The only reason I can think of for going to conventions is to fill up swag bags full of free stuff at the trade show. During my career I've put together a world-class collection of tally books, nail files, tote bags, magnetic calendars, water bottles, mini-flashlights, decks of cards, Post-It notes, key rings, posters, and letter openers.
I'm drawn to free stuff like a heat-seeking-missile, and have found that with little effort you can do all your Christmas shopping at trade shows for free.
Trade shows are Halloween for senior citizens. You walk around putting free stuff in your sack and you don't even have to wear a costume! Although, if you want to go back several times to the booth that's giving away expensive and high-quality sorting sticks, you may want to wear some sort of disguise.
The dirty little secret of trade shows is that the really good stuff like clocks and apparel are hidden and only given out to VIPs, so be sure to mention you're already a good customer and you may score a jacket, watch, pocket knife, or Cross pen and pencil set.
Using such a technique, I haven't had to buy a new jacket in more than 50 years. (Although, my wife did think it was uncouth for me to wear a Select Sires jacket to a wedding.)
Every year there's a sizzling-hot item everyone's giving away. For instance, I have a 5-foot stack of free mouse pads with the names of drugs on them, which used to be pretty popular before track-pad technology rendered them obsolete.
I looked for alternative uses for them such as hot pads in the kitchen, but all I succeeded in doing was embossing the word Ivermectin on the countertop and the bottom of my wife's favorite saucepan.
Another year, cup holders that keep your drink cold were popular. I have an entire kitchen cupboard full and my wife constantly harps on me to get rid of them but I just know after I do, one will show up on “Antiques Roadshow” for $30,000.
Cotton roping gloves with an advertising message are popular now, but if you're as bad a roper as I am, a single pair can last a lifetime.
Back before ballcaps became so expensive, I put together a collection that has grown to more than 200. And I'm extremely proud that my advertising pen collection has now passed 5,000 pieces.
An Eastern soybean farmer is my idol because he's collected over 10,000 advertising pens. A shrink might conclude I have a problem in this area, but in my defense, I'm a writer and I still do it the old-fashioned way.
Doing a trade show right is exhausting work, and I train for one a month in advance by running while carrying a backpack filled with 40 pounds of free notepads. I've thought of renting one of those three-wheeled scooters like you see in the grocery store, which could cover more ground and haul more tonnage, but I fear being pulled over by DOT for being overloaded, or for operating one for more than 10 hours.
Once the doors to a trade show open, you have to use your time wisely – so don't stop at booths that only hand out pieces of candy or colorful brochures that take up too much room in your bag. If you meet friends, keep all conversations brief. Time's a wastin'.
Likewise, don't waste time entering drawings you aren't going to win, and don't be afraid to ask other swag junkies where they got any good stuff. Although you may be tempted to leave the spouse at home, this is one time you'll want to take him or her along, as you can double your take.
I understand you can buy stuff at some trade shows, but personally, I've never stooped that low. I'm only after the free stuff.
A word of warning: Please realize that when I say "free," it's not really "free." By the time you factor in your airfare and $200-a-night hotel room, you may discover your "free" Leatherman tool ended up costing you $1,200. And that's assuming the fine folks manning the scanners at the airport, who frisk 89-year-old ladies, will let you keep it.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Readers may log on to www.LeePittsbooks.com to order any of Lee Pitts’ books. Those with questions or comments for Lee may write to him in care of this publication.