With CES (the Consumer Electronics Show) just a few weeks away, here is my advice on tackling the mother of all trade shows.  These tips are tricks have been learned over the years and are equally helpful for CES as for MAGIC, Toy Fair, The Housewares Show, FMI and every other big buying show throughout the year.

    1. Build a schedule.  Go into the show with a schedule.  I break it into half hour increments.  First, I populate it with the 3-4 presentations I want to see, then I start setting vendor appointments.  To cover all the acreage at CES, be careful to schedule meetings in one building at a time.  Share your cell phone number with all scheduled vendors and ask them to call you with any changes on their schedule.  Do the same for your vendors.  Make sure all vendors know how much time you have allocated to them up front.  If things are going well, they will always schedule more time with you after the show.
    2. Divide and Conquer.  If you are travelling with a team of people, make sure to have a planning session beforehand to divide up assignments, vendors, presentations and agree on joint and individual messages and meetings.  Make sure everyone has cell phone and hotel details.
    3. Speaking of presentations, be choosy.  Rarely are these sessions full of insight and direction.  Attend the sessions for only a few reasons: you want to connect with the presenter (make sure to build in time to loiter after the session and have a 1 minute pitch ready to go) or you have an important question you want to pose.  Frankly, I also try to schedule a few just so I can sit and rest my feet (see item #10.)
    4. Stay in the hotels with tram service to the Convention Center.  This will save you money and time.  To avoid long lines for transportation, arrive at the hall early and leave early.  Try to make your way off the floor by 3:30.
    5. Manage your Business Cards.  Bring more than you think you will need and keep the ones you receive organized.  Give yourself a ONE WEEK LIMIT to return communication and follow up from the show after your return .  My experience is that if you wait more than one week, it will not get done.  Both you and the vendor will lose momentum.
    6. Party with the Big Guys.  Do not be shy about asking the big players to get you tickets to their after hours parties.  Get a ticket and have a ball.
    7. But linger with the Small Guys for real innovation.  While the big guys have their plush mega-stations, branded water bottles and matching team polo shirts, schedule time to wander through the offerings of the smaller guys for innovative products that add spice and differentiation to your standard assortment.  Team with them now and you can influence their products and gain true competitive advantages in the future.  There is risk in working with these young start-ups, but a wise choice can mean true profit builders for smart retailers.
    8. Focus time on relationships that need work.  We all have favorite vendors, but spending time with them at the conference is actually a waste of your time.  Spend time with vendors that have issues and agree to have decision makers at the table.  You can always connect to strong suppliers outside of the conference.
    9. Wear comfortable shoes.  No matter what.