Tricks Of The Trade Show

John Lindgren has found his niche. After 23 years with Issaquah, Washington-based apparel supplier SanMar, he is the undisputed brain behind the company’s sophisticated trade show strategy. SanMar, one of the largest exhibitors at The PPAI Expo, relies on Lindgren to concept, plan and execute the details so that customers who visit their space have a meaningful, memorable experience. 

Lindgren grew up in a northern suburb of Chicago and then moved to the Seattle area before high school. His original career aspiration was to become a shoe buyer for Seattle’s major department store, Frederick & Nelson. He worked his way up to the ladies’ shoe department, but in 1993, Frederick & Nelson closed its doors. His first job interview after that was with a promotional products company, but he didn’t get the job. As luck would have it, SanMar snatched him up as an inside customer service representative.

Lindgren quickly advanced to managing the company’s two national showrooms. After traveling to his first industry trade show—The PPAI Expo in Dallas, in 1997—he was promoted to marketing manager and asked to lead SanMar’s trade show program. He was also tasked with creating, launching and managing the company website

What are your responsibilities as marketing manager?

Over the years, I have had full exposure to our catalog production, photoshoots and special events. Our trade show program is currently my main responsibility as we exhibit at hundreds of trade shows and events throughout the year. I travel to approximately a dozen of our larger events where I ensure our booth and staff have everything they need to produce the best show possible. 

What part do trade shows play in SanMar’s overall marketing strategy?

I’ve always said I’ve got the best job in the organization because I get to bring the finest products and our award-winning sales team directly to our customers. Trade shows are a critical vehicle for our customers to experience our products firsthand, which isn’t possible with a catalog or website. 

How do you prepare for each trade show? 

I consider each year an evolution of the year before, so post-game notes and interviews from previous shows give me the information needed to start planning future events. Once booth space contracts have been signed, we’re ready to plan the space, staff and goals for each individual show we attend. 

What needs to happen for you and your team to consider a trade show successful?

My goal is to develop a space that is welcoming and collaborative for customers and employees. It’s important that we create an authentic SanMar environment where everyone feels comfortable coming together. I always want our products to shine, as I’m a big believer that first impressions can make or break a product.

How did SanMar’s exhibit change for The PPAI Expo 2018? 

Every year we make improvements. This year we added kiosks throughout the booth, allowing quick and easy access to our online resources by customers and employees. The “new product” section tends to be the most popular area of our booth, as it gives our customers the chance to preview new products and take the first look at hundreds of new styles. 

We also unveiled a number of new styles from Port Authority, District and Sport-Tek. I’m also very excited that we premiered a new line of clothing from New Era with over 30 new styles. 

How do you spend your free time at The PPAI Expo?

Who has free time at Expo? That’s what I love about it—there isn’t any free time. I will admit I have an annual tradition of squeezing in an old-school professional shave at The Art of Shaving. It’s my one chance to relax and revive before the event begins. 

I also love the time I get to spend with my SanMar family. Even if it’s just the long walks down the Mandalay Bay hallways to and from the show floor, it’s time I get to catch up with the people I am proud to work alongside.

What advice would you give to newcomers in the industry about maximizing the benefits of every trade show?

Ask questions, and take advantage of face-to-face time with the experts. And, of course…  bring great walking shoes. 

What do you like to do outside of work?

I am a big fan of musical theater, so when I’m on the road traveling for work, you may find me checking out the local theater. When I’m at home I enjoy yoga and snow skiing in the Cascades. My husband, Christopher, and I just celebrated 27 years together, and we live with our two dogs, Scout and Dudley, in our home in Snoqualmie, Washington.

What is next for you at SanMar?

SanMar and I are about the same age, and we both have a big 50th birthday not too far off. Trade shows are in my blood, and I just love what I do, so I don’t think you’ll find me too far from the trade show floor.  

Terry Ramsay is associate editor of PPB.