A Day in the Life of a Trade Show Exhibitor
May 30, 2023
15 min. read
Summer is a busy time of year here at Martin’s. It is the start of our “summer bun season,” where we sell the most product due to consumers looking for their go-to hamburger and hot dog buns as they return to outdoor grilling, whether for holidays and special occasions or for weekly cookouts. It also coincides with an increase in trade shows, food festivals, and other food service events.
Over the past nine years, Martin’s has participated in numerous food service events as a way to spread the word about our famous potato rolls and bread, both to end consumers and industry professionals. The Martin’s® brand has become a household staple in the East Coast and Midwest regions of the United States, as well as in many other countries where we have established distribution.
These trade shows and events help us to find new Potato Roll fans and potential future customers who we can partner with to produce high-quality, great-tasting food for all to enjoy.
Nevertheless, there is a lot of work that goes into planning, preparing, and executing these shows. From ordering sample product, to assembling the booth, to interacting with event attendees, we need a lot of hands on deck and outside assistance to pull them off.
Read on to experience a “day in the life” as a trade show exhibitor as we take you hour-by-hour through our most recently attended show: the National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show 2023.
About the National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show
The National Restaurant Association Show is the nation’s largest food service trade show. In their own words, “The Show brings together the people, ideas, products, solutions and information that make up the entire domestic and international industry spectrum. It is the must-attend, pinnacle event of the industry.”
The show takes place annually at McCormick Place in Chicago, IL, during the month of May. This year’s show was held on May 20-23, 2023.
Martin’s has attended the show annually since 2014, with the exception of 2020 and 2021 when the show was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Across these nine years, we have spoken to over 1,400 people in the food service industry and shared samples of our bread and roll products with thousands more.
This year’s show was no exception. Our team in attendance had the privilege of discussing with event attendees numerous topics such as our institutional product line, national and global distribution models, and product benefits and accolades.
Check out this quick recap reel of the event:
Here is a daily recap of the event:
A Day in the Life: National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show
Friday, May 19
11:00 AM EDT – Travel to Chicago, IL
The team drove and/or carpooled to the airport for their short flight to Chicago. The flight took about 1 ½ hours in all and included a time change from Eastern Daylight Time to Central Daylight Time.
Did You Know?
Business travel can be a stressful process! Between packing for your trip (and keeping your suitcase under a certain weight limit), arriving to the airport with enough time to make it through security, and finding your way to your gate, there are so many moving parts that must all fall into place. Preparation is key!
1:30 PM CDT – Hotel Check In
After landing in Chicago, the Martin’s team headed straight to the hotel to check in. After grabbing a quick bite to eat, half of the team settled in and finished off their day’s work by checking emails, answering phone calls, etc.
1:45 PM – Product Drop-off
At this trade show, there are four other exhibitors who requested Martin’s product for use with their samples (more on these below). In order to get the product onto the trade show floor, we need the help of various team members, including: an independent distributor for Martin’s, who delivered directly to one of the vendors; our Area Sales Manager, who dropped off product to another vendor earlier today; and a member of our own Martin’s trade show team, who delivered the requested product to the other two customers after arriving at the hotel.
1:45 PM – Booth Set-up
Meanwhile, the remaining members of the Martin’s team, along with Exhibit Specialist Tim Le, headed to the show floor to get the Martin’s booth set up and ready for the next day.
There is a lot of work involved with setting up the 20’ x 30’ booth, such as:
- Shipping the parts and pieces from the storage facility in Harrisburg to the trade show facility.
- Assembling the walls, display cases, back room, storage areas, awnings, roof, shelves, and various other fixtures.
- Supervising the electricity installation for the lights, display cases, TV displays, and other outlets.
- Decorating and styling the shelves with antique accents.
- Organizing sample product in the storage room for easy access during the show.
- Preparing the sampling station and prep room with necessary tools such as a hand washing station, gloves, hand sanitizer, and product sampling materials.
- Arranging product in glass display cases.
- Organizing various printed materials like brochures, info packets, and business cards at the sampling counters.
Thankfully, our Exhibit Studios representative takes care of most of the heavy lifting and supervision including shipping, constructing, and assembling the booth before our team arrives, so that we only need to take care of the final steps of decorating, arranging, and preparing the stations for the first day of the show.
