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Chapter 11: Take your Business to a Trade Fair

A better way to explain the concept of trade show marketing is by referring to it as a low budget, time-efficient business tool that leads to first hand exposure with many new people. Participating in a trade show will add on to your clients’ database, inspire you to try out new ideas and bring a traffic of customers at your business’ doorstep. Trade fairs are perceived by business experts to make all the difference to a business that is struggling or to small businesses in general. The positive feedback and interest shown in trade shows is understandable especially when one looks at the statistic of 85 million visitors divided between averages of four thousand trade shows in 1994 alone.

Why are trade shows advantageous to small businesses? Let’s say that a forty-four percent of the economic entities participating in the business-to-business trade fairs are usually businesses whose workforce amounts to less than fifty people. Moreover, a hundred square feet booth at a trade show will cost you around $1,300 and with some artistic marketing and creativity you can come up with a very interesting booth stand that attracts a large audience; just the boast small businesses need. When considering all the benefits you can reap from such exposure not to mention the quite affordable price, you will appreciate why a trade show can assist your business to grow. Additionally, with some imagination you can make your business look as legitimate and as valuable as other larger corporations.

If you make up your mind to participate in the next local trade show you will need to differentiate between two kinds of trade shows: One that is referred to as consumer trade show and the other is known as business-to business. Your objectives and business targets will determine which trade show you should attend at a point in time.

What is really in it for you?

There is a lot that you can gain out of trade shows. Besides exposure, you can look at trade fairs as having put your business on to a wagon and taken it for a ride around town for everyone to see what you have to offer. The ability to do this has added thumbs on establishing the presence of your business. If the right steps are taken, chances are that you will put your business in a very good light not to mention the head on sales that you can make from your very own booth.

Because trade shows offer you a face to face encounter with a large number of people, you can market your products as if you were on live televisions –only better as people can actually touch and see how your products work. This is not something that you can do every day through other marketing tools and thus covers a wider scale of potential customers because knowledge about your product or services is provided right there and then educating consumers and answering all the questions they need to know. What better way to add a personal touch to your business than meeting your customers and clients yourself?

There are many other benefits that emerge from participating in trade shows. You can simply look at your business’ role in them as a way to complement your current marketing campaign and taking it to a new level all together.

Not All That Glitters Is Gold

Even though participating in a trade show only requires minimum input and organization on your part, you have to keep in mind that just like a film can be unsuccessful so can your show. This is because trade shows are all about leaving an impression on the public. The common mistake made that can lead to lack of success is usually inexperience. However, you have dealt with customers before right? So that is a good starting point. Generally, careful exhibitors perform wonderfully well at trade fairs. Looking up some do-it-yourself and exhibition tips information would not hurt you. It will actually help you a lot especially if you investigate on what you are to expect at these events and study briefly what your competitors have done in the history of trade shows. If you are still unsure perhaps you could seek the advice of a professional designer or people with the right know-how so that they can assist you in putting up your booth and business concept together.

Although trade shows are popular for their widespread benefits, you need to be careful to select the trade show that is right for you as while some are cost-effective others may present a drain on your financial resources. Apart from this financial consideration you also need to pick the trade show that will meet your objectives as opposed to one that is just a waste of time. so if there is an option between a trade show that deals for example with health services and another one that is open to all businesses and you do not sell or provide any service that is related to health the trade show whose subject-matter is a general one would be a better choice for you even though you can pay a visit to the health trade show as a consumer or visitor. Therefore, taking a look at the type of market sector a trade show is targeting is important prior to committing your presence to it. Always look at the amount of traffic a trade show is meant to attract and match them to the expenses that you will incur to take part in it, especially if this involves a trade show that is taking place out of town.

The Role of Promotional Products in Trade Shows

We have already seen how the use of promotional products attracts people as the idea of a free gift is always welcome. Likewise, people visiting trade shows will be attracted to your booth if you have something for free to offer them. Studies have been carried out on the use of promotional products in trade shows and they have all reached the conclusion that adding them as part of your trade show promotion will in fact direct traffic to your booth more than when you have nothing for free to offer them.

