It’s no secret there is a multitude of trade shows surrounding the alcohol beverage industry. So how does one choose which to attend and get the most out of that choice? Following just a few simple steps will get you on the right path toward turning your trade show experience into profits—and even having some fun along the way.


Making the choice

When it comes to wine-focused trade shows, attending the annual Unified Wine and Grape Symposium is a no-brainer. It’s the largest of its kind in the United States, and offers everything you can possibly think of (and then some) surrounding the wine industry. This year, it will take place at California’s Sacramento Convention Center January 23 to 25 and will feature educational sessions focusing on winemaking, grapegrowing, business operations, marketing, and sales; a keynote speech by Gina Gallo; networking events; as well as 28 large vineyard and winery machinery areas and more than 700 vendor booths.

“Get to know people and create a rapport. They should remember you, not your Merlot.” —Sid Patel, Beverage Trade Network

If all this sounds a bit overwhelming, it is—especially if it’s your first time—but the experience is unmatched in the industry. Fortunately, there are plenty of other, smaller trade shows and conferences that can also suit your needs. The choice of which ones to attend all comes down to what you’re looking to get out of them.

“There are three main factors to think about,” says Sid Patel, CEO and founder of Beverage Trade Network, which produces the United States Trade Tasting in New York City (May 15-16, 2018) and the International Bulk Wine & Spirits Show in San Francisco (July 25-26, 2018) and London (February 26-27, 2018). “Where do you want to grow your distribution? What type of vendors and participants will be there? And what’s the quality of buyer intent?”

George Christie, president of Wine Industry Network, which hosts WINExpo trade show and conference in Santa Rosa, Calif. (November 30, 2018), US BevEx in Washington, D.C. (February 21-22, 2018), and the Wine & Weed Symposium (2018 dates) agrees. “Choose based on what you’re looking for,” he says. “For example, if you’re a new winery, you’ll want to learn about equipment, meet providers and ask questions. And no matter who you are, you’ll want to consider what educational programs will be offered. Networking opportunities are also important. You can never have too many friends and resources to call upon when you face a challenge.”

Think about where your company is located and what shows are offered within the region. Then spread out to where you want to expand or share knowledge about your product or service—without busting your budget. See where and how you can get the most out of your trade show investment. If you’re regionally focused, staying close to home is likely your best bet. If you have a larger presence, spread out.


Crafting a vendor plan

Your game plan will depend on if you’re attending as a vendor, participant, speaker, or all three. “The good thing about trade shows is they offer face time—a chance to get up close and personal,” says Suzanne Webb, a freelance marketer who’s currently consulting with the Spirited International Spirits Trade Tasting and Show (February 27, 2018) in Santa Rosa, Calif. “They’re where the conversation starts and where sales begin. They’re far better than emails, phone calls, or other passive forms of outreach.”

“The most important thing, as a vendor, is to reach out to all your customers and let them know when and where you’ll be.” —George Christie, Wine Industry Network

“The most important thing, as a vendor, is to reach out to all your customers and let them know when and where you’ll be,” says Christie. “Tell them you’ll have a show special. Offer promo codes for products or services, or give them free access to the show floor or discounts on workshops. This will ensure your booth is busy.”

“Line up meetings and set a schedule for dinners and networking,” advises Webb. “Do any kind of selling in advance: place advertisements, let people know where you’ll be and when—especially existing customers. Be your own ambassador.”

“Fifty percent of your effort should take place pre- and post-show,” says Patel. “Scheduling meetings maximizes your presence, whether they’re during or after the show. When you meet new people, exchange business cards so you can follow up afterward,” he adds.

As far as booths go, it’s basically up to each company. Trends come and go regarding looks and experiences. The most important thing to focus on is human interaction and relationship building. “It’s all about relationships,” says Patel. “Get to know people and create a rapport. They should remember you, not your Merlot. Be engaged, listen well, and don’t talk about how great your product is the whole time.”

“Contests are good,” says Webb. “Business card drawings and sponsored photo booths are fun. Anything that engages people.”

Taking advantage of the show’s free offerings on its website and within its app is also a smart step. “Offer discounts that are show-only,” suggests Webb. “Or point out that a new product launch will only be found there. Let people know they’ll be the first to see it.”

“Lots of trade shows have tools you can use to help create meetings,” says Patel. “Include yourself there and ask the show’s producers what the paid-versus-free things to do are that can help create brand awareness.”

It’s also important to maintain a friendly, social presence in your booth. Who wants to walk up to someone who’s sitting down and staring at a phone? “Stand up when you’re in your booth,” says Christie, “or, if you can’t stand for long periods of time, have a tall stool so you’re still at eye level with the people walking around.” Having a friendly demeanor—and a genuine smile—will draw people toward you.


“It’s a work venue, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time.” —Suzanne Webb, Spirited International Spirits Trade Tasting and Show

Participating with purpose

“If you’re a participant, you’ll benefit from the one-stop shopping experience,” says Webb. “Everyone is in one place, which makes it easier to discover new products and take advantage of educational opportunities.

“For large events,” she adds, “take a group and target what each person will do. Some will walk the floor, others will attend sessions. Put a short to-do list together and stick to it.”

If you don’t have a booth presence but consider yourself an expert in your field, try leading or moderating a session or participating in a panel. “It’s worth the experience,” says Patel. “Organizers are focusing on content, so if you have a good subject, there’s value in sharing it. Even if you’re simply attending a session, talk to the people around you. You never know who you’re going to sit next to.”

“Some speakers do it professionally for money,” adds Webb, “but most are really passionate about what they’re doing and just want to share the information. They want to help people make decisions and be successful. They can also gain insight from others on the panel.”

“Be comfortable introducing yourself,” says Christie. “Talk to the people who are asking the same questions you have. Map out a plan regarding which sessions will help you make the most of your time—and take notes while you’re there.”


Enjoy yourself and follow up

Collecting swag at vendor booths is one thing (especially if what you find is useful), but what the entire experience comes down to is relationships. This means taking part in networking opportunities. Attend general sessions and meet the people around you. Say “yes” to party invitations. “You need to attend the social functions,” says Christie. “Be comfortable introducing yourself. You never know what might come out of that relationship.”

“These events are also fun and social,” says Webb. “It’s a work venue, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time. It’s all part of the process.”

After the event, follow up with both existing and new customers. Tell them how much you enjoyed meeting them. See if they’d like to get together again. Use the power of having met face-to-face to your advantage. You’ll likely make some new friends along the way.