Overwhelming. That's the word attendees often use to describe the International Builders' Show (IBS),which will house more than 1,400 exhibitors this year in three exhibit halls covering 800,000 square feet of space. In 2003, the show drew 90,000-plus attendees from more than 100 countries. For dealers, the event offers an array of benefits, including the opportunity to scope out new products and leading-edge technologies, network with current and prospective clients, and reward top employees for their hard work. It's also a chance to meet one-on-one with critical suppliers.

For Donald Murphy, an outside sales rep for The J.F. Johnson Lumber Co. in Millersville, Md., the show is all about finding out what's new in the industry. In his opinion, the East Coast often is one of the last markets to get new products, and going to the show provides the chance to see what's happening in other parts of the country.

“At the builder shows we have here, the vendors are East Coast–limited,” he says. “At the national show, we're seeing the full line of products.” For example, Murphy saw trusses built with laminated veneer lumber for the first time at IBS.

On the Road A successful trip to IBS will start well before you pack your bags and head for the airport. To map out your itinerary, go online to www.buildersshow.com and click on the “Attendee Area.” The exhibit planner in the “Plan Your Trip” section lets you search the halls several ways. You also can print out maps and make appointments with vendors ahead of time.

Veteran dealer attendees recommend making a list of what you're most interested in seeing and zeroing in on those vendors. A good way to decide which vendors to see is by taking an inventory of your needs, says Mike Shonka, regional sales manager for Bender Lumber Co. in Bloomington, Ind. “Most important, go talk to your customers; try to glean from them new products they'd like more information on, or software or specific services,” he says. “I had a customer who was looking for software for scheduling. I went there shopping for him. That's what it is all about.”

During those customer conversations, find out if they're attending the show. If they are, make arrangements ahead of time to visit exhibits together. “It's nice for them to fly halfway across the country and see their sales reps,” Murphy says. “We want to walk around with them and show them the pros and cons of the products right then.”

Ron Balkus, an outside salesman at F.E. Wheaton Lumber Co. in Yorkville, Ill., agrees. The two times he's been to the show, he's taken customers with him. “It was nice to walk through with a customer to see what his hot buttons were,” he says. “They can come up with different new products they'd like to start using that you might not think of.”

Taking customers to the show can be a great way to build relationships. It provides one-on-one time that you can't get at the office. If you can take several customers, it's best to take a mix of your top-tier clients and those you're trying to develop. That way, your current clients can share the benefits of your company to the prospects.

Representatives from Olympia, Wash.–based Lumbermens, a division of Redmond, Wash.–based Lanoga, not only will be taking several customers with them to the show, they're also hosting a hospitality suite in the Las Vegas Hilton adjacent to the convention center, says district sales manager Warren Leisi. The hospitality suite will be stocked with snacks and beverages whenever the exhibit halls are open and for an hour after the halls close so that people can relax while the cab lines dwindle down.

The suite was the result of surveying customers who attended last year's show, says Jon Conde, Lumbermens' vice president of operations. Customers said they'd like someplace close to the halls to sit down and have a sandwich or a snack and something to drink. The company sent invitations to builders in its database and to members of local HBAs in its trading markets telling them about the hospitality suite, which is staffed by Lumbermens employees who can answer questions about their products and services.

During the show Lumbermens also will hold an internal awards banquet to honor its “Top Guns,” the company's highest performing outside salespeople.