In January there are two things that a guaranteed, dreary weather and trade shows. As I run a giftware business, there is quite a lot of choice. From London to Birmingham, Paris to Frankfurt huge halls will be filling up with booths of gorgeousness. My tweets and emails are filled with ‘Will I see you at Top Drawer?’ ‘Are you going to The NEC?’, ‘Do you want to share a van?’. Some businesses do A LOT of shows, in fact they are really a road show, moving corporate stands around the world. Smaller companies, like Clippy have to make choices or money becomes locked away in exhibition bank accounts and I start to wonder where my cash flow went, before remembering boring trade show deposits, which if you are a keen exhibitor can be awesome.
The thing is you don’t want to live with them (or in them), but you definitely can’t live without them.
I have thought in the past that I could get away with contacting companies and shops direct, but it never really works. Buyers like to see a range in all its glory, for the range to tell a story. So then you come to the initial headache, where to place yourself in a hall.
The first thing you can do is become very familiar with the venue. Work out the entrances, find where the cafes and display features are, and imagine how the buyers will walk the halls. Familiarity will also help when it comes to talking to the organizers. Depending how old a lag you are, and how much money you plan to spend, will influence the sales department. Be prepared to fight your corner. Remember they are in sales, and just want to fill their halls. I always try to get a corner stand, so ‘Clippy’ can be seen from different angles. A long, narrow stand works for me too as all the products get moved to the front. Think about your display.
If the show is huge, then it is vital to find the area that is appropriate to your product. The wrong hall, and you will definitely be left feeling unloved. It has happened to me (sob) and it will probably happen to you, so location, location, location.
Get to know your neighbours. Which companies are sited nearby ? Find out the names of the six stands opposite, and the ones either side. . If you have never heard of them – Google. It is important to be near products that are symbiotic. It is very depressing to find yourself in the midst of companies to whom you feel alienated. The buyers get confused and can miss you out completely, and your product starts to look out of place.
Try to avoid being near the busiest stand in the show. Buyers have a budget, and I have noticed that once they have placed a large order they are inclined to walk off (probably to recover) , chat to their team and not pay attention to other stands in the vicinity.
Also if there is a crowd on an opposite stand you can get completely squeezed out.
Follow up all leads. This sounds very obvious, but once you are back in the office all those cards can find their way to the back of the desk very quickly. I have just found an app for my phone called Camcard (I am sure there are lots of others) and when I photograph a buyers card, it automatically files names and phone numbers which I can then export to an excel document or find them on LinkedIn. It saves a lot of time and effort.
I have spent a lot of time over the last few years trying to get the lightest, easiest stand possible. When I began it was the heaviest, most labour intensive stand you could possibly build. Now I have devised a stand comprising mostly of cardboard boxes, which I can leave behind when I go. It does sound a bit mad, but it works for me.
If the show is quiet then use the opportunity to talk to fellow exhibitors. They become your friends and allies, and you need the odd dinner date too after you have been on a stand all day. Share not only pudding, but contacts. When you are an entrepreneur, you need the network.
There is a certain tyranny about trade shows. Every year more are set up around the world and it is a lottery deciding which to do, but they really are necessary.
I hope you have gained something from my trade show rant, but there is one last thing……NEVER sit down, eat or read on your stand, terribly tempting ( I would usually like to lie down), it just looks dismal.
Calypso Rose, MD, Clippy London