I’ll never forget the cab ride I had in Vegas several years ago.  As the cabbie drove me to the airport at the end of my third visit to Vegas in six months, he asked me, “So, you come to Vegas often?”

My answer: “Yes.”

I’m no longer that level of frequent flyer between D.C. and Sin City (the real estate downturn, you know), but the one show I do attend annually is the International Builders Show, which begins Tuesday, Jan. 19. This marks my seventh trip to IBS in nine years, so I’d like to think I’ve picked up a few tips along the way to make the most of the show.

Here are my recommendations.

1. Attend the seminar on how to sell to women using social media. You may think this topic  sounds fluffy, but think again. Women influence 91% of home buying decisions, according to researchers; social media is one of the key ways smart companies are connecting with their customers now, and two of these presenters—Carol Flammer and Dina Gundersen—gave one of the best, most useful presentations I attended last year at IBS, where they discussed social media and how to make it work for your home building company. Here’s what I liked: they knew their stuff, they took questions from the audience throughout their seminar, they had an informative handout that I still use, and their presentations—and on-the-spot answers—offered useful, actionable advice to people at all levels of social media experience, from newbies to experts. Flammer (a PR practitioner in Atlanta) and Gundersen (who handles marketing for Monte Hewett Homes in Georgia) are returning to IBS with additional panelists to discuss using social media to sell to women. They are speaking Tuesday, Jan. 19, at 1:30 p.m. in South 221. You can bet I’ll do my best to be there.

2. Bookmark our IBS Twitter page.  Like last year, we’ll be live-tweeting from IBS and aggregating IBS-related tweets on the BUILDER Online Website. If you use Twitter and will be at IBS, tag your tweets with #ibs2010 so they get pulled into our live feed—it’s a great way to share your great product finds and observations with other Tweeple at the show. If you’re skipping the show this year, this feed will keep you in touch with the key trends and topics at the show.

3. Bring your own snacks. Given the housing recession, IBS attendance will surely be down from the recent past, but the lines for Starbucks and any tasty edibles will still be unbelievably long, especially when you are hungry, thirsty, or in need of caffeine.

4. Boost your business management knowledge. When it comes to managing your production home building business for profitability and efficiency, the people to call are Chuck and Emma Shinn of Shinn Consulting. Chuck, who’s been in the industry for decades and knows the recommended profit margins for every aspect of a home building company off the top of his head, will be doing three seminars at IBS this year. (See list below). If you want to succeed as a home builder, you’ll want to make time to attend the one that addresses your situation best.

  • How to Minimize the Cost of Building Green - "Achievements Made in the Past Year"
    Tuesday, Jan.  19 at 1:30 p.m. in North 258-260

  • Estimating and Purchasing
    Wednesday, January 20 at 10 a.m. in South 232

  • Re-Tooling Towards Recovery
    Thursday, Jan. 21 at 3:30 pm in South 231

5. Take a virtual tour of the BUILDER Concept Home 2010. We do a show home for IBS every year, and 2010 is no exception. But the format is a little different this time: We’re going virtual. Designed by Marianne Cusato (who created the now-famous Katrina Cottage as an emergency housing alternative to government-owned trailers), the BUILDER Concept Home 2010 offers 1,700 square feet of virtual space with four bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms. You can check it out starting Jan. 19 at www.builderconcepthome2010.com/ or you can visit booth C2128 at IBS to meet the team and get an online tour.

6. Invest in improving your cash flow. SMA Consulting, named for longtime industry consultant and accountant Steve Maltzman, most likely knows what’s wrong with your books—even if you don’t. Luckily, one of SMA’s partners--Bob Whitten, who’s also a former chief operations and financial officer at Wayne Homes of Ohio—will be speaking at IBS. Whitten will discuss a critical issue for builders in this downturn: managing cash flow for the short and long term. His seminar, Forecasting Cash Flow: Your Crystal Ball, is Thursday, Jan. 21 at 8 a.m. in South 232.

7. Find out what home buyers really want in a home. I have to admit that I always find the results of this annual consumer preferences survey, which is conducted by the NAHB and Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, fascinating. BH&G Executive Editor Eliot Nusbaum and the NAHB’s Rose Quint will be presenting this year’s findings on Wednesday, Jan. 20 at 8 a.m. in South 219.

8. Check out the products on the show floor. Our team of product editors extraordinaire—Nigel Maynard, Katy Tomasulo, Lauren Hunter, and Vicky Markovitz—have sorted through the press releases to find 35 notable products worth exploring at this year’s show. Click here for their coverage. If you’re just interested in green products, then you’ll want to look at this list, compiled by our colleagues at EcoHome magazine.

9. Go green. Yes, green gets a lot of hype these days, but as energy efficiency, sustainability, and related issues move into the mainstream, builders will need to adapt. This press conference, scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 20, at 11:15 a.m. in the IBS press conference room (N236), promises to provide ideas for building higher performance homes in climates from the Southwest to the Northeast for a variety of buyers. On the agenda: Steve Bertasso, formerly of the Jones Company and now with True North Development. (He also “decodes green building” on his blog and can be found @greendecoder on Twitter.)

10. Get inspired by Barry Berkus. An architect in Santa Barbara, Calif., Berkus has won countless awards from BUILDER and others for his work over the years. I first heard him speak in 2002 at a conference, where I found myself completely enthralled by his presentation on urban infill and the creative possibilities it presented for residential design. He will speak at IBS as one of the panelists for The New ABC’s of Design for Tomorrow, which is Wednesday, Jan. 20 at 8 a.m. Grab your coffee and go.

Alison Rice is senior editor, online, at BUILDER magazine. 

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Las Vegas, NV, Atlanta, GA, Santa Barbara, CA.