. Don’t get caught in a wardrobe malfunction or sharing more of yourself than you would like at the show due to a too-loose blouse or skirt with a slit just a bit too high in the back for CHA use.

* You never know who that lady is sitting in the booth behind you, who that man tying his shoe is married to, or who the person next to you in the airport while you gossip on your phone is. From the moment you arrive at the airport until you return home, assume the people near you are working in the craft industry and will repeat what they hear you saying. The old adage to only speak if you have something nice to say is a great idea during the show.

For those attending as buyers:

Buyers are the belle of the CHA ball. They’re the reason, after all, that the manufacturers show up! While this means that buyers don’t have to worry so much about cute outfits or smiling excessively, it is perhaps the most exhausting of all the ways to attend CHA. Balancing orders, budgets, and space in your store as well as remembering show specials and dealing with the pressure of choosing the hottest items that will sell for you – well, it is outright exhausting! Having to cover the show floor, watch for new items and great deals, and review catalogs in your hotel room each night only adds to the exhausting pace. There are a few suggestions that I have that might help a bit:

* Watch Scrapbook Update’s peek page! Getting a head start on knowing what is being released, talked about, and anticipated can help you know what to look at first or what emerging trends you want to shop for.

* Set appointments with your reps when you can. Often an appointment can mean having a comfortable place to sit down for a while, and if your sales rep covers multiple companies, it can also save you some time. If you can get before or after show hour appointments, that’s great too – it adds to the hours that you have available to shop!

* These days a lot of the paperwork is done via computer or  is otherwise digital, but that isn’t universal so I advise that you bring your store info printed on address labels. Business cards are nice, but being able to slap a sticky label with all your info onto an order form or new account form can save a lot of time and writer’s cramp.

* Listen to your customers before the show. These days, consumers know about new products often before store owners! Make note of what your customers are raving about and asking for.

* Bring an assistant (or two) if you can. Having the right help can lighten your load, give you input on what to buy, and generally make CHA a better experience.

For those working at a booth:

The most common error I see is people who do not know the company and products of the booth they are working for, have no clue how to redirect any questions they can’t answer, and seem unfriendly or uninterested in buyers approaching the booth. While I understand that most people working a booth and taking orders do not work in sales or marketing for the manufacturer, it is not hard to take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with some customer service basics.

* Smile, and be friendly to everyone. Talking to others working within the booth with your back turned, ignoring potential business, is unacceptable. When having friendly chats during down time or speaking with friends that stop by to visit you, keep your eyes alert and your face friendly. Save in-depth personal conversations for after the show floor closes.

* Know the booth you are working for. Know whose name you should give out as a contact to various people, and some general info about what is new, what’s being sold, and why people should come on in! You may not be a crafter or know the details of the new releases, but at least have enough info so that you are competent.

* When doing demonstrations or make & takes, be friendly and explain your process. While everyone at the show is in the craft industry, not all are experienced in actual crafting. Also be sure that you are highlighting the company’s new products and helping them shine. As the demonstration tables are most often at the outer edge of the booth, you are frequently the first impression that a prospective buyer gets of the company you are representing.

For those attending as designers and/or those looking for work:

The most important piece of advice I can give to job hunters is to remember that you should never get in the way. Manufacturers are there to sell to retailers, and you should not take up time with a representative of a company if a buyer is waiting and the person you are speaking with is there to write orders. Excusing yourself or stepping aside to allow for orders to be taken and waiting for a quieter time in a booth is appropriate and always appreciated. Respecting the manufacturer and buyers in this way is one of the most important things you can do.

* Dress for comfort, but also style. Make a good first impression. Your entire look is representing you and this can be a true chance to shine. A hand crafted piece of jewelry or accessory can be a great conversation starter too.

* Make appointments in advance, or at least know who you should be talking with before you attend the show. Often there is a specific person you need to speak with to get results.

* Have business cards. This is not negotiable. You need to be able to exchange information as you make new contacts, and writing your info on a scrap of paper for people just isn’t professional.

