BIZTIPS - June 8, 2008

by Art Hill

Biz Tips: Trade Shows Offer Sales Opportunities, Part 1

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A recent trade show in Houston filled the Astrodome, Reliant Center, adjacent halls, and exhibit tents in the surrounding parking lots. There were 2,400 exhibitors and over 50,000 visitors. Ironically, that was a “medium size” show by industry standards.

Every year, tens of thousands of companies reach millions of customers through trade shows. From local farmers’ markets to the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas with 140,000 attendees, trade shows are a proven channel to market.

The industry is as old as history. From ancient Mediterranean markets to medieval city squares and tribal trade gatherings, trade shows enjoy a colorful and profitable tradition. It would be fun to see the reaction of ancient merchants to today’s show booths. Billboard size digital arrays, two-story exhibits with offices and conference rooms, and fiber optic feeds from worldwide projects would take some getting used to.

If you’re in business, you may already be using trade shows in your industry to sell or buy products and services. The recent Gifts and Accessories show in Portland welcomed over 300 wholesale exhibitors and 3,000 retail visitors. Some exhibitors wrote orders for shop owners they see only once a year before the summer tourist season. Others renewed contacts with retailers and suppliers who order and ship throughout the year.

How effective are trade shows? That depends. It depends on your products and services, your market, available shows in your industry, and your ability to work them effectively. We met one wholesaler who has been doing shows for 30 years. He once owned 8 stores, but all of his annual sales now come from trade shows.. He wrote a gift shop order for $1,700 while we were visiting with him. A manufacturer at the Houston show wrote an order for a $250,000 industrial pump after 10 minutes with a new customer.

Despite the hype, trade shows are not perfect and for most businesses, they are just one of several channels to market. If you’re new to shows, be sure you know where they fit in your overall marketing plan. Plan them as carefully as a new store location. Research them through industry reports. Talk with business owners who have exhibited at those shows.

Compare show organizer reports of visitor traffic vs. square foot cost. A show with lower cost for booth space may be an inexpensive way to get an initial show experience, but a bigger show may have a dramatically higher traffic-to-cost ratio. The difference will be very apparent as you stare down empty aisles at the smaller show or struggle to keep up with traffic at the larger one. And remember that booth space rental is only a small part of overall show cost. Show preparation, booth fixtures, utilities, shipping, travel, staffing, and lead follow-up are just a few of the related expenses.

Next time, we’ll look at some of the key components of planning and executing a successful trade show exhibit. They would sound equally familiar to a medieval merchant or a high-tech exhibitor, and they can mean the difference between a profitable show and a write-off. 

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