Many trade show participants make it a point to invite their customers and potential clients to visit their booth at the trade show to claim their free gift or to win a free gift if they participate in a competition that is being held at their booth during the XY trade show. Studies even show that those businesses that used promotional products with their trade show invitation and then matched this gift up with another promotional product at the trade show attracted more prospects and in a much faster way than those businesses that did not make use of any promotional products. Even better was the response of those who received a follow up promotional product. Over fifty percent of those invited can usually remember the invitation and the forty percent speak well of the company. A lower percentage actually responds to the invitation and visits your booth and over seventy five percent of the visitors usually look at your business in a favorable way.

Your role in trade shows?

Needless to say there are certain steps that you have to take in order to make your trade show presence effective. Consequently, you need to be prepared to organize, plan it and come up with a presentation of your business design. Organizing yourself and planning for the event requires you to check the costs, fill in registration forms, booking your space at the trade show, putting together the items for your display and the products that you want to put on show including ordering your promotional products. To this add a plan describing your own personal show, better referred to as your presentation at the show. What will you be doing to attract customers? What activities will you pursue to meet this end? In simple terms you will need to make targets that you want to achieve from participating in the trade show and these targets need to be measurable and clear for you.

Writing down the goals that you would like to reach by taking part in the trade show will keep you on the right track and will make your presence at the trade show goal oriented. So go ahead and write down your goals. What benefits do you want to reap from this trade show? Do you want to attract new clients and what type of clients do you want to attract? Do you want to deplete a product that is no longer so much on demand or do you want to promote a new one? Do you want to make sales at the trade show or do you want customers to visit you at your business premises? And by how much do you want to increase your sales? Only when you answer questions like these that you can start planning how you are going to achieve the set goals.

Additionally, you would not have made the most of your trade show if you do not follow up your orders, your new customers’ database and the promotional gifts that you promised them. Despite the fact that trade shows bring your war a lot of traffic and exposure, it would be futile if you put on the kettle to make your prospects a cup of coffee if you let the water burn up. Do not wait long to follow up orders, promises of delivery of promotional products, to carry out post-trade show house to house or at your premises demonstrations and to send a follow up thank you to your trade show booth visitors. You should follow up any orders and interest shown in purchasing your products by a phone call and you could also hold a small get together in the form of a party. Usually, it is best to include a promotional product with your ‘thank you’ letter and once again send a business card, a catalogue or other informational material and send these to all those who have visited your booth and left their contact details for you to follow up on. Save these new contacts to your current clients’ database and include them in your sequential marketing campaign. Eventually, if you keep in touch with your trade show visitors, they will surely appreciate it and will most certainly welcome your invitation to visit you at your next trade show. The bottom line to your success is to keep marketing your products and services constantly and if you follow up your visitors and customers with a token of appreciation you will surely strengthen your public relations strategy as well as business networks.

Follow up should not be solely limited to your customers and trade show visitors but you should also show your appreciation towards your staff. They too should be invited to a get together party. While the main aim is to thank your staff for their support at the trade show you should have another objective in mind: Drill and elicit your staff’s opinions and ideas about what worked, how they felt, any difficulties encountered and what would they have changed. After all your staff just like you have experienced the trade show and may have formed their own personal opinion about your performance. Whether their feedback is positive or negative, note each comment down and learn from it so you can have a cleaner and smoother trade show exhibition next time round.

Who Will Be Representing You At The Trade Show?

One of the main issues that you also have to take into consideration when you decide to take part in a trade show is the number of people who will be representing you at the trade show. These people can be your workers, your partners, your family and friends. Even though you may think that you can look after the trade show booth all on your own, an extra hand is always a smart choice for many reasons.

Among these reasons you can find the delivery of a faster service at your end. Imagine being on your own and having a large amount of traffic visiting your booth. Don’t you think that with so many booths to see most of the people will get tired of waiting for you to finish providing information to the person in front of you? This means that if you have an extra pair of hands or two of them, if not more, you will not miss out on potential customers. You are also keeping an eye on your products, something which you cannot really always do if you are busy explaining some details to the persons in front of you. Additionally, trade shows can be long and you will be tired after a while of dealing with all those people and you don’t want to give them the wrong impression if you show them you are tired or irritated. Do you? And what about your bathroom break? Who is going to look after your booth while you are away for your personal needs? Thus, these few reasons should explain to you why it is important to get an extra pair of hands to assist you at the trade show.

