Prepping and executing a successful trade show event takes a lot of work. Winnie Burch, owner and artist of Moetleh Cards & Messages participated in her first large show this past weekend, the Circle of Sisters 2010 Conference. She shared her experience with her small business marketing coach, Dequiana Brooks. Together, they compiled these 16 trade show success tips. Use these lessons when working your next trade show event.
1. Get there early. When you arrive early, you can watch the room transform and network with other vendors and event producers. Because the event producers work a lot of events, they can even advise you on other shows that fit your product type. Winnie learned that the gift shows and other events where buyers are present would be perfect for her frameable note cards and prints.
2. Have your own space. Though sharing space can save money on the vending fee, it’s counterproductive if you have a lot of merchandise. Instead, save money throughout the year to have enough for your own booth.
3. Bring fewer options to make customer decision-making easier. When you showcase multiple products, potential customers can feel overwhelmed. Your table is one in a sea of opportunities. Customers should be able to come up, scan your merchandise and immediately pick out what they want.
4. Bring a team of people to help. Winnie enlisted the help of her family and friends to explain the products, collect money, and walk around the floor. When working large events, there’s no time to handle all the inquiries yourself. Winnie was able to make more sales by having others at the table. It also minimized theft as there was someone watching the merchandise at all times.
5. Make sure your product concept is easy to grasp. Winnie’s frameable note card products are unique. They combine a traditional greeting card with framed artwork. Those who came to her vending table understood the concept of a greeting card and knew about hanging art prints. However, it took them some time to realize they could write in her cards, put them in a frame and mail them to the recipient where it could be hung on a wall. To help alleviate the confusion, Winnie’s team had a few note card packages open to show that they came with mat frames and mailing envelopes. They also took time to explain the process to passersby. Winnie will be creating a self-explanatory board for her next show.
6. Work the crowd. People in the vending hall don’t always have time to visit every table. Having people walk around with your products or hand out flyers to draw them in.
7. Make sure your product stands out. While Winnie did have card holders, she’d like to invest in other hardware to make her table more 3 dimensional. Remember to use every allocated space when designing your table for the trade show, including the wall behind you and the table front and sides. This helps keep your products visible, even when there is a crowd around the table.
8. Bring something unique to the table. Tables can start to blend together after awhile, especially for a potential customer who has been walking the trade show floor for a couple of hours. To catch their attention, offer a special feature. Winnie wore t-shirts featuring her products, had uniformed school children helping during part of the event and called out that everyone visiting the table could meet the artist.
9. Don’t spend all your time behind the table. Trade shows are a great way to network with other small businesses and organizations. Make sure you bring enough help so that you’ll have time to walk the floor yourself. Others are there to make sales, too, so venture out early in the day and right before closing when the customer levels are low. Winnie made a point to get out there and was rewarded for her efforts.
a. She got interviewed by the radio station sponsoring the conference
b. Winnie received contact information for 2 national breast cancer awareness organizations
c. She was asked to create specialized artwork for autism, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, a small business and for pets
d. She was approached about showcasing her art in a local gallery
10. Make sure all marketing materials are complete. While Winnie did have helpers passing out flyers, the papers only had her brand name and price list on them. She missed an opportunity to reconnect with those going through their conference materials later by not including her web site, email or other contact information.
11. Host a giveaway. To draw attention to her table, Winnie raffled off a large canvas print of art she created especially for the Circle of Sisters 2010 Conference. These raffle tickets helped build her mailing list and create more interest around her artwork. The best part of the raffle was seeing the reaction of the winner: she was so appreciative that she cried. People like free things, and they like to win. Think of unique giveaways to get people more interested in visiting your table.
12. Cross-promote with other businesses. Your opportunity to interact with conference attendees does not end until they clean out their conference bags. Strike a deal with other business owners that you’ll include their marketing materials in every customer order if they include your materials in theirs. You could also cross-promote with your product giveaways.
13. Customer service is key. Your table should be approachable, and your workers should be pleasant. Now is not the time to argue over who made the most sales or who stepped on whose foot. Coach your workers on your attitude expectations before the event so they understand how to be aggressive but not pushy.
14. Keep trade show pricing easy. This is especially true if you’re dealing in a cash environment. Unless you plan to have bags of pennies, now is not the time for $19.99 or $9.95 pricing. Instead, stick with whole numbers in traditional denominations – $10, $20, etc. Have a credit card machine handy, but be prepared with cash for change as everyone will not be willing to hand over their credit card information.
15. Make collecting emails easy. Since most people will be in a hurry, make handing over their email address as easy for customers as possible. Be clear on how you’ll use their email address, such as to send promotions about your business. Bring clipboards and attach pens with string to the boards. While you are packing purchases, have the customer fill out their information. For those who don’t make a purchase, it couldn’t hurt to ask, “I know you weren’t able to make a purchase today, but would you like to join my mailing list?” Then follow up with everyone after the conference thanking them for stopping by your table and perhaps offering a special discount.
16. Follow-up with contacts. Once the show is over, it’s easy to get back into your daily routine. Don’t fall into this trap. While making sales at a conference is important, the contacts you make will be invaluable. Follow-up with everyone you met networking at the event.
This was Winnie’s first large trade show. What other tips do you have to make her next show a success? What’s worked for you?