“Trade”-offs

Trade shows can be a great way to promote your business, show your products to a host of potential customers and sell your merchandise.  It’s also expensive! First there is the obvious, the cost of the booth space.  This varies by show and is often dictated by average attendance, booth size and placement within the show space.

Then there is the cost of display you buy or rent.  I’m always surprised by how many people make the investment to have a booth and then have NO signage or banners on the curtain walls of their booth and just a simple table with some items.

Others invest in more elaborate displays but staff with people who are not outgoing so their eye-catching booth doesn’t result in the sales it could have if staffed properly.


Some have found catchy ways to get attention such as the live alpacas at a recent outdoor show in Salt Lake City.  The company sells items made of alpaca wool and walks the “mascots” through the show several times a day.  Specialty features such as food, live animals and music often require special permits and in the case of live animals, can “leave behind” some messes for the staff to clean….

The show may be in your city, such as the Northwest Women’s Show, but others are in cities around the country; Las Vegas, Chicago, Atlanta and more.  If you plan to attend a show in another city, you have to factor in the cost of airfare, hotel, meals and other travel related expenses.  Hotel rooms typically go for premium pricing during show periods but part of your booth registration may include a pre-negotiated rate at a nearby hotel.  Any way you add it up, these are very real costs.

Are you going to work the show yourself?  Are you the right person to work the show?  Do you have a “show personality”?  If you are out of your business for the several days of a show, what cost does that have for your business?  Would it be more productive to recruit someone to work the show on your behalf?  If so, be sure they have all the information they need; brochures, price sheets, show specials, delivery dates for orders and instructions for collecting and passing along potential leads for follow up after the show.  You may need to compensate your booth worker for their time and effort which adds to your overall show cost.

If this is discouraging, it is not intended to be.  However all of these costs should go into determining if a show is right for you and your business.  Vendors at the Seattle Wedding Show credit their presence at the show with a large percentage of their annual business and the show represented the largest “advertising” expenditure of many of these businesses.

To find the right show for you, first go as an attendee.  Take some business cards in case you meet potential customers or other vendors you could partner with to share booth costs.  Pay close attention to the other attendees, what booths they visit, how much time they spend.  This will give you an idea what attendees to this particular show are looking for so you will know what you need to do to be successful at the show.

When you do attend a show as an exhibitor, be sure to keep track of what percentage of people stop by your booth rather than just pass by.  Of those that stop, roughly what percentage are people interested in buying from you versus curiousity visits or those wanting to sell something to YOU.  Keep track of the leads which originate from the show and the total amount they buy from you over the next year. 

By tracking the data on leads generated and resulting sales, you will be able to weigh the costs to determine if trade shows are right for you.

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