Do you have all the lab stuff? I mean ALL the lab stuff? I’m guessing you probably don’t. Which means you’re going to (at some point) actually buy some things for your lab. I’ve previously written about how terrible lab supply websites are, so we can rule out looking on the internet. That leaves you with two choices – either you invite a rep to see you *shudders* or you have to go to a trade show.

Trade shows are a ‘show’ in the sense that people will show you things. They are not a lab supply version of Cirque Du Soleil, although I do think the use of suits and pop-up advertising stands would make for a very moving performance when thrown around 3 stories above a stage. Instead, they are a large, hanger-like room filled with carpet-wall clad booths, each wall covered in stock image people looking very happy about some Star Trek looking equipment.

That futuristic looking tech is why trade shows are so good. In fact, in some cases it’s the only time I ever get to see some of the latest toys and widgets on offer. A lab can be pretty insulated from the latest developments in short metal spatulas, and without trade shows (and wonderful, free magazines like Laboratory News) I’d never hear about the launch of the Spatula Note 7 with self heating.

The other advantage is that broadly speaking, trade shows are free events. I’m used to £700 – a person conferences. Granted, I often get free sandwiches but I’m still not sure I manage to ever get £700 worth of free sandwiches (trust me, I try). So trade shows being free is a pretty good deal.

Although I say free but what I mean is that I pay with an offering of my personal details. To get a ‘ticket’ to a trade show you often need to fill in a lengthy form detailing your name, address, contact details, home contact details, your parents contact details, your field, preferences in pipette tips, lab coat measurements, annual budget, number of minions, favourite brand of pyrex glass wear, etc etc. This  personal information can later be used to send you highly specific catalogues for bean harvesting equipment. That’s not a joke, I really did once get sent a bean harvesting catalogue after attending a medical device trade show.

But if you can overlook that Faustian payment scheme, then you are rewarded with a day chatting to excited looking sales people about technology that will absolutely do the thing you want it to do. Of course the real pros at the trade show booths don’t just have clever equipment with suspiciously good claims. They have interactive clever equipment with colourful liquids and buttons! If you choose your booths carefully, a trip to a trade show can be a bit like a day out at the Science Museum, although I wouldn’t suggest taking kids – small humans don’t have business cards to hand out and they aren’t very good at feigning interest long enough to have a go with the robot arm.

Of course the content of a trade show is superfluous dressing really. Everyone knows the really value of a trade show is in the freebies. I went to one years ago where I got 2 mugs, a shirt, a handful of stickers and a kite! Honestly no idea what the trade show was about but the kite is excellent. I think the company that gave it to me might have had a green logo…

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