trade show floor
The show floor at h+h americas at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.

Photo courtesy of h+h americas.

Attending a trade show such as h+h americas is an investment. Although Craft Industry Alliance members get free admission to the show floor, there will still be travel and lodging expenses, registration fees for workshops, and the costs of having someone else hold the fort at home and work while you’re away.

Here is a guide to maximizing the return on your trade show investment. We’ll talk about setting goals, preparing for the show, and following up after the show. With just a little planning, you can reap the rewards of your attendance for years to come.

I attended my first trade show in June 2000. I was six weeks away from opening a yarn store. I knew no one in the business, and I attended the show alone. I made all the mistakes. Even if you’ve attended trade shows before, these strategies may help you get more from your time at h+h americas.

Set Your Goals

Think about what you want to get out of your trade show experience. For my first show, my only goal was to order inventory for the shop. If you’re a retailer, your goals might include seeing which new products and techniques are trending or finding a new supplier for a staple product. If you’re a designer or service provider, your goal might be to meet with existing clients face-to-face, or to introduce yourself to new potential clients and collaborators.

Do you want to improve your marketing and merchandising skills? Find ways to optimize your operating and management systems? Make education one of your goals and register for one or more of the business classes.

Be sure to include building and tending relationships as one of your goals. I’m not a fan of the word “networking”—it feels too transactional to me. But really, good networking is just connecting with other people in a meaningful way. A trade show is an invaluable opportunity to find and nurture relationships that will sustain you throughout your career.

Make your goals specific and write them down. Keep that list handy as you register for the show and create your schedule.

Prepare for the Show

When I attended my first trade show, I wandered the aisles like I was shopping at the grocery store without a list. I didn’t really know what I was looking for, nor did I know which exhibitors were most likely to have the products I needed. Technology allows you to be far better prepared than I was.

Begin by spending some time with the exhibitor list. Click on a listing to view a pop-up with a brief description of the exhibitor’s offering, a link to their website, and contact information. Exhibitors may also include links to wholesale price lists, sell sheets, and other information.

An example of the exhibitor listing pop-up.

Make a list of each exhibitor you particularly want to visit. Then click over to the exhibit hall floor plan. The exhibitors are listed in alphabetical order. Find those you want to visit and click on the little flag next to their name. A red flag will appear on the map at the location of that booth.

h+h exhibit hall map
The floor plan for h+h americas 2024. Plan your visit by reviewing the exhibitors and their locations before you arrive.

Photo courtesy of h+h americas.

By mapping your visit in this way, you may find you don’t need to walk every aisle. Your feet will thank you.

While you’re on the website, register for h+h connect and complete your profile in the networking section. This interactive digital platform will be a valuable resource both before and after the show. You can find more information about exhibitors, and a completed profile will help them connect with you!

Consider making an appointment with any exhibitor you expect will be popular at the show. Contact your sales rep, if you have one, or use the contact information shown in their vendor listing. This will save you the frustration of trying to catch someone’s attention in a busy booth.

If your goals include connecting with potential new clients or collaborators, create or update your media kit and print more copies than you think you’ll need. Keep it to a single page, and don’t attach anything other than your business card. You want to make it easy for your potential partner to take your information back to their office and find it when they are ready to move forward.

Reach out to people you are eager to meet. Perhaps you have a client you’ve never met in person. Maybe you’ve admired a designer’s work on Instagram, and you want to propose a collaboration. Or there might be a former co-worker with whom you’d like to reconnect.

Send an email suggesting you get together for coffee or a meal. The trade show is a rare opportunity to meet with others in the industry face-to-face. Relationships matter, and very few of us want to have dinner alone. Make the first move.

During the Show

Many creative people are introverts, uncomfortable in crowds of strangers. When I walked into my first trade show, I felt like I’d entered a party to which I had not been invited. Everyone seemed to know everyone else. What I’ve learned is that the no one was excluding me—I was excluding myself.

Be the first to smile and say hello. Introduce yourself. Ask questions. The person sitting next to you at a keynote presentation might also be shy. You might find your next potential customer standing behind you in the line for coffee. I’ve met other designers and tech editors at trade shows who have become lifelong business friends and valued sounding boards.

group of people talking at h+h americas conference
On the show floor at h+h americas at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.

Photo courtesy of h+h americas.

In the exhibit hall, be mindful of the exhibitors’ priorities. If you are not a customer for the exhibitor’s product or service, be prepared to gracefully step aside when a buyer enters the booth. If you run into a friend, don’t crowd an exhibitor’s booth with your conversation—step into the aisle and make room for buyers.

Take a break midday and review your progress. Which of your “must-see” exhibitors have you missed? Which of your goals have been met? Return to the exhibit hall with a clear idea of what you need to do next.

After the Show

Soon after you’ve unpacked, spend some time following up. Send thank you emails for any product samples you received. Write to new contacts to let them know how pleased you were to meet them and suggest ways to stay in touch. Set a date for a sales rep to visit with you. Send samples of your work to a potential client. It’s never too soon to start tending those all-important relationships.

And mark the dates for next year’s show on your calendar. You won’t want to miss it!

Sandi Rosner

Sandi Rosner


Sandi Rosner (she/her) learned to knit in the late 1970s from the instructions in the back of a magazine. She now works as a freelance designer, technical editor, writer and teacher. When Sandi isn’t knitting, she usually has her nose in a book. Find more of Sandi’s work at