Attending and exhibiting industry trade shows can be a great way to build your network and stay up to date on what's trending. As a fashion company founder, I attend shows like Accessories the Show, Atlanta Apparel and Dallas Gift to gain new wholesale clients.
Before I started attending shows, we had just a couple of local stores carrying our headbands. Now, we have over 300 stores, and that number jumps every time we attend another show.
There are tons of shows out there that could be a huge break for your business. However, a lot of the good ones cost a pretty penny to attend, especially if you are exhibiting at them. Here's what I've learned about trade shows and how to make the most of them:
1. Discover the best shows through your network.
It's hard to trust what you read on a trade show website. The real way to discover which shows to attend is by talking to other businesspeople who have also attended the show and get their feedback. Whenever you're doing a show, get to know your "booth neighbors" and ask them what shows they attend every year. Who knows? Maybe you'll even split a hotel next time!
2. Talk to the floor manager.
A lot of shows do discounts for first-timers. Ask if there are any first-time specials available you might take advantage of. Also inquire about what other exhibitors the manager has registered to attend. We're a hair accessories company, so we don't want to be on an aisle saturated with dozens of other hair accessories. It's not just important where your booth is located, it's also important who's surrounding you. At one of our shows, we wore the clothing from the booth across from us and they wore our headbands. That way, we both got double exposure and cross-promoted our brands.
Also, if you can pinch the extra penny ($200 to $500), invest in a corner booth. You'll get twice the amount of foot traffic from two different directions so you'll double your chances for success.
3. Booth design is key.
Think of the presentation of your booth as an open house. You can't sell the house if people don't come inside. So, make the booth clean, welcoming and eye-catching. Typically, shows offer furnishings, for additional fees. It also helps to register early for early-bird pricing on booth furnishings: Investing in extra lighting pointing into your booth is a hidden secret to grab people's attention.
If you have table cloths, bring a steamer to make sure they're smooth. If you have the option, always choose hard walls instead of curtains. Hard walls allow you to display logos and pictures more easily, and they look fresher than curtains. Another hidden secret is to invest in padded carpeting. Try the hardwood mats by www.MatsMatsMats.com. People have been walking and on their feet all day so they'll enjoy stepping into your booth and being comforted by cushioned padding. Who knows? That might make them "comfortable" enough to place a big order!
4. Get rid of chairs.
You heard me: No sitting! Sitting down in your booth does not look welcoming to customers passing by. Plus, it looks like you're not getting any business, so you've decided to take a break. Also, if you have a small 10-x-10-foot booth, chairs can make things look cluttered and not as easy to walk around. If you need to sit and take a breather, leave the booth and have your staff member take over.
5. Have a clear call to action.
Depending on your business, you need to decide what your call to action is and make that clear in your booth. Do you want customers to purchase your product? Sign up for further information? Whatever your goal, make sure that it's printed somewhere in your booth and that you've rehearsed the pitch with your staff.
6. Gather contact info.
You know those people who said they would for sure look up your website and call you when they got home? They probably won't. Instead, they'll talk to 100 other exhibitors and have a hard time remembering what stood out to them.
Therefore, make sure you get their contact info so you can do the followups. You can use a simple handwritten signup sheet, business-card drop, iPad -- or a tech-y strategy, in which you invest in a badge scanner which can gather contact info from scanning customers' show nametags.
7. Have giveaways.
It's not just kids trick-or-treating who like free candy. Have something to give away to people who enter your booth -- something with information about your brand or service. In our case, we have a bowl of peppermint patties (delicious and they keep your mouth minty fresh); we also have customized flash drives with our product catalog and press kit URL printed on them.
The chocolate brings them in; the flash drives give them the information plus logo exposure. Also be sure to have your booth number printed on any handouts you give, so visitors know where to find you if they want to come back later.
In sum, trade shows can be intimidating, from a social and financial perspective. Just remember that your ROI may not come immediately, but over time -- from the contacts you've gotten and the network you've expanded.
The value of a trade show comes from more than just direct orders. It comes from the alliances you create and the public exposure you've given of your brand.