* Have realistic expectations and goals. CHA is a great opportunity to network and meet new people, but don’t expect to leave with a huge contract for your own line of products and a TV show (or whatever other huge deal you dream of getting). The real work and opportunities come more often between shows, and require a lot of work beyond attending a trade show.

While exhausting, CHA is an event I always look forward to attending. I do my best to contact friends and colleagues to arrange meet-ups and mix some fun into the business of CHA. I am loading my camera, phone, battery chargers, and other necessities into my suitcase, and looking forward to my trip to Anaheim.

Planning ahead, and bringing your best smile, will ensure that you have a great as well as productive time at the show. Watch blogs of your favorite craft celebrities for demo times and appearances, as well as checking in at booths when the show starts for more of that kind of event info. If you’re attending the show and see me around – I hope you say hello! I will be walking the floor as well as doing several book signings for my F&W book Scrapbook Workshop.

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9 Responses to May’s Fabulous CHA Prep Tips

  1. Charlie LaBonte January 3, 2012 at 9:44 am #

    WOW, WOW,WOW… Love this article. This will be my first time attending and you bring out a lot of very good points. Some of it practical and some of it down right awesome. It is great to have insight to what to expect and what to be prepared for. Thank you for posting such a great article.

  2. Bunnyfreak January 3, 2012 at 11:04 am #

    May, wonderful advice and article. The customer service related tips are helpful for anyone who had interaction with the public. Great insights.

  3. Laurel Beard January 3, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

    This was VERY informative. Thank you so much! This will be my first time ever attending CHA and I am going there to work in one of the booths! Thank you so much for taking the time to write all this out! I took notes! 🙂

  4. Mike Hartnett January 4, 2012 at 10:40 am #

    Some thoughts:

    In their column in Creative Leisure News, Kizer and Bender have some excellent advice for buyers attending the show. You can read it here: You don’t have to register for CLN to read their column.

    Innovations. Most exhibitors submit their new products, so when you get to the convention center, go to the Innovations display. You’ll probably find new products you hadn’t heard of before.

    And go to the Innovations Sneak Peak event (4-5 pm, Saturday). A panel of judges will pick the top new products and at the Sneak Peak those exhibitors will display/explain them. It gives buyers a great head start on the show.

    I don’t know why, but many, many people immediately head for the new exhibitor section. That first day the section is crowded. I always wait until the last day when it’s much more quiet and the exhibitors have more time to talk to you.

    Finally, this will be my 33rd consecutive winter show. My first show, 1980, was dominated by … macrame. Later, counted cross stitch, then wearable art, and lately scrapbooking. So remember, what you see in Anaheim is a snapshot of the industry today, but not necessarily what the industry will be tomorrow.

  5. Cindy deRosier January 4, 2012 at 11:21 am #

    Great advice! I went to CHA last year for the first time, but won’t be attending this year (sniff, sniff!). Have a great time!

  6. Aldean January 4, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

    Great article. It is very informative. Another good tip: If you are going to be purchasing from vendors/distributors etc, and you do not have an account with them, save time by bringing a several copies of your business license with you to help expedite things. Keep a master so you can make more if necessary. Bring more business cards than you think you actually need. You’ll be dropping them off for drawings, handing them to sales reps, and passing them on to new friends. So bring more than 100!
    Always remember to be polite to everyone. If you aren’t interested in what they are selling be nice and move on. We are all just doing our jobs.
    Rolling bags and backpacks are great tools to have also.
    This is my 14th time attending and there is always so much to see!
    Excited to see everyone there!

  7. Gab January 4, 2012 at 8:29 pm #

    Great tips May! A friend of ours has a saying “never miss an opportunity to keep your mouth closed”!!

  8. Wendy January 16, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

    Thanks for the tips – as a first timer I find them very helpful!

  9. Lisa January 17, 2012 at 11:14 pm #

    This will be my 5th winter show. I pack my roller case with water, lip balm, an expandable folder with my tax license, business cards, labels with my business info on it, and a clipboard with a spreadsheet of all the companies and their booth numbers that I know I want to hit at the show.

    Comfortable shoes is a must. I’m a comfort before style gal, so my shoes won’t win me any best dressed awards, but they’re comfortable all day long.

Let us know your thoughts!