Don’t spread the Suitcase Blues

In The Woo by Jeff PeytonLeave a Comment

Participating in a trade show can cost a lot of money. I’ve worked shows that cost hundreds of dollars, and I’ve worked shows where the bill totaled in the tens of thousands of dollars. When you figure in the cost of booth, electric, audio-visual, Internet access, hotel, transportation, food and staff, trade show participation is a major commitment.

Sure, the smaller, local programs don’t usually require construction of a two-story taj ma-booth, airfare or hotel costs. But bringing a table-top pop-up stand to a Chamber Expo still costs you one or two people for several hours. That, in and of itself, is a major commitment.

On average, I attend up to 10 trade shows every year. I work several for clients. I do a few for Tin Cans. And I get away as often as I can to industry-specific programs – some as a walk-in expo attendee, some as a registered (paid) attendee. (That usually means attending classes and conferences.) Next month, Tim and I will be tag-teaming a show in St. Louis, introducing that great city to

Can I tell you, my favorite way to do a trade show is to do it as a floor attendee. Meeting the vendors, learning about the latest and greatest innovations in the industry, scouting my next big supplier or vendor – that’s fun for me. It’s educational. And it’s necessary. Marketing – especially online, inbound marketing – is growing and changing too fast for any one person to keep up with it by reading a few blogs. You really do have to be there.

But let me tell you what I don’t do. Ever.

I never Suitcase.

Suit casing, if you haven’t heard the term, is what we call it when someone “attends” a trade show not to buy, but to sell. A suitcaser is someone who goes from vendor to vendor cleverly disguised as a potential customer, but what this person really wants is to sell to the vendor.

Suitcasers are very good at what they do. They’re salesmen, too, and they know that vendors are going to spend some time “qualifying” the people who walk up to their booth, trying to separate the really interested from the whistling gophers.* They take advantage of that. Suitcasers know you’re going to ask them about their business, and they are going to allow you to dig deeper, providing them the perfect opportunity to pitch their wares. But in the end, you’ll never have an opportunity to ask how you can help them, because once they hand you their card and suggest that you contact them for whatever, they’re on to their next prospect, and you’ve just wasted 20 minutes.

Some show venues discourage suit casing, others enforce a strict ban on the practice. It’s a courtesy, really. Show vendors spend thousands of dollars to be there, expecting a certain amount of targeted foot-traffic to cross their way. A suitcaser spends nothing, and more often than not distracts a vendor from actual paying customers. Worse, every conversation a vendor has with a suitcaser is a conversation the vendor CANNOT have with a potential customer.

I’ve watched show security escort flagrant suitcasers out. And I’ve watched as show security treated suitcasers with disdained eye rolls. I suppose not everyone disapproves of the practice as much as I do.

Honestly, I don’t think it’s possible to disapprove of the practice as much as I do.


*Whistling Gopher: Noun. Looky Loo. Patron curious enough to ask about price, but not really serious. For instance: “How much does that go-fer? Phewwwwww (long whistle).”

Jeff Peyton
Don’t be fooled by Jeff’s accomplishments in communications, crisis and business management. He also wing-walked on an airplane at 700 feet, co-piloted the Goodyear Blimp and swam with sharks – and still managed to obtain paperwork officially declaring him “legally sane.” Really.

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