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Friday, July 24, 2009


Making It Work by Bruce Newman

How many of you have attended a trade show lately? What was the response you received from the vendors? Were they cordial and attentive? Did they follow-up in a timely manner?

We recently attended the Fancy Food Fair at The Javits Center in New York. It’s only open to the food industry and features some of the best (and not so best) food that’s available to both the wholesale and retail trade. We have attended this show for over ten years, have bought numerous products and developed relationships with several vendors. It’s a great venue from which to renew relationships and develop new ones.

Since we actively look for new products, we usually devote two days to this event; one, on a Sunday and then on the following Tuesday after we discussed amongst ourselves what we uncovered during our initial visit. This usually entails checking out many of the vendors, meeting new ones and if we believe at least one of their products is truly exceptional and we have developed a good rapport with them, asking them to hold that product – or at least put it aside - until Tuesday when we will return, possibly to re-try it, and most likely to place an order.

One of the most down-to-earth but yet somehow very intense and focused people that we met was Cecilia Ercolino, president of Italian Products. Not only was she helpful, but her staff was also excellent – both well trained and motivated. When I started asking questions about their line of Balsamic Vinegars (among the many other products they sell), they introduced me to Cecilia who showed me their product line.

Not surprisingly, on Tuesday, Cecilia was ready for my return visit. We ordered their absolutely terrific Oro Nero Balsamic vinegar. She even had one of her employees help carry our heavily laden bags to the front door of the exhibit. Italian Products sent me follow-up emails and contacted me by phone within a few weeks of the show. Excellent products, excellent service and relationship building; that’s how you build and maintain a business.

Another noteworthy vendor was Mount Cabot Maple who had the best maple syrup I have ever tasted. Here, were the only two people in a startup company proudly touting their product; talking about it and enthusiastically interacting with potential buyers. We had a terrific conversation with them, during which they talked about starting up their business, their product and frankly, their business prospects. When we followed up with them on Tuesday, they were ready for us. They also were very conscientious about following up with us after the show. Their actions denoted that a successful business is not just syrup – no matter how great it might be. (My apologies for the bad play on words).

Because of all these reasons, we will be doing repeat business with both of these vendors.

Contrast this with Stonewall Kitchen. While their products can be found in many stores, we found their staff to be both arrogant and obnoxious. When an existing customer asked a salesperson at their booth for some help, he responded, “Can’t you see I’m with a customer”? The person asking the question – who was a long time customer was left sputtering and subsequently left the booth. I don’t know whether he ever returned. I do know that no one would speak with us and we will never order or buy any of their products.

Another vendor had several interesting products – one of which would have made a unique and interesting gift. I spent some time with her discussing these products and their interesting origin. However, when I returned on Tuesday, she was not ready to take my order. Furthermore, I have not heard from her since the show. Simply put, she lost my business.

It constantly amazes me that vendors who go through the hassle and substantial expense of setting up and attending a show are so cavalier about new potential buyers. While my company is not Walmart – far from it, we are interested buyers who still address a good sized audience. And, that audience is geometrically increased when you include those people who interact directly with them. Much like with LinkedIn, that second level and third level audience can be huge.

Research shows that it costs five to seven times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. Furthermore, existing customers buy more often, their average purchase is two-thirds greater and they are a far better source of referral generation.

You would think that companies would go out of their way to accommodate their existing clients – unlike what we observed at Stonewall Kitchens. Yet, this is not consistently the case, often appearing to be the exception rather than the rule. If vendors took only a few more minutes to accommodate their existing clients, it is highly likely that increased sales would follow.

I hope we continue to have the occasional dialog with Italian Products and Mount Cabot Maple, among others. Not only do we plan on being a long term customer of their outstanding products, but also a potential source of referrals.

And that’s how you make it work.

The Companies Mentioned:

Italian Products – contact: Alexandra Dib
Clark, NJ


Mount Cabot Maple – contact: Carl Lindquist
Whitefield, NH

Bruce Newman, an expert on consulting, is a columnist for The National Networker and the Vice President at
The Productivity Institute, LLC. The Productivity Institute has provided consultant and client-centered solutions that significantly increase productivity and profitability to small and mid-sized companies since 2000. We also bark at dogs. Subscribe to our informative and free newsletter (circ. 7,500+) and read our blog. Bruce can be contacted at

For more information, please visit Bruce's TNNW Bio.

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