Trade show success and expectations

Julia wrote:

On another note with regard to the trade shows themselves, I rarely recommend it to a brand new company for exhibiting because if they plan on it to “make their business” they will be in for a surprise. The costs alone can take up an entire budget, and if you have no current retailers ordering from you (because you are hoping to make all of your sales during the three to four days of the trade show) then you are really putting all of your “eggs in one basket” and may find a very quiet booth. I walked to the back areas and can’t tell you how many booths were empty each time I walked by…some were very open in talking and saying that they were under the assumption that once you have a booth, “you’ve made it.” It’s this naivety that is very sad, however, a lot of people shouldn’t be in this business to begin with, so I guess it can also be said “survival of the fittest.” (Sorry for all of the cliches!).

I was probably going to get around to writing about this as a separate post, but this comment really got me excited about the topic.

Every now and then I have read about a company that went to (insert show name here) and wrote $50,000 or $100,000 in orders.

I have never met them.

And the publications never talk about what kind of pre-show marketing went into building that level of buzz.

I think a lot of times, trade show success is not discussed within context. One day, I paid for a consultation with a sales rep and one of the things she said was “with a trade show, you’re losing money going in.” You have a sunk cost invested in the booth and related expenses (which can easily be as much as, if not more than, your booth fees), and you’re trying to recoup that expense.

Over the years, I have talked to several designers about how many orders they are writing at trade shows. And I have gotten various answers but what they all amount to is that most nearly all are not writing enough orders to cover the expense of the show, until a few shows in. Gross sales or gross profit, doesn’t matter which figure you use, it takes a while for trade shows to become profitable for them.

It takes a lot of pre-show marketing and promotion to bring buyers to your booth, you cannot rely on walk in/walk by traffic. The number of brands at any Vegas show (whether it’s MAGIC, Pool, Project, etc.) is simply overwhelming. For everything you carry, you may find a dozen other lines with a similar offering (maybe not to you, but your brand may be interchangeable to a buyer). It’s hard to stand out. Part of the key in marketing at a trade show is pre-show promotion, if you’re relying on walk in/walk by traffic, what if you’re in a section of the exhibit hall that gets very little foot traffic? After all these are large shows.

A while ago, a friend and I discussed using trade shows strategically, to show to the press, and other business contacts (strategic partners, suppliers, etc.). Another friend even landed a private label manufacturing deal as a result of showing at a large trade show. I believe there are other benefits to exhibiting (that may not be directly related to immediate or short term sales), but exhibitors have to think strategically about exhibiting at a show. The Vegas shows have large numbers of registered attendees, but that doesn’t mean buyers will be pouring into your booth. They get them registered, but you still have to work to get them in your booth, make appointments and get interest in the line. Even then, many will not write orders at the show.

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