With the winter show season in full gear, it’s worth reviewing the advantages of attending trade shows as well provide tips to get the most out of your experience, whether as an exhibitor or attendee.
The three main rationales for attending trade shows are to see new products, network with members of your industry, and stay current on trends (whether through interactions on the trade floor, at informational seminars, or both). These reasons are equally true for vendors and for buyers.
Stanley Foster, general manager of Greenleaf’s Nursery in Tarboro, NC, attends MANTS and North Carolina’s Green and Growin. While Greenleaf’s sales reps man a booth at both shows to connect with customers, Foster walks the floor, he says, “to look at what’s new and what’s available.”
For exhibitors, the important role trade shows can play in highlighting new products shouldn’t be underestimated. If you have a product or service new to the marketplace, make sure you make the most out of your trade show experience.
First of all, make sure you’re at the right trade show or shows. Does it have a robust and growing attendance? Do your competitors and industry partners attend? Is it easy to reach, with reasonable accommodations located nearby? Will you be able to get the booth you want?
If you have a new product to promote, do you have it available to show in your booth? If the item is too large, do you have a miniaturized version? Or a video of the equipment in action?
Are there sessions at the exhibition that are designed to promote new products? If so, are you participating? Even just five or 10 minutes in front of a room full of people can help attract more people to your booth on the floor, to your website, and to your business.
Also consider sponsorships. Trade shows are specifically designed for communicating to a certain community, so the more ways you can communicate your message, your brand, and your products, the bigger impact you will have. Whether the investment will be worth it depends on the terms of the sponsorship and how well positioned you are to advance your products or services.
As an exhibitor, make sure your booth is easy to navigate. It should have multiple entry points, be free of clutter (don’t be afraid of open space) and use bright graphics and clear messaging.
Embrace social media as a way to promote your participation at the event and build a customer and network base.
Bigger shows tend to have bigger opportunities, as they have more people in attendance. But they also have more competition for the attention of attendees, so you have to be focused in your approach to attracting and retaining the interests of attendees.
Having live action in your exhibit is a great way to catch attention. This could be as simple as having a video playing that extolls your products or services, or having an example of your products in use. You might build one of your products in real-time. Or you might have a miniaturized version of a piece of equipment running.
“Movement generates interest,” said Bruce Button, general manager of Lee Publications. Button has over 30 years of experience producing trade shows, and attends about 20 trade shows per year.
“Anytime you can have live activity in the booth it’s much better than having static activity,” he said.
The kiss of death (guaranteed to repel passersby) is to act disinterested, stand with your arms folded, gaze averted elsewhere (including at a phone or computer).
It’s also critical that the staff in your booth is well educated about your products. A common criticism of trade show attendees is that not all vendors are fully familiar with the products being exhibited.
This year at the Western Trade Show, there will be educational seminars — learning centers, they call them — on the trade show floor. This approach, which started last year, is one way to help keep buyers on the trade show floor, rather than at informational seminars.
Forrest Keeling Nursery will be one of the exhibitors, with its own learning center at the Western. They will have 20 minute sessions where they speak about using the principles of agroforestry in urban and suburban landscapes, with a special emphasis on installing and using riparian buffers.
“I think it is a really clever way to have education at the show, keep buyers on the floor, and give us an opportunity to highlight what we do best,” said Kim Lovelace-Young, Forrest Keeling’s vice president and general manager.
Just like exhibitors, attendees want to make sure they’re at the best trade show for them. Does the event have the participants you want to see? Will you industry peers be there?
If you know the best show or shows to attend, are you making the best use of them?
One way to make sure you get the most out of a show you’ve gone to year after year is to do a little advance planning.
Go online and see the list and map of exhibitors. Do you see new companies? If you want to see what’s new, make sure to check out the new exhibitors.
Also, check the schedule to determine the flow of events. Is it the kind of show where the trade floor will be constantly busy? If so, you might want to get there early, to see the exhibitors you want to see before things get too crowded.
There are a few trade show tips that apply to all who participate.
Make sure to check the weather before travelling, and bring appropriate clothes.
If you are interested in evening entertainment, research in advance the options in the destination city.
Bring all that you will need with you. At the same token, don’t bring what you don’t need.
Bring your cell phone and phone charger to the show. Often the buildings have poor signals. As phones search for service, they can run down their battery.
Don’t stay out too late at night, but at the same time do consider staying at a hotel where your contacts will be staying. The experience is about connecting with your community and networking.
Most of all, wear appropriate and comfortable footwear. “Nothing can ruin your experience like not being able to get around,” Button said.
Dennis Saulsbury of Gardenware, which supplies weather-resistant labels and tags to the nursery industry, has attended numerous shows over the years. This year, he will be attending MANTS.
He likes the show because, “we keep meeting new people, people interested in our products,” which is what trade shows are all about.