In reality you should have a type of division of labor strategy whereby some of the people that are assisting you in your trade show have different types of duties. Some of them could write down orders, others could provide an explanation about your current offers and products whilst others can help you stock and entice walkers by to visit your booth.

Always remember the objectives why you are participating in this trade show. Therefore, your stuff or people you choose should be able to assist you in meeting these targets. Hence, you need to select customer friendly people who have a lot of knowledge about your products. You also need to call a meeting or two prior to the trade show to motivate your trade show duty staff. If necessary, train them to build excellent conversational skills with your visitors and explain in detail your current promotional offers. A rehearsal of what can happen at the trade show is also advisable so that your staff will be psychologically prepared for what to expect. Ask your staff about concerns they have at being on duty at the trade show and make sure that you come up with a solution even if this takes place together as team with regards to what to do should a particular situation present itself.

The Location of Your Business at the Trade Show

Now that you have selected the trade show that complements your business objectives and now that you have booked your space at the trade show, there is more that you can to help you get the gist of where your business will be located.

Where your business is situated on the floor plan of the trade show and how big is it? What other type of booths and businesses are surrounding your own exhibition? Preferably you should go for one that is far away from your competitors. Do you reckon the location of your booth to be one that gets a large audience or a small one? Look into the traffic element and make sure that yours is one that receives a high amount of traffic its way. Additionally, you should know about whether there will be electrical sockets, water or other utilities in the vicinity?

Because most likely than not the people managing the trade show will ask you for your preferred location on the trade floor plan, the burden to be in a position where there is likely to be a high traffic is on you. It is for this reason that you need to browse for information regarding the location space as where your booth spot is situated at the trade show can determine whether you reach your objectives or otherwise fail to meet the desired target.

There are basically four types of locations: The inline, the perimeter, the island and the end cap. If you have been placed in the corner slot you will be having two directions of traffic to your booth and this is usually referred to as the inline position. If you register late for the trade show, are taking place in the trade show for the first time or if you are a small business, you are most likely to end up with the perimeter location which has two traffic directions leading to your booth. Attracting eight traffic directions and considered a prime location in any trade show, the island location is usually reserved for businesses that are regular exhibitors at the trade show or large businesses. The end cap is the second best location as it will direct six traffic directions to your booth. Again being a prestigious position the end cap location is also reserved for big corporations.

How to Go About Your Exhibit and Booth Display

Now that you can understand the difference between the four types of locations in a trade show and once you know where your spot is located, you can actually start preparing for the presentation of the booth. Prior to getting started you should brainstorm and write down a checklist of items, tools and accessories that you should have available at trade show. This check list can include the following: Your promotional products, brochures, catalogues, sample products, order forms, decorations, markers, pencils, pens, tape scissors, stick, pins, table cloths, a first aid box, a cash box or cash register with change in case of sales, V.A.T., receipts book, labels and price tags, business cards, calculator, water and staplers among many other items that are necessary to have at your disposition in order to ensure that you keep your booth exhibition running smoothly and that enable you to circumvent any inconvenience, accident or faulty material in case this type of situation arises.

Planning should also take into consideration how you are going to attract your audience by making your booth as attractive as possible.

There are a variety of booth displays that you can choose from. You should speak to the people managing the hall prior to selecting the type of display that you need as these can provide you with some color coded drapes and other material, especially if your booth display is going to be inside the main halls rather than outside. However, the availability of these materials is usually reserved for those businesses that have the best locations. Still, you should investigate what the management of the trade show or of the hall can offer you. Additionally, if your participation in a trade show is not a one time off, you may come on top if your actually purchase your own booth display which usually bears your own personal touch to re-use it time and time again. Alternatively, you can opt for rentals which due to the fact that they are simple in their design, you will need to add some creative work to it to make it look more attractive.

Among the different types of booth displays that you can opt for you can find the back wall, side rails and drapes display. If you are really looking for a simpler option than you should go for portable pop-up or table-top exhibits. These are the simplest forms of displays because they generally require around quarter of an hour to be set up saving you all the stress and waste of time that other types of displays can bring. Furthermore, they are quite affordable and you can find different types and sizes from different manufacturers. Basically, these portable displays are foldable and have accessory parts that can be attached and removed with ease.