Did You Know?
Martin’s has worked with Exhibit Studios (Harrisburg, PA) since 2014 when they designed and built our first-ever trade show booth for that year’s NRA Show.
Martin’s custom booth design features a light blue backdrop (to match our original route sales trucks), Martin’s logo, product and food imagery, vintage antiques, and a blue-and-white gingham awning reminiscent of a traditional bakery. The booth has expanded and grown a bit over the years, but the general look and feel has remained relatively the same.
Check out these behind-the-scenes images of our trade show booth set up:
Booth personnel assembling the booth walls.
Booth personnel assembling the booth roof.
Booth personnel assembling the shelves and light fixtures.
Full booth set-up (20’ x 20’).
7:00 PM CDT – Dinner at Green Street Smoked Meats
Next, the team headed together to Green Street Smoked Meats, a Texas-style BBQ joint in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood that uses Martin’s Potato Rolls & Bread. There, they had an opportunity to speak with the chef, Dave Bonner, and choose from a delicious assortment of BBQ options, including a pulled pork and brisket sandwich on Martin’s 4-Inch Potato Roll, a BBQ brisket platter with Martin’s Butter Bread, and sides such as tangy coleslaw and elote-style corn.
Visit this restaurant’s website or social media channels to learn more!
- Website: https://greenstreetmeats.com
- Facebook: /greenstreetsmokedmeats
- Instagram: @greenstreetsmokedmeats
- Twitter: @greenstreetsmokedmeats
9:30 PM CDT – Return to Hotel
After a busy day of traveling and preparing for the start of the show, most of the team was ready to call it a night and get some well-deserved rest.
Saturday, May 20
Show Day 1; Show Hours: 9:30 AM – 5 PM
A typical day at a trade show looks like this:
The team arrives at the booth an hour prior to the start of the show in order to turn on the lights and TV signage, clean off the sampling stations, set out any marketing print collateral, and start preparing samples.
At this show and most other trade shows, we primarily offer samples of our regular Party Potato Rolls so that attendees can taste our regular potato bread product that is also used for best-sellers like Sandwich and Long Potato Rolls. Occasionally, we will have other products available to sample, such as Big Marty’s Rolls (a white bread product) or our new Sweet Party & Dinner Potato Rolls.
Once the show opens, attendees can navigate the trade show floor to visit their choice of over 1,800 exhibitors in hopes of finding new vendors or business partners, networking with like-minded professionals, or beginning strategic business conversations.
Meanwhile, at Martin’s booth, our team members hand out product samples to folks who stop by, pass out food service and/or retail brochures to those interested in obtaining Martin’s products for their business, and use a lead scanner to collect contact information for future follow-through. Over the years, we have made so many great connections with participants of these shows, and have been blessed with hundreds of new food service customers as a result of this networking.
Highlights from Day 1:
- Before the start of the show, the team gathered together while the Frozen Sales Manager gave a “pep talk” about what to expect during the show, including: training and direction on talking points, advice on what kind of leads to be on the lookout for, and other helpful advice!
- Our team spoke to many international attendees from countries all around the world including Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Canada, Netherlands, France, and Australia!
- Several large chain restaurants expressed interest in updating their menus to include Martin’s at some or all of their locations.
- Numerous current and prospective customers were interested in trying various Martin’s products, such as Texas Toast Potato Bread (available for food service only), Martin’s Swirl Breads, and Martin’s Slider Rolls.
In all, the team collected over 70 leads this day; meaning they scanned the badges of that many attendees with whom they spoke, in order to follow up with them upon returning home.
Around midday, Martin’s team members usually take turns breaking for lunch, ensuring that there are plenty of people manning the booth at all times. This break allows the team to scope out the trade show floor, sample from other vendors and exhibitors, and also pay a visit to any other stations that are using Martin’s products for their sampling options. (Note: At this show, there were four other booths using our products.)
One of the vendors using Martin’s at their sampling station was Nathan’s Famous (North Hall, Booth 6016). A few members of our group stopped by to sample the delicious hot dogs being served on Martin’s Long Potato Rolls.
