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Does Appearing at CES Actually Pay Off?

Whether you run a young company or an established consumer brand, there are many advantages to appearing at CES.
Does Appearing at CES Actually Pay Off?
Image credit: Ethan Miller | Getty Images

Entrepreneur is on the ground at this year's Consumer Electronics Show. Check back for highlights from the event as well as insights from thought leaders and innovators. 

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) will celebrate its 50th anniversary from Jan. 5 to 8 in Las Vegas. Touted as the global stage for innovation, CES is widely considered the most important trade show for consumer tech brands and innovative startups.

Whether you run a young company or an established consumer brand, there are many advantages to appearing at CES. However, the costs of attending CES can be difficult for many companies to justify. So, does appearing at CES actually pay off?

The cost of appearing at CES

Exhibiting at any trade show takes an investment of time, labor, money, opportunity or any other number of resources. CES is no different. The exact cost of appearing at CES will vary for each company, with many shelling out tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars for the event. Regardless of your company’s size, it’s evident that exhibiting at CES doesn’t come cheap.

Related: 5 Steps to Secure New Business at CES and Other Big Events

1. Successful exhibits take time.

It takes a lot of time to prepare for CES. This could include time spent getting your product or prototype ready, training your employees, practicing your pitch, marketing your booth location or creating a post-show sales strategy. The most successful companies spend a lot of time preparing for CES.

With every hour you spend preparing, you sacrifice time that could be going toward customer service, lead generation or other critical areas of your business. This opportunity cost is difficult to put a price on, but it’s something you have to take into consideration.

2. There are several booth options.

While putting a price on time might be difficult, you can put a more definitive cost on your exhibit space. Traditional exhibit space ranges from $38 to $43 a square foot depending on your membership status with the Consumer Technology Association, the trade group that runs CES.

The standard booth size for a traditional exhibitor is 10 by 10, which puts average booth space between $3,800 to $4,300. With more than 2.4 million square feet of exhibiting space, many companies choose to rent more than the minimum. For instance, at CES 2012, Samsung spent more than $850,000 on a 25,000 square-foot booth.

The minimum $3,800 for booth space might be too steep for a young company, so CES has another option for companies that meet its requirements. For $1,000, startups can rent a turnkey booth at the Eureka Park Marketplace. This space is located outside the traditional exhibit area but does attract media, investors and attendees looking for the next big thing.

CES has 600 startup companies set to appear at the Eureka Park Marketplace this January, a jump from the 500 in 2016. Appearing at the Eureka Park Marketplace is a great alternative for bootstrapped startups that want to get a taste for CES.

Whether you have an established brand or a young startup, CES has several resources to help you discover the best options for your needs.

Related: Your Swag Is Not Your Company

3. Expect secondary effects and expenses.

More than 177,000 people attended CES in 2016. That number is expected to grow this year. With this influx of people visiting Las Vegas, there will be secondary effects and expenses. Hotel rates will increase as fewer options become available, restaurants will become booked, meeting areas will be unavailable and travel will become difficult. It’s important to expect these side effects when preparing for your trip to CES.

As an exhibitor, you’ll also incur expenses outside of the booth rental rates. You should expect a substantial cost for food, travel, lodging, employee time, booth setup and design, internet usage at CES, company swag and many other peripheral costs. These expenses will grow the larger your booth is and the more employees you bring to the event. In 2007, Digeo brought 29 employees to the event and spent up to $1 million.

While it’s impossible to predict what effects or expenses you will incur outside of the booth rental, you should prepare for them.

How to maximize your investment at CES

Every company I talked to said that they would recommend appearing at CES, even if there weren’t always immediate returns. Below are a few tips to help exhibitors maximize their ROI at CES.

1. Network, network, network.

Networking with potential partners, clients, investors and media is one of the biggest advantages to appearing at CES. CES is restricted to trade-only professionals, meaning the event is closed to the general public. Only industry professionals and media personnel are allowed to attend.

Related: 7 'To-Do's' for Your Trade-Show Checklist

In 2016, CES reported 104,753 regular individuals, 65,095 exhibitor personnel and 7,545 media representatives attended the event. This amounts to more than 177,000 potential networking opportunities.

Networking is a great way for brands to develop strategic partnerships, but networking can also provide startups an opportunity to find investors and venture capital. The Eureka Park Marketplace is a designated area at CES for startups to showcase their innovations. Since 2012, more than 1,100 startups have used CES to showcase their products, generating more than $1 billion in funding. CES 2017 will have a record 600 exhibiting startups at the Eureka Park Marketplace.

Harris Kenny, from Aleph Objects, Inc., will attend his third consecutive CES this January. He said networking is one of the biggest reasons his company attends CES. It gives the team a platform to “meet with and develop new sales channel partners, suppliers and vendor partners and customers.” He adds that CES lets his team connect with industry experts and also maintain relationships with existing partners.

There is no other consumer technology trade show that allows networking at this large of a scale.

2. Have your product or prototype ready.

After speaking to companies that exhibited at CES in the past, one thing was clear: to maximize ROI at CES you need to have your product ready. Kilian Saekel, founder of A-Champs, appeared at CES for the first time in 2016 and will appear this January again.

At its first CES, A-Champs was unable to take full advantage of the show because its final product samples were not quite complete. Saekel said his team were able to generate a lot of buzz and some leads, but if they had final product samples, they would have seen a much higher return from the event. Saekel said that A-Champs is much more prepared this time around and will be able to capitalize on the areas it missed last year.

Many companies use CES as a platform to launch new and innovative products or updated versions of older models. First impressions can make or break your product, so make sure you’ve taken the time to prepare to sustain attention and compete with the hundreds of others in your space.

3. Use your time wisely.

Michael Golubev, founder of CAD.ai, exhibited at the Eureka Park Marketplace the previous two years and said this year he’ll be attending as an investor. His advice for companies appearing at CES is to be prepared, especially as it relates to traveling and managing your time. He recommended booking airfare well in advance and to arrive a day or two early to avoid any travel delays and better acclimate yourself to the environment and atmosphere of the event.

Because the event only lasts for a few days and there are thousands of companies competing for attention, it’s important that you have clearly defined goals. Try to create an itinerary before the event and map out the most important people and events you want to visit. Additionally, you can make media appointments before the event to help avoid scheduling conflicts while at the show.

With the number of people, many promotional events and excitement of Las Vegas, CES can be overwhelming. Staying focused and motivated on your objectives is critical if you want to see your biggest return.

Related: 5 Tricks to Help You Stand Out at a Trade Show

4. Work doesn’t stop after CES.

CES is a great platform to build buzz for your product, but the work doesn’t end with your flight home. In fact, the most important steps you make will be after the event. While at CES, you should exchange business cards and make notes from conversations had while networking. When you get home, it’s important to follow up and use elements of those conversations to help connect the dots for the contact. Investors, potential partners and media contacts are meeting hundreds of people at the event, so try to make yourself stand out in your follow-ups.

Another way to maximize the return is to use CES to help market your brand. Maybe your company won or was nominated for an Innovation Award. Maybe your product got featured on Mashable, TechCrunch or any of the other thousands of media publications at the event. For instance, A-Champs was featured in Mashable in 2016 and used a quote from the article to add credibility on its website.

CES will celebrate its 50th anniversary in January 2017. There will be thousands of innovative brands competing for new business, investors, media attention and partnerships. If you’re able to make a splash at the world’s largest consumer innovation event, your investment will be more than justified.