So you want to do a trade show?

By Anna Brindley

It has been suggested to me over and over to do a trade show. I just couldn’t justify all the costs involved, long days of working the booth, and the time I would need to put into preparations – until now.  My head is still spinning as I sift through information overload from last week’s four-day Home and Gift Market show in Dallas.
I did a lot of things wrong—and a few things right but I feel: like having children–you just can’t  know what is like until you do it for yourself. I am sure there are even more insights to come, but for now here are some tidbits from my experience.
In November, in the sort of creative rush that you can’t ignore, I had an idea for a beautiful line of baby blankets. Anxious to get it to market, I rushed the process.  The good news is that now I know I can bring a quality product from conception to reality in two months flat, a shorter development cycle than I had ever before experienced. The not-so-great news, yet valuable lesson, is that now I realize there are other critical parts of brand development that cannot be rushed.  Here are a few things of the things that I’ve learned:
-The cost of the trade show booth may have been worth the leads I gained and networking from the show, I wasn’t able to recoup it immediately on sales as I had hoped.  It turns out that retailers want to see you there for three seasons before they trust that your company will be around long enough to fill their orders. This is not true in all cases but the sluggish economy is making this more of a constant.
-Prices of booths can be negotiable. I might have paid less for the space I got had I known to bargain.
-There are such things as dead zones. Look at a floor layout plan and try to determine where the high traffic areas will be. Is there a Starbucks close, for example?
-Walk the market that you hope to show in. I had represented a line before in apparel, so I thought I had enough experience – but this show was entirely different.
-When you do get visitors in your booth, get their business card. Follow up is a big part of the process of selling.
-A contact list of buyers is part of the package you purchase. If you allow enough lead time (in other words–don’t rush) you can actually call or write to invite prospects to come see what is new!
-Talk to reps. Talking to reps ahead of time is a good way to see what is available in the market place and at what price point. Even though the internet is good for that, seeing first hand at the market is invaluable.
-Simple, cost effective booth designs can still make an impact. Spending more money doesn’t mean it is somehow better. A really simple design for a booth that I saw won the award for best booth design.
Should you have any tips to share…please do.

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