Toward the close of the show, the team begins winding down any conversations that are still happening, cleans off the countertops and sampling materials, and makes sure to back up and charge the lead scanners prior to turning off the lights and shutting down the booth for the night.
McCormick Center; main entrance to the trade show
|McCormick Center from above
Martin’s team members talking with some
trade show attendees
Martin’s team members, Wendy, Natalie, and Rachael
Martin’s Frozen Sales team members,
Terry and Natalie
Nathan’s Famous booth serving up hot dogs on Martin’s Long Potato Rolls
6:00 PM – Quick Rest
The team members headed back to their respective rooms for a quick rest, shower and/or change of clothes, and mini work catch-up session (as needed).
7:00 PM – Team Dinner at Shake Shack
After a quick break, several members from the Martin’s team headed to Shake Shack, another food service customer, for a team dinner. There, they enjoyed some delicious burgers and chicken sandwiches on Martin’s Sandwich Potato Rolls!
9:30 PM – Bed
After an eventful first day, it was time for everyone to wind down for the night!
Sunday, May 21
Show Day 2; Show Hours: 9:30 AM – 5 PM
See Day 1 above for an in-depth summary of a typical trade show routine.
Highlights from Day 2:
- Beaver Street Fisheries (BSF), who owns the brand Sea Best®, was serving up Fish Po’ Boy Sliders with Lemon Garlic Aioli on Martin’s Sweet Party Potato Rolls over at Lakeside Booth 10212, so we made sure to head over during lunch to try a sample and to talk with their team!
- Several fast casual burger and fried chicken restaurants were interested in using Martin’s Potato Rolls for their menu options, as were a few quick-service brands.
- Canadian attendees had nothing but great things to say about Affinity Group, our Canada food service broker!
- Both current customers and interested attendees who stopped by our booth commented how pleased they are with Martin’s products and how drastic a difference in quality our products are from competing brands.
Our team collected another 70+ leads on this day.
Sea Best® Fish Po’ Boys on Martin’s
Sweet Party Potato Rolls
BSF/Sea Best® representative
Julie Martin with Alex from Jack Brown’s restaurant (a Martin’s food service customer)
Dennis, Natalie, Wendy, and Rachael at the Martin’s booth
6:00 PM – Quick Rest
7:00 PM – Team Dinner at Bub City
Today, the team visited Bub City in Rosemont, which has been a Martin’s customer for quite a few years. With two locations, one at River North in Chicago and the second in Rosemont, IL, “Bub City is the destination for barbecue and live country music.”
There, the team chose several different menu items to try, including a brisket platter and a BBQ brisket sandwich (pictured below).
Learn more about Bub City at the links below:
- Web: https://www.bub-city.com/rosemont
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bubcityrosemont
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bubcity
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/BubCityRosemont
Brisket Plate with pickled vegetables and
Martin’s Bread & Rolls on the side
Chopped BBQ Brisket Sandwich on a
Martin’s Potato Roll
9:30 PM – Bed
Monday, May 22
Show Day 3; Show Hours: 9:30 AM – 5 PM
See above for an in-depth summary of a typical trade show routine.
Highlights from Day 3:
- A few fast casual and quick service chains were considering switching to Martin’s as their new bread supplier as they are looking to expand.
- We had wonderful meetings with current food service customers, Dave’s Hot Chicken and Super Chix, as well as our Dominican Republic distributor, Genesa, who all stopped by individually to chat with our team!
- Numerous casinos mentioned they are looking to upgrade their food offerings and thought that Martin’s would be a perfect fit.
- Meati Foods was also exhibiting at the event to showcase their product, Eat Meati™, an alternate protein solution made from mushroom root. They were serving up Crispy Cutlet Sliders on Martin’s Sweet Party Potato Rolls at their stand (Lakeside Booth 10402). We made sure to send over some Martin’s team members to sample some bites.
Note: Meati worked with local pitmaster and chef at Lillie’s Q, Charlie McKenna, to create the recipe for the show.
