Making the Most of Your Tradeshow

Participating in a tradeshow, craft fair or other similar venue, can be a daunting task for small business owners, not only because they can be expensive, but also because you’re essentially buying a small piece of real estate and creating a storefront for the length of the show, which can sometimes be out of your element. That’s a lot of pressure. And choosing which shows to attend is a confusing task.

Why should you consider attending a tradeshow at all? This is a good question. With all of your marketing efforts, the point is to get your name out there. You want to be the company someone thinks of when they need your service or product, so all of your marketing efforts should first and foremost be an opportunity to get your name out there. It’s hard to determine your return on investment if your only goal is to get your name out there, so you should consider some other goals:

  • Book a certain amount of business or sell a certain amount of product
  • Collect a certain number of leads
  • Meet a certain number people who can refer business to you
  • Launch a new product or service

Now that you have a few goals, let’s start with which tradeshows should you participate in? Definitely choose tradeshows that are going to draw people who fit the demographic for your target audience or participate in tradeshows that draw your target audience as fellow vendors.  Another thought to consider is whether you should have a booth or if you should just attend and visit the booths to promote your business to other vendors. Refer to your goals and think about which way you will best be able to meet them.

For businesses that sell to businesses (B2B), finding tradeshows to participate in are rather easy. If I were a builder and my goal was to develop a network of people to refer business to me, I would participate in shows that draw realtors, plumbers, electricians, painters, finish carpenters, etc. If my goal were to sell houses (business to consumer or B2C selling) I would attend a trade that draws homeowners, like a home show.

Now, the next dilemma is what should you have in your booth? You want to answer the ‘who, what, when, where, why and how’s’ of your business. Your booth is your storefront for the duration of the show. The first thing people will want to know about you is the name of your business. At most tradeshows, the organizers will hang a small white sign with your company name in black block letters, so you can find your booth. This is NOT an acceptable sign. Either take it down or cover it up. Consider talking to a sign shop and having a 3’ x 6’ banner made of your logo or logo and company name.  If your company name does not identify what you do (like Tina Newberry Designs doesn’t really say Websites and Marketing) then add a tagline so people know right away what it is you do. You want to attract prospective customers to your booth, so make sure people know what you do. Place your sign/or banner at eye level or higher because your booth may be crowded (one can only hope) and the view to lower signs will be obstructed. If the booth is draped in curtains (a service provided by the tradeshow organizers) hanging your sign high on the back wall is a great idea (bring large safety pins!).  Make sure you ask the organizers how the booth will be laid out. If there are no drapes, you’ll want to make other arrangements for your banner or go with a different kind of sign. Maybe a hard-backed sign or two you can put on easels in your booth.

Aside from a sign, your booth layout is going to depend on if you have a cash and carry product you can sell on-site or not.

Cash and Carry Booths

If you’re selling a product that is small enough to set up in the booth, think of constructing or buying a display system that you can set up to allow people to shop in your booth. If you’re just getting into the tradeshow scene, you can rent enough tables to cover the three non-aisle sides of your booth and then consider using concealed boxes or crates to raise some items to eye level for visual interest. There are many display tactics out there. Be creative! Pricing your items is important. People want to see the price. Label the different items if needed. For example if you’re selling candles of different scents and sizes, have small signs throughout your display with the pricing structure and signs on each scent identifying the scent. Don’t rely on people reading this info on your packaging. You also need to have a means for processing payment and packaging purchases. While you’re at the tradeshow, scope out how other vendors display their products.

Non-Cash and Carry Booths

You should consider having a table in your booth to display product, brochures, and examples of your work. Table placement is important. If you have an 8 x 10 or 10×10 space and you push a table out to the aisle and sit behind the table, you have just created a barrier between you and your potential customers and you’ve invited walk-by-shoppers instead of creating an environment to draw people IN to your booth. For service oriented businesses or businesses with large products (like a house) I always suggest that you have a table under you’re your sign at the back of your booth. And then you flank the table on the floor with product or plants. A tablecover is important. If the organizer isn’t providing a tablecover or even just to set your booth apart from everyone else, pick up inexpensive solid-color king or queen size flat sheets to drape your table. It would be wise to wash it prior to the tradeshow and iron it or at least throw it in the dryer for a de-wrinkle cycle before heading to the show. Some companies do a lot of tradeshows and choose to have a table cover with their logo or company name. This is a great idea too, but not needed if you’re just starting out. As you grow, you may also want to consider purchasing a media rack for your brochures and literature. Sometimes your product is too big to show in the booth or your business is service-oriented. Here’s where you need to get creative. A model of your product is good or visuals –such as pop-up banners, posters, a video or a slideshow on a large screen. As with cash and carry booths, I recommend you check out the other vendors and see how their booths are configured.

