A few tips for maximum efficiency.

So much to see, so little time.

Here are some tips to help you make the most efficient use of the few days you'll spend at the Vegas shows.

MAKE A PLAN. Retailers in INSTORE's Brain Squad say the main difference between a savvy buying expedition and running around like a decapitated chicken is pre-show research. Survey industry and consumer fashion magazines to create a list of vendors you want to see. Break these down into three categories ranging from "must-see!" to "kinda-oughta-see." Once at the show, visit vendors according to your priority list.

Even though you have a plan, it's not complete. Use your first day to walk the show and see everything. Only after that can you COMPLETE YOUR PLAN. Don't start buying right away. Better stuff tends to be in the middle, but there are certainly treasures to be found on the fringes. So start in the middle and work out to one side, then go back and work out to the other side. Move fast, and be decisive. Al Johnson of Hebron Jewelry in Hebron, NE, puts it succinctly: "Don't waste time agonizing over something that you may find only marginally interesting. If something doesn't really grab you, there's probably something in the next aisle that will." Pick up business cards from vendors who have caught your eye — and note down on the back the specific item that got your attention. Add these new vendors to your attack plan. Now it's done.

On Day Two, whip out your plan and VISIT VENDORS ZONE BY ZONE on your target list. Crowded booths might require appointments. (Or if they're really busy, ask for a follow-up visit at your store.) For vendors you already know well, don't waste your (show) time on them. If you're passing by, poke your head in, thank them for their support, and tell them you'll see them at the store.

GET DOWN TO BUSINESS with vendors. If meeting someone new, don't chit-chat. Just introduce yourself and state your objective: "Hi, I'm from so-and-so jeweler, and I'm buying such-and-such item." Pat Gilmore of Dunbar Jewelers in Yakima, WA, even sets a time limit with some vendors. Says Gilmore: "I give them seven minutes to get things done ... unless it's a new line. I tell them up front in a pleasant way."

There's only one thing worse than an expensive hot dog, and that's an expensive hot dog that takes you 45 minutes to buy. So, how do you avoid those long concession lines at Las Vegas? EAT AT 2 P.M. Sure, those fancy sandwiches may taste better at noon sharp. But they are much easier to get later in the day. To help you get past lunch without passing out on the show floor, we'll have to fall back on mom's standard advice — have a really big breakfast.

Which brings us to our last time-saving tip. Nothing — repeat, nothing — will slow you down at a show more than a Force 10 hangover. Don't drink ... or rather, DON'T GET DRUNK. Your store will thank you.


A version of this story first appeared in INSTORE in May 2008.