THE BLOG
05/27/2014 03:30 pm ET Updated Jul 27, 2014

Are Trade Shows Too 'Old School'?

Technology has changed so many aspects of marketing and sales but one "old school" tool that still remains intact is the industry trade show. In this case, old school is a good thing. Face to face contact is still critical and simply cannot be replaced with technology. As the summer season of trade shows approaches, be sure that you are making the most of your investment.

I love to walk a trade show and feel the energy, get inspired by all the creativity exhibited booth after booth, aisle after aisle, hall after hall, learning the stories behind the booth. Trade shows clearly benefit both the exhibitors and the buyers who find their new product lines. Relationships that are built at shows can turn into friendships that last many years, even decades. The smile and handshake cannot be replaced online.

Leslie Gallin, President of Footwear, Advanstar Global says,

"At MAGIC we hear over and over 'If we had not been at the show we would not have met ...' Truth is many deals are created and finalized as a direct result of the interpersonal networking connections made on the trade show floors. Retailers benefit tremendously from the opportunity of speaking with other business owners. Sharing and finding solutions to current issues facing their businesses and the surprise of finding out other retailers have similar questions. Also, nothing replaces seeing the product. If I had to sum it up, I'd say that people like doing business with who they like. Face to face conversations build long term friendships and business relationships. Trade shows check off all the boxes to provide success on both sides of the aisle."

For an exhibitor who wants to debut a new product, sometimes launching at a trade show is a make or break proposition. There are many mom and pop home-based businesses that have been making products from their kitchen table and have sold enough of them that they believe they can turn their hobby into a real business. The trade show can be the perfect venue to find out the cold hard truth.

You can rent yourself a piece of real estate (approx 10'x10') at the same place where the biggest names in your industry are exhibiting. It's a level playing field in the trade show hall. There's nothing like the feeling of being in your booth and knowing that the buyer of a big chain could be strolling down the aisle with a life changing purchase order to write. On the other side of the coin, it's at these shows where buyers find the up and coming trends and emerging brands.

Some industries may have only one trade show per year, other industries like beauty/wellness, have several to choose from and many emerging brands can only afford to do one. Trade shows are an investment but the expense beyond the booth can be used for marketing materials that will be used long term and in a variety of different ways. The ROI of the booth is difficult to measure but presence at a trade show can be priceless.

Find The Right Show:
  • Decide where you want to see your product sell and then ask those store owners or buyers which shows they walk to find new inventory.
  • Search the industry trade shows online and peruse those websites.
  • The show's website usually has a list of exhibitors and attendees. Is this where your competition is exhibiting? Are the buyers listed the ones you hope to meet?
  • Ask similar but non-competing companies which shows they prefer and why.

Even well established companies who no longer really need to exhibit at shows, find value in the effort and investment.

Amber Gapinski, Marketing Manager at Valley Forge Fabrics, Inc. says, "While we are constantly on the search for new opportunities to reach our customers, we still believe trade shows are the best avenue to see them. Trade shows offer us the perfect opportunity to engage our customers, or as we like to say our friends, in a rare way, face to face. The ability to see a friend even to have a simple conversation or to show them a new fabric, is priceless. A smile, laughter, or the ability to have a face to face conversation brings your relationship to a brand new level. Valley Forge fabrics is always looking forward to our next trade show so we can spend time with our friends."
Make the Most of a Trade Show:

  • You can show your product and sell from samples if necessary but have production already tested & ready to go with a maximum 4-6 week delivery time.
  • Request a booth close to high traffic/big name booths if possible, this usually takes reserving the booth well in advance or you could check for last minute cancellations and change booth location. If you've invited buyers ahead of time, be sure to contact them regarding your new booth location.
  • Make the most of the show by getting to know other exhibitors too, and if they are non- competing products, you can support each other and share show contacts. Not every buyers stops at every booth, so sharing contacts can be really beneficial.
  • Think of the show as a three day interview, a marathon not a sprint.
  • Dress comfortably (especially shoes) and don't come in hungover, get your beauty sleep.
  • Bring your own snacks and water to give you energy during the day. The snacks at convention centers are usually unhealthy, overpriced and kill time with long lines.
  • Scanners make it easier now to see who came by your booth, you can scan a buyer's badge/QR code, no more "Im out of biz card" excuses.
  • If you will be doing a "cash & carry" type show, be sure to have a Square or some sort of on the spot merchant app.
  • Don't skimp on marketing materials, make great ones that you will be able to continue to use in different mediums. First impression is important.
  • Have professional photographs and signage.
  • Have a "show special" with a sense of urgency, so buyers place the order on the spot
  • Go early. Stay late. Connect with people. Go to networking functions. Repeat.
Technology has enhanced this mode of marketing just enough but nothing can replace a smile, handshake, a personal introduction from the creator of a product and the relationship that IRL brings. Don't worry, you can still tweet, FB post & Instagram from the show floor!