Now let’s face it… you’re going to get tired of standing for several hours. So a lot of people like to put their table right at the front of their booth and put a couple chairs behind the table. I don’t recommend you do this. Instead put that table against the back wall, like I mentioned and then have a chair or two off to the side. Tall chairs are the best because you can talk to people face-to-face while you’re sitting down- though I recommend you get UP if someone comes in your booth. By far the best chairs I’ve seen are bar height director’s chairs. Not only are they visually appealing, but you can set one on each outer corner of your booth, right next to the aisle and engage with traffic in a relaxed tone. And if you add a plant or two around the chair legs, you’ve just made your booth even more inviting!

Should I offer a show special? Absolutely! Give people a reason to book an appointment with you or buy product. If you’re doing a cash and carry booth, the more you sell, the less you have to lug home. Offer them a deal they can’t pass up, but that doesn’t cut your profits too much. Some people like to do a drawing for a discounted or free service or for a popular gadget or electronics (iPad, grill, TV) and they’ll use an entry form for the drawing. You might think this is a pricey give-away. It doesn’t have to be. You can give away your service or product just as easily. The point of the entry form is to collect contact info for prospective customers. This is great for generating a lead list or establishing email marketing, but ONLY if you take the names and put them in a database or Excel spreadsheet and follow up with them within two weeks of the event.

Let’s talk about body language. When you’re in your booth, you need to interact and engage with the people around you. Meet your neighbors. Make eye contact with people walking by.  Every year there is a craft fair at the Florida State Fair and I like to stroll through the booths. Often times the artisans will either be sitting in the back of their booth in a lawn chair reading a book or they might be working on some new projects. I’m not in favor of sitting in the lawn chair in the back of the booth, but if you’re going to be crafting in the booth, I think this is a great idea if you set your work-station up in the front of the booth. People will want to stop and see you work, but if you’re in the back of the booth you’re not sending a good vibe. Now if you’re not an artisan, DON’T work in the booth. No working on computers or talking on cell phones! Your job is to engage people, you can’t do that with your head down or jabbering on the phone. And GREET everyone that walks into your booth.  Smile. Believe it or not I have seen tradeshows where the vendor has completely ignored someone who walked into their booth, thumbed through a brochure and walked out! A potential sale just walked out. Tradeshows are expensive; maybe that one potential customer could have paid for your whole tradeshow adventure. Remember your job is to engage people. Focus on that the whole time you’re there. A warm body in the booth is not enough.

A Few Miscellaneous Tips. When customers attend tradeshows there are three things that inevitably happen… 1) They get tired of walking. So maybe you have a bench in your booth and invite people to come in, hang out and take a load off. Great way to make friends with people. 2) They get thirsty. So maybe you have a water dispenser and some paper cups. Or maybe you invest in some water with your logo on it. Or maybe you just bring a cooler and some local spring water. The point is you will make some friends, if you hand out free water. 3) They get tired of carrying all the literature and promotionals (hats, Frisbees, stress balls) they’ve picked up along the way. Be the booth that gives away a quality tote bag or reusable shopping bag with handles and you will be friends with everyone. Plus your logo will be walking around all over the showroom floor and they’ll reuse your bag further promoting your company.

If tradeshows or other fairs are going to play a key role in your marketing plan, I recommend investing in some professional display equipment and graphics. I’ve been to shows for homeschool conventions, scrapbook conventions and turfgrass manager conferences in the past year and a half. I’ve seen booths with a footprint larger than my house and others about the size of a walk in closet. Bigger is not always better. The trick is to choose a booth size that makes sense for your product or service, is within your budget and meets your goals. Then put your best foot forward with the booth layout and equipment- while staying in budget. Remember people want to know:

  • Who you are
  • What you do
  • When you they can buy from you
  • Where you’re located and if you can serve them
  • Why they should buy from you
  • How you get it done

Focus on answering these questions from 10 feet away and then set up a booth that invites them to come closer for more information. If you need help with your booth, please give me a call. I’d be happy to give you some advice or help you figure out your plan.