Terry Lushbaugh, Dennis Wenrick, and Julie Martin with representatives from Dave’s Hot Chicken
Todd Bixby with exhibitor, Meati
Meati representative serving up Crispy Cutlet Sliders on Martin’s Sweet Party Potato Rolls
Meati representative preparing samples
6:00 PM – Quick Rest
7:00 PM – Team Dinner with Martin’s Distributor
Half of the team met up to have dinner with Martin’s Australian distributor, Garbi, along with a customer of Garbi’s. Everyone had a wonderful time catching up and enjoying a nice meal. The representatives from Garbi even stopped by at the trade show the following day to chat some more!
Meanwhile, the remaining members of the team caught a bite to eat at the Navy Pier.
9:30 PM – Bed
Tuesday, May 23
Show Day 4; Show Hours: 9:30 AM – 3 PM
See above for an in-depth summary of a typical trade show routine.
Highlights from Day 4:
- Day 4 (Tuesday) was much slower than the previous three days, but our team still had some great conversations with attendees and fellow exhibitors and garnered several more promising leads.
- The fourth exhibitor using Martin’s Potato Rolls at the NRA Show was Halperns’, a steak and seafood purveyor. Over at South Hall, Booth 3854, they were handing out samples of their products on Martin’s 4-Inch Potato Rolls.
- We had the opportunity to speak with our distributor, Garbi, in Australia who came by to check out the Martin’s booth and meet the trade show team.
- An exhibitor, Show-Me BBQ Sauce, opted to use Martin’s Slider Potato Rolls to showcase their sauce on a pulled pork sandwich. They also expressed interest in partnering at future shows.
- Celebrity chef Jeff Mauro was at a booth showcasing his new items and Julie Martin stopped by and chatted with him for a while about connecting over social media and possibly working together in the future!
- The new ABA (American Bakers Association) president stopped by the booth and filled us in on some new initiatives within the baking industry.
- Across all 4 days of the show, we had 18 local leads from the greater Chicago area that are interested in partnering with Martin’s. In all, the team collected 272 total leads from interested attendees.
- One final takeaway: We found that this year’s show was very different from past years because many people outside of our fresh distribution now have access to our products because of DOT Foods. We are very pleased to see that DOT is opening many doors because we are now available through essentially any distributor outside our fresh service areas.
Halperns’ station serving up burgers on
Martin’s 4-Inch Potato Rolls
Chef Jeff Mauro with Julie Martin
Show-Me Bar-B-Q Sauce booth featuring
Martin’s Slider Potato Rolls
Three Martin’s team members with American Bakers Association (ABA) president and ABA director
3:00 PM – Pack up the Booth
The show ended early on the last day, so as soon as the last few conversations wrapped up at our booth, the team began closing things down. This involves cleaning the sampling stations, discarding any old product or samples, packing up brochures and other printed materials, washing the utensils and other food prep items, packing away props and any personal items that arrived with the team, and preparing the booth to be handed back off to the exhibit specialists to begin disassembly and transport.
Note: This process will start all over again in a few short weeks for the next trade show!
3:45 PM – Travel Home
With the booth packed up and suitcases in hand, the team was ready to head home! They were picked up by two rental cars and transported to the airport where they caught a flight back to the East Coast before dispersing back to their respective homes for a quiet dinner and some much-needed rest.
Participating in these industry trade shows can be an exhausting endeavor, with all the travel, being away from home, standing for long stretches of time, and constant excitement and conversation. But, at the same time, they are extremely rewarding. They offer the chance to learn and adapt and grow from others in the industry, to build new connections, and to form purposeful, strategic partnerships that will hopefully last for years to come.
Thank you to everyone who stopped by the Martin’s booth and took time out of their busy schedule to express interest and excitement over our products. And a huge thank you to our trade show team who expertly represented our company and helped to spread the word about the brand we know and love so well.
Connect with Us
If that sounded like a hectic agenda, trust us, it was! But the National Restaurant Association Show is only one of numerous food service events we are participating in during the year of 2023.
We look forward to meeting more new customers and deepening our relationships with existing customers at all the upcoming shows, both here in the US and around the world. If you are a food service representative or retail partner, we invite you to stop by our booth at one of these upcoming shows and talk with our team about how we might best serve you or partner together. We look forward to connecting with you!
Tip: You can also reach out any time by submitting our Food Service Contact form at the link below: https://foodservice.potatorolls.com/contact.
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