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This past weekend I attended the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago. This show hosts over 100,000 attendees from over 100 countries.
The mix included suppliers, restaurateurs, the media and entrepreneurs, like myself, hoping to tap into this lucrative 600 billion market. For the past year I’ve been building restaurantbrandingroadmap, an e-learning product, a web site and business that serves up marketing and branding help to this niche market of independent restaurateurs. I hope to launch the first product within the next 60 days. To date I have built a membership model website and a robust blog.  At the same time I’ve been aggressively building a base of future buyers and fans via twitter, Facebook and my opt-in community. Part of my growth strategy is to get into the minds of my market, so I can better deliver on their unmet needs and to build a network of restaurant product and service providers that I can partner with to accelerate the project and monetize my efforts.

Attending any large tradeshow is a significant investment for a small company. To attend this show, I will spend about $3,000. before time costs. This covers travel expenses for two, show attendance fees, special business cards I printed that promote the restaurant product and an online subscription to watch the Tampa Bay Rays TV on my laptop so I don’t miss a game 😉

A show this size can be overwhelming without a good game plan. So Lauren (My Chief Problem Solver) and I came up with ours to ensure a healthy ROI at the show.

1.) Before you go, set your accountable goals and your action plan to achieve them.

  • For us it meant taking home 500 new contacts.
  • Discover at least 10 promo partners.
  • Make 5 media contacts.
  • Identify at least 50 resources for content.
  • Learn at least 20 new marketing ideas.

2.) Print something that you can hand out that speaks to why you are at the show.
For us, in addition to our Brain Tattoo Branding Business cards, we printed special cards that included our restaurant product, site and social media addresses.

3.) Identify targeted companies you want to meet and schedule your day.

4.) If you go with a colleague like I did, don’t hang out together all the time. Don’t sit next to each other at a session or on the shuttle. You can cover twice as much ground if you both go different ways.

5.) Don’t wait to get home to sort out your hot new contacts and ideas. Take action while stuff is fresh on your mind. Organize your thoughts and leads, contact your new friends in social media right away. The next morning we already had traction from our new contacts on our site and social media accounts.

6.) Take pictures and keep good notes of your journey, the people you meet and new resources. These pics will not only give you follow up material for your new contacts, they can be seeded in social media and in your blog.

7.) Stay focused on who you want to meet. This show had over 1800 exhibits, only about 20% mattered to me concerning business goals. Don’t forget your mission.

8.) Look professional, but dress comfortably. I usually wear my red glasses and some creative jacket or outfit. This seems to be a magnet for conversation and strangers get the vibe I’m a creative thinker.

9.) If you say you are going to follow up with someone after the show, do it! This is part of your brand. Keeping your promises.

10.) Stay at a cool hotel. The likelihood of meeting cool people will increase. We stayed at the Sax. I love this place, it’s hip, has good energy and is in the heart of lots of interesting and fun places. The House of Blues is next door.

11) Bring a ton of business cards, if there are 100,000 people at the show you you can easily burn through 1,000 cards.

12) Make sure you have downloaded all the apps to help you be productive.
-For us this was a QR scanner on your smart phone., so you can bookmark cool things. Many booths used this digital tool.
-Instagram to take and share photos.
-The NRAshow app to view the schedule and map layout quickly.

If you are interested in restaurant or hospitality branding, do check out my other blog. There will lots of great new posts concerning this exciting industry.

Brand on!