A more costly display is what we refer to as modular exhibits. They are costly because more often than not they require freight services to be brought in to the trade show. Since the panels of modular exhibits are made of panels, you can choose from a range of finishes from standard to matte all the way to laminated panels. The attraction of modular panels is that they give a somewhat personalized look to your display while at the same time making it look more extravagant and valuable than other displays.

Otherwise, if you really want to put the identity of your business out there you can always create your own custom-made booth display. This is however the most expensive type of display and usually requires you to invest in transport costs. If you run a carpentry business and want to make the most of your trade show booth, creating your own custom-made display allows you to add another floor to your booth. This is especially helpful when your products such as wardrobes, beds and tables take a lot of your booth space as this will allow you to put on show a few more products than you otherwise could using other forms of displays.

Selecting and putting together your display can say a lot about your business. If you have your logo for example on your display, it will show all people attending that come your way that you are a professional business and take your work very seriously. Hand in hand with this your display should send out a very important message: Because your business is a professional one your services or products are in high demand.

No matter the type of display you opt to go for, they key element in making your booth meet your objectives is by looking at it from your target market’s perspective. What do you think your prospective customers will want to see? What will they like and what will generate interest in them to actually come and pay a visit to your booth? Of course your booth has to be both smart and visible. Smart implies that it has to look clean and neat. A carelessly set up display will say million of words about your business and most likely in a negative way. Your booth has also to be visible and this means that the overall design and display have to be transparent and topic oriented enough to send the idea of what your booth is all about without any effort on the mind of the traffic headed in the direction of your booth. Thus, the purpose of your booth and consequently that of your business has to be clear to potential customers. If your purpose is unclear or difficult to decipher chances are that the traffic heading towards your booth will find it somewhat a challenging task to understand what both your booth and your business are about and the easiest way for them would be to give your booth a miss and you don’t want that.

Apart from clearly expressing the purpose of what your business stands for, there are other tactics that you can use to generate interest in people. As in most stages of marketing, creativity is a fundamental aspect for a successful campaign. Add knowledge to your trade show exhibit strategy and you are on the right track to attracting your target market in your direction.

But how exactly can you make your presence at the trade show attractive? The underlying basis of a successful trade show presence is communication. Therefore, the more you allow your customers to interact with you or your staff the better your exposure and the more your success in reaching these goals. Of course you cannot just stand there and wait for them to interact with you but just like in general marketing principles you need to make your products or rather your booth desirable to them. And how can you make it desirable to them? You can make your presence at the trade show more desirable by using marketing psychology and promotional products. So provide them with free demonstrations, run competitions and contests or allow your traffic to interact with your business through some fun games. Use rewards or prizes for filling up a customers’ feedback forms. This will increase your customers’ database since the information participants enter to make them eligible for the prize can be used to follow up on them by constant reminders through sequential mailings, emails, invitations, promotions and the like.

Promotional products will also imprint a memory in to your visitors’ mind that they have actually gotten a free gift from your business. As explained before promotional products add to your marketing strategy and they act as a constant reminder that your business is out there available for when your prospects need it.

If you are putting on show products, flyers or other means of information as well as perhaps questionnaires leading to free customers’ feedback, these products are usually best placed at eye level. You can also categorize your products with neat, clear and legible labels. Add price tags to them. This will save you time explaining to customers how much your products cost and also saves you from problematic situations whereby some members of the public simply grab your object and go thinking that you are offering a product for free due to the fact that it has no price tag on it.

To your display add promotional products, prizes and other items that you are willing to give away. Again labeling this section will not only make it clear to your traffic audience that this stuff can be won or is for free but it will also attract more prospects due to its competitive and free gift or prize appeal. Since there will be other businesses or better competitors working in the same industry or market as you, you need to ensure that the prizes, promotional products and the overall display appearance of your booth speaks professional quality. Hence, at trade shows you can up your game by using slightly more valuable prizes and promotional products such as kitchenware, jewelry, video or pc games and other electronics as well as well presented gift baskets.

Due to the reason that you want to your business to appear as professional as possible and that your products are in high demand and despite the much needed booth space you should not fill all your display. On the contrary, leave some space where there is a label appertaining to a certain product to show that your products are on high demand. Alternatively, mark some items sold out. If people query about the product give them your card together with some promotional products and ask them to visit your shop, warehouse or office as you will soon restock after the trade show. What are you achieving by all this? You are using marketing psychology to tell you customers that your products or services are so in demand that you have been too busy to find the time to re-order or to re-stock. You are also sending the message across: You better visit me now as chances are I will run out on other offers too. Indeed this tactic makes the public act and come to your booth or business to ensure that they are not missing out on any opportunities.

