Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article was published by NAMM U.

The NAMM Show and Summer NAMM are always fun times to see new products, meet new people and catch up with old friends. But, as retailers, we need to make sure we’re getting the most out of each show. Amid all the fun distractions, remember that we’re there to work. It’s easy to watch every demo, concert and artist signing, but, if you do that, you won’t leave your first booth.

Now, it might sound as if I’m all work and no play, but the world around us is changing. What we used to do isn’t as effective anymore. Take a few minutes and consider the flow chart provided.

What it says, in essence, is that time equals change. The more that things around you change, the more that what used to lead to success will eventually lead to failure. We need new ideas and approaches just to maintain our positions in the marketplace. The NAMM Show is the single easiest way to be inspired with new ideas to keep your business relevant.

With that in mind, here are my top 10 tips to get the most out of the NAMM Show.

1. Attend NAMM Idea Center sessions.

Go to the NAMM Web site well before the show and check out the Idea Center schedule. Then, using an online calendar that syncs to your smartphone, plan your vendor/booth appointments around the NAMM U sessions that you want to check out. Also, I recommend that you require your staff to attend NAMM U sessions, as well. That way, they’re hearing new ideas that will change your business straight from the horse’s mouth! Have them put their initials in the calendar appointment so you know who is going. (See adjacent page.) Have them take some notes, too. For sessions that we think are going to be especially important, we will often have several people (maybe our whole NAMM Show team) at a single session.

2. Schedule vendor appointments.

Don’t wing it! You’ll have a hard time talking with anyone if you just walk up to a booth. (That is especially true of brands you don’t carry, but that you’d like to…namely, the big-name brands.) Remember that your time is limited. If you spend as much time in the Idea Center as we at Springfield Music do, you won’t have time to meet with someone just because he or she asks for a meeting. Conserve your time, and plan your meetings using a map of the show floor to keep from walking back and forth.

3. Set a budget.

Again, don’t wing it. Have a plan for what you’ll order. If you don’t, you might as well hand over your wallet. Listen to the vendor’s presentation, and then take some time to think about what’s best for your store. Let the excitement of a new product or a great presentation pass before you write an order. You will save tons of money.

4. Schedule a pre-NAMM meeting for staff.

This is a great opportunity to set the tone for the trip. You want your crew to know that they’re attending the show to improve your business—and your bottom line. Explain what’s expected of them, and get their input on what they want to accomplish. One of our managers wrote a simple outline of what to expect, and we use that to review our expectations with all attendees before we leave home every year.

5. Schedule a post-NAMM meeting for staff.

Do this before the show, or else it might not happen. It’s a great time for each team member to share what he or she got out of the show. Most importantly, though, it’s your opportunity to create an action plan. Don’t try to implement all your new ideas in the first six weeks. Spread them out over the next six months to one year. At Springfield Music, we actually do nightly wrap-up meetings at the show. Then, on the last evening of the show, we have our final wrap-up of our trip. (Sometimes, it’s even in the car, if we’re driving.)

6. Take advantage of free food.

Attend the NAMM U Breakfast Sessions. The breakfast is always excellent, and it’s free! Also, the morning panels and presentations are usually very good. And here’s a bonus tip: Before the show, ask your best suppliers if they would like to take you and your crew out to dinner one night. That alone could save you hundreds of dollars.

7. Wear comfortable shoes.

You’ll be doing a lot of walking. I’ve noticed the women in our group sometimes bring two pairs of shoes: one to walk from one end of the convention center to the other, and another for when they’re in the booth….

8. Use your smartphone.

Use it to record product demos, take pictures and post to Facebook/Instagram, etc. Generally, the artists who do the presentations are trained professionals, so the demos are very good. You can show the footage to the crew back home for product training, and then reuse it in your social media. Facebook Live makes it very easy to broadcast the latest and greatest products to your fans and customers back home.

9. Bring your own bag.

Don’t be that person who carries the free bag from a vendor. You’ll hate it by the end of the week. Bring a messenger bag or backpack with comfortable straps and plenty of storage. Bonus tip: Be selective when taking literature. If you aren’t, you’ll need your own personal porter to get all your swag back home. I clean out my bags when I’m packing to go home, and I only keep the stuff I know I’ll need. A smarter idea is to take business cards, and then have the vendor mail literature to you.

10. Find an industry group or mentor.

This is probably my number-one key to success. (Well, maybe number two, behind the Idea Center.) There are several industry groups, which have like-minded people who are trying to grow their businesses, that you could consider joining. The Independent Music Store Owners (iMSO) is a Web-based group that’s open to independent music store owners who do not have more than four branches and who earn less than 50 percent of revenue from Internet-based activity.

If that doesn’t work out, then speak to someone whose Idea Center presentation really moved you and ask if you can keep in touch…maybe run questions and problems by them in the future. You’ll be amazed by how much help they can offer you. And, hey, the worst they could say is “no.” You have nothing to lose!

Using the preceding tips has helped me build my company, Springfield Music, into a NAMM Top 100 dealer with five locations. Follow all of them and I’m confident your business will improve, too.

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