Home » Trade Shows

Category: Trade Shows

That One Memorable Thing

I was in Orlando for a trade show a few years back. I met up with some friends and the five of us headed to a steakhouse for dinner. It was one of those meals you talk about forever.

I could start with the off-menu ordering of a 20oz Filet Mignon so tender you could almost cut it with a fork. I could mention that three of us foolishly decided to add lobster tails to our entree. I say foolishly because that lobster was as good as if I had been transported to Maine. You couldn’t stop eating it, even after finishing off a perfectly grilled steak.

But the biggest, most pleasant mistake of the evening was ordering dessert. We shouldn’t have. We were all stuffed beyond belief. But someone had told us to make sure we ordered the chocolate fudge cake. At any other meal the five of us might have ordered a couple desserts to split among the table if we ordered dessert at all, but we were already pleasantly full and even considered passing on dessert. On this night we only ordered one. It was the best and worst move of the night.

Image result for charley's steak house chocolate cake
Charley’s Steak House Chocolate Fudge Cake

The slice of cake arrived and it stood almost a foot tall! It was taller than it was wide, three scrumptious layers of the richest, most moist chocolate cake I have ever eaten, with a hint of orange and a chocolate fudge frosting I could have taken a bath in. Thank God we only ordered one because, like the rest of the meal, we couldn’t stop eating it despite how much we had already eaten. I wish, however, that we had ordered a second one to go. I have dreamed about that cake several times since.

You have a meal like that in your memory.

We all have that memory of an experience that went far above and beyond what we expected. The details are burned into our minds, especially that one detail of the most unexpected moment, like when that towering slice of cake arrived. They didn’t have to make that cake that tall. It was so good that an average sized slice would have still been shareworthy. You could argue that they were probably losing money on that cake. I will argue back that they were buying advertising with that cake.

If you ever go to Charley’s Steak House in Orlando, I will tell you that you HAVE to order the cake. So will any others who have done so before. It is hard to order that cake when you’ve just eaten such a huge, wonderful meal, but you will because I told you to. You will because of word-of-mouth of someone who went before you, just as we did because of someone that went before us. Heck, you probably weren’t even planning a trip to Charley’s until I told you to go get the cake.

Think back on your favorite meal in a restaurant. What stands out? You will find that one unexpected surprise, that one detail that you build your entire story around when you tell your friends.

Now ask yourself …

What experience does a customer have in your store that is so unexpected and surprisingly delightful that they will have to tell their friends about it?

That’s how you generate word-of-mouth. You have to have that One. Memorable. Thing. It isn’t something you advertise, it is simply something you do so over-the-top that people have to share it with their friends.

Bonnie Raitt said it best. “Let’s give them something to talk about.”

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS When you do what everyone else does, you don’t get talked about. You just fade into the landscape. Do something different. Do something no other business in your market would even think of doing. If it costs you a little money, think of it as an advertising expense. It pays in the long run. Just think how many times Charley got to add a piece of cake to the bill, not because he advertised it, but because he made it so memorable that I advertised it for him.

Stories From Toy Fair

The big show for the toy industry starts this weekend. It feels weird not gearing up for the trip to NYC. So instead of a trip to New York, I’m going to take a trip down memory lane. Here are some of my favorite stories…

Toy Fair LEGO Booth 2010

This first story goes back to my grandfather, Mayor Phil Conley’s first trip back in 1950. Munn Furman (Furman’s Clothing) pulled him aside and told him the vendors there did their “credit check” by the thread count of his jacket. Munn gave my grandfather a new suit to wear and told Phil to pay him for it after the trip. Sure enough, the first showroom my grandfather entered, the guy vigorously shook his right hand saying hello and welcome, all the while rubbing the shoulders and back of the suit coat with his left hand. My grandfather knew immediately he would be paying Munn for that suit (and that suit was already paying for itself!)

Lesson? Appearances do matter. They did back then and they do today. Make a good first impression if you want to be taken seriously.

My dad had an interesting story of being in a showroom once back in the early 80’s when the Toys R Us buyer entered the room. The man talking to my dad left him in mid-sentence – yes, with half a word still dangling in the air – to go meet the TRU guy. Another gentleman came and escorted my parents from the showroom as they closed shutters and locked doors behind them. I had a similar experience in a booth two decades later when a salesperson actually said, “You’re not as important to me as the Toys R Us buyer. You can find your way out.” In both cases, those companies lost our business. In both cases those companies were out of business long before we were. In both cases, politeness would have gone a long way.