Regardless of your empty shelf or sold out label tactic7 , you will need to ensure that you have more than enough stock, especially in relation to flyers, business cards, price and products or services lists as well as brochures. Usually these marketing materials serve two purposes: They tell your customers about your products and services, saving you time in a rush hour as well as provide them with your contact information. If the traffic is too busy and do not have the time to listen about your products or services, you can always hand a flyer or a brochure out to them to read from the comfort of their home. Likewise you need to stock up on order forms, catalogues and receipts if you intend on increasing sales at the trade show and of course if this is permissible on the occasion.

Other tips for a successful trade show would include:

  • Start promoting your attendance at the trade show before the scheduled day as this covers around eighty percent of traffic to your booth and you stand to lose out if you do not make your participation known in the trade show before its due date;
  • You should always accompany a letter of invitation by mentioning your booth number or reference as well as contact details, special trade show offers and include a promotional item with the promise of a potential price or gift for attending your booth at the trade show. This pre-trade show promotion will build a sense of desire to be part of your exhibition and one of the winners or beneficiaries of the offer;
  • Your invitation need not be a traditional letter but you can use small container boxes, flyers or other original ideas to serve as your invites;
  • Make use of your current contacts even for this promotion and use means such as over the counter, with receipt delivery, mail or the internet to inform your existing customers of your trade show offers, prizes as well as attendance;
  • Always attach a form with your invitation letter that will encourage customers to visit your booth by depositing it in your prize competition box that will be available at the trade show;
  • For a better pre-trade show marketing phase ask the people managing the trade show for a list of regular attendees and include them in your marketing promotion;
  • For whatever activity you are organizing at your booth always send a token that enables the attendees to participate by using these token at your trade show booth;
  • Make important information visible on your booth or display;
  • Use food or beverages at your booth;
  • Have items for children such as balloons, colors, inflatable balls;
  • Have a good supply of promotional products handy;
  • All visitors should go home with a useful promotional product so that they can remember your business;
  • Promotional products of a higher value bring in your way more sales;
  • Determine what promotional products are useful. Mugs, pencils, notepads, pens and diaries for example are useful;
  • Decide if you want your promotional products to stand out of the rest and if this is the case use new, ‘must get my hands on them’ and unusual types of promotional products.This will attract more customers to your booth;
  • Make use of artistic pictures, inflatable items, flash lights and soft music or run video commentaries to make your booth more attractive ( apply this depending on your type of business);
  • Offer a complimentary service such as a quick three to five minutes neck or foot message or a quick facial or face message and many other simple leisure activities that will get your visitors to spend more time in your booth;
  • Most likely visitors have been attracted to your booth because of the promotional products that you have to offer but you also want your visitors to have a look at your products or services. A way to do this is to make visitors’ walk to your promotional a sightseeing tour. In fact, by placing the promotional products at the inner part of your booth, visitors will have to walk by and therefore lay their eyes on your products or services;
  • Mention at the pre and during trade show stage that the offers, products or promotional products are for a limited time only or make it a point to send the message across that your stock is limited;
  • With your letter of invitation send a promotional product that is part of a larger set and your visitors may claim the remaining of the set once they have visited your booth at the trade show;
  • Don’t leave ordering your flyers, brochures or promotional products and other stock at the last minute because you need to have these readily available at the trade show. Imagine promising visitors a promotional product such as the second part of the set and once they visit your booth you cannot keep your part of the deal. Failing to order the things on time can lead to very negative consequences to your business;
  • Better stock up some extra products or items than run out of them as each time you fail to pass on your items or sell your products it is a missed opportunity;
  • Know where all utilities are especially if you need electricity to make your television function, your music or lights on.
  • Know how to use your gadgets and rehearse using them prior to the show to make up on time for any faults you may encounter;
  • Prepare a list of supplies, accessories and must have items for the trade show and make sure that you double check that you have packed them and that you have actually brought them along.
The Day of the Trade Show

Again one of the most fundamental of basics is to think ahead and arrive at the trade show early and in sufficient time to prepare your booth or where allowed prepare everything on the eve of the opening of the trade show. When calculating the time need for the setting up of your booth you should also take into consideration some extra time that allows you to make a trip to and back from your store just in case you have forgotten something of fundamental importance.

Once your booth is all set up and ready to receive the visitors, it would be a good exercise if you take a look at it not from your own personal view but from that of prospective clients. Is your booth attractive to them? Are your promotional products, offers, price tags and documentation such as flyers, brochures and forms visible and readily available and placed in a strategic way as discussed earlier? If your visitors walk in to your booth will they knock over the stand you have with all your documentation. If yes, walk in to your booth as if you are a visitor and push the stand out of the way in a way that it is still easily visible to visitors but allowing your visitors to walk in to your booth without brushing against the stand. Other things to take into consideration would include whether your booth talks clearly about the business it represents and whether there is enough space for your assistants to be able to walk your visitors through your stand. Additionally, did you leave enough space for your cash point and are the products easy to see at eye level? You will need to take all this in consideration because now is the time that you put all your planning and trade show marketing strategies in to action. This phase is like double checking your booth and whether it fits into your plans as well as if your booth is applying all the strategies you originally had in mind.

Also leave some time to have a look around at other booths and displays just in case you notice that you can improve on something that other businesses have already thought of. How do you think your booth and display compares to that of the surrounding businesses? If you think you could benefit by adding or doing something to your display now is the time to call on those extra hands and ask them to take over until you or one of your staff bring in the item or redesign the display accordingly. If possible to network with other exhibitors, then take the opportunity and see how you can help each other through the networking opportunities available.

If you have completed the tasks above take some quality time to yourself, take a few deep breaths and relax. The visitors of your booth as well as your business would highly benefit if the host is confident and at ease rather than a stress case. An agitated representative won’t complement all the efforts that you have made so far to make your booth look and deliver what it is meant to. Thus, you should also make room for time where you and your assistants can relax.

Customer Care at the Trade Show

We have already discussed the importance of having on board staff that are pleasant and customer friendly. You should have taken the time to explain your promotions and to train your staff in customer care. Both you and your staff should by now be at ease and ready for your exhibition.

Now that people have started visiting your booth you should follow some of the tips below to ensure that your presence at the trade show runs smoothly:

  • Smile at all times and at all costs regardless of how many questions your visitors ask you without the indication that they will eventually buy your products or hire your services and regardless of how annoying they can turn out to be. You need to send across a positive connotation to your business. Even if they visitors do not purchase or book anything at your booth make sure they go home remembering your friendly attitude rather than remembering your irritation, impatience or how uncomfortable you have made them feel. Making your business looked at in a positive light is half of the battle;
  • Talk to your visitors as much as possible. Start with a simple greeting such as “hello my name is ....” and follow it up by an introduction about your business. This generates awareness about what you do and also gets people listening;
  • Put on your sense of humor in the appropriate dose;
  • Make sure that you and your staff take regular short breaks to freshen up before resuming communication with visitors;
  • Inform visitors about your promotion, competition and contests and invite them to participate by handing to them the relevant form;
  • Ask them about what they need;
  • Show them what you have to offer;
  • Ensure your provide your visitors with constant demonstrations of your products;
  • Be able to answer their questions;
  • Ensure that you inform them about the possibility to make onsite purchases or orders;
  • Be thankful and show your appreciation to visiting customers;
  • Pay attention to your body language. Are you slouching? Are you walking with an attitude as if you do not want to be there? Is your staff sitting down? Sitting down should only be allowed in the eventuality of a one to one with visitors.
  • Be helpful, approachable and nice to people who visit your booth;
  • Keep your spirit up even if you did not get the desired number of visitors to your booth;
  • Be confident and walk out of your booth and engage into a conversation with walkers by. Invite them to take a look inside your booth;
  • Never overload them with information but rather describe the solutions that your business can provide to them;
  • Ask questions that require a brief answer such as a ‘maybe’, ‘sure’, ‘yes’ or a ‘no’.
  • If your visitors do not want to participate in any competition, promotion or offer go ahead and give them your brochures, flyers and business cards as well as price lists in the event that a need arises for your products and while doing this take their information so that you will be able to inform them about future offers and use the marketing schemes and tactics to draw them to your business.