Lesson? Sure, your best customers deserve top-level attention. But then again, so do all your other customers. If either company had been polite and apologetic toward my dad or me, they wouldn’t have lost any customers that day.

One of my favorite booths was Education Outdoors. They had a hunting lodge feel to their booth. Tim and Jesse were always welcoming and friendly. They had two camp chairs in the booth. Usually I would see them late in the day. After two days walking the concrete floors lugging a few hundred pounds of catalogs, those camp chairs felt like Lazy Boy recliners. One year I got to their booth and my phone battery was dead. They had paid extra to have electricity in their booth and let me plug in my phone and pick it up an hour later. I can count on one hand the number of booths I trusted enough to even ask such a request, let alone trust them to leave my phone behind. Yes, they were always one of my favorite vendors. Probably one of yours, too, if you ever played the game “Camp”.

Lesson? Relationships matter. Trust matters. Helping each other out matters. Little acts of kindness matter. Get those things right and the rest will follow.

My favorite part of attending Toy Fair had to be the basement booths. The basement was filled with a lot of smaller companies. A lot of game inventors were downstairs. Education Outdoors was always downstairs. A lot of single-item toy inventors were downstairs. A lot of treasures to be discovered were downstairs. You had to walk some of the aisles with blinders on. This is where the real salesmanship was happening. Everyone was trying to catch your eye. Everyone had their pitch ready. If you so much as slowed down or glanced in their direction, they pounced.

“This will be bigger than Tickle Me Elmo!”
“Come on, give a small guy a chance…”
“Boo! Made you look. Now you have to stop in the booth!”

Or my favorite line I heard once, “Hey Phil, my friend bet me I couldn’t get you to stop in my booth.”

There were people sitting on chairs in the back of their booths waiting to be discovered. (They never were.) There were people jumping out in front of you as you walked the aisle. It was dog-eat-dog selling. The line that worked best was simply, “Phil, can I show you something new?”

Lesson? Honest, sincere pitches always work best. Gimmicks might get my attention, but never got me to buy. (Same thing with your advertising.)

I don’t miss travel to NYC in mid-February (been there for several feet of snow over the years) but I do miss the trade show, especially the after-hour sessions talking shop with my peers over a few beers. A lot of lessons to be learned for anyone paying attention.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Yes, I stopped. But only after he agreed to split his winnings with me. Funny thing is that I don’t remember the booth or the product, only the gimmick.

Is Customer Service Dead?

I just spent several days in Las Vegas for the ABC Expo, the largest trade show for the juvenile product industry.

Las Vegas. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas (btw, they mean the money you gamble stays in Vegas).


One thing that didn’t happen in Vegas was me drinking beer. Not that I didn’t try.

I ordered a beer in a burger & beer joint in one casino. Took almost 20 minutes to arrive. I probably would have had two if I hadn’t filled up on water waiting for the first one.

I ordered a beer at another restaurant just as I started my meal. When the waitress finally returned to see if we wanted our check, I switched it from a tall to a regular.

I understand the concept of not bringing the check in a restaurant until they ask for it, on the hopes that people will continue drinking and run up the tab, but I wasn’t getting either the drink or the tab. It’s hard to pay 20% on over-priced meals when you get service like that.


It wasn’t just the restaurants, either. I was in one of the largest booths on the trade show floor. I asked for a price list so that I could place my order. The sales rep said she was instructed not to give them out.


I’m about to write an order equal to one month of your salary. You have a stack of price lists in your arm that I can see clearly. And you won’t give me one? Did you forget why you were here?

Time after time, booth after booth, I had to ask to make sure they gave me a price list with the catalog. It was baffling how hard many of these vendors were making it for us to do business with them.


Another store owner and I, while waiting for our dinner check, had plenty of time to discuss the general lack of customer service everywhere. We shared stories of trips to the big box stores, department stores, mall stores, and yes, even indie retail stores where the bar was not met.

Think about it. Here are two retailers who understand the challenges of retail. Our bar of expectation is probably more forgiving than others. Yet we were lamenting how we couldn’t find anyone to consistently give us even simple basic customer service.

Yet a new survey from SAP SE says that one of the keys to future growth is, “Improve the in-store experience, because while a focus for many years on the in-store experience has paid off, retailers must continue to evolve and innovate to keep up with changing customer needs.”


The key phrase is changing customer needs. Actually they aren’t changing as fast as you might think. But if you aren’t hyper-focused on your customer’s needs, whether it be a beer or a price or just a friendly smile, your customer service is dead and dying.

My fellow retailer and I came to a simple conclusion. Customer Service is really quite simple…

Give the customer exactly what she wants.

WOW Customer Service is not much more difficult.

Give her exactly what she wants and then a little more.

We didn’t find that in Las Vegas. But if you do that in your store, it will pay off in ways the slot machines never can.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Your brick & mortar competition (chains and big-box behemoths) have pretty much given up on Customer Service. You know who hasn’t? The online stores. Amazon is hyper-focused on the customer. Other major online sellers are doing the same. If you can start exceeding your customers’ expectations, you can own the b&m landscape. Need an idea of how to raise that bar? Download Customer Service: From Weak to WOW! in the Free Resources section.

Mixed Message

I was in Louisville, KY last week for the ABC Expo, the biggest trade show for the juvenile products industry. A trade show this big deserves decorations just as big. And sure enough, right outside the Expo Center was a twenty foot tall rocking chair…

…with an unfortunate sign in front of it.

This was the first thing we all saw when we arrived at the show.  This was our first impression.

They might as well have said “Go Home!” or “Unwelcome!” or “Stay Out!” 

That sign was not there the first day. My best guess is that someone tried climbing on the chair which prompted someone from the organization to draw this crudely lettered five foot tall sign. Don’t you think it could have been handled in a far better way? Maybe a couple small signs attached to the legs for anyone who got close enough to think about climbing on the chair? Maybe better wording like, “For display purposes only,” or “Do not try this at home,”?

There are two lessons in all this.

First, go outside and walk up to your building. Be a customer. Look around you. See where you might be giving off a bad first impression. Fix it now.

Second, make sure everyone on your team knows the message you want to send. Make sure everyone knows the Core Values that drive you. Make sure everyone knows the impression you want to make. Even the most bottom person on your totem pole should know enough not to make this kind of mistake.

Yes, the little things like this do make a huge difference.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Managing your Brand means managing the impression a customer has of your store. When you send out a mixed message, your customer gets the wrong impression. Control the message and you control the way people feel about you.

That Kind of Customer

Don’t you just hate the customer who walks in, looks around, and then asks, “What kind of deal can you make me?”  No deal, no special, they aren’t buying.  Not only that, they are walking out grumbling as though you missed the boat. Everyone else has a special. Why not you?

Let me ask you this…

Would you rather have a customer who comes in once a month and spends $50 on regular priced merchandise or a customer who comes in twice a year to buy $315 worth of merchandise for $300?

We hate that second customer, don’t we?  Can’t stand seeing them walk through the door.

Yet we are all guilty of being that kind of customer.

I’m attending a conference and trade show for the juvenile products industry this week.  In a couple days I will walk the trade show floor asking every vendor what kind of incentive they will give me to place an order.  5% off?  Free freight?  Extended dating?  All of the above? Go big or go home.

And the vendors look at me the same way I look at my customers who do that.

Here is the funny thing…  Unless the deal is really big, writing two orders a year is the surest way to put you in the poor house. It’s bad for cash flow.  It’s bad for product mix.  It’s bad for flexibility for your store.  When you place orders that big, you tie up a lot of money, a lot of showroom, and a lot of warehouse space under the hope you can sell it.

But what if you don’t?

Your store will actually have more cash, more flexibility, and more profit if you made six or more smaller orders at full price than two big ones at minimal discounts.  First, you would have more flexibility to always be in stock if one item starts selling fast.  Second, you would have less dogs to markdown when an item dies on the vine.  Third, you would have the cash in hand to pay for the order before the terms came due.

And finally, you would become the kind of customer your vendor wants to do business with.

Be that kind of customer.  It will improve your relationships with your vendors and bottom line.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  But still ask for those discounts when you do go to the trade shows.  Just don’t stretch your order to get them. More often than not you’ll lose all the discounts by buying stuff you don’t want or can’t sell. Better yet, ask for smaller minimums so you can make more small purchases throughout the year instead of just waiting for the next trade show.  For more on how to manage your cash flow and inventory download my FREE eBook Inventory Management