Trade Show Survival Guide

Trade shows can be a chaotic whirlwind for any business if you are not prepared. The shear amount of time and detail that is required before, during and even after the trade show will have a significant impact on how much your business will potentially gain or lose as a result. Everything from the table cloth you use to the signs you display and even the items you give away, should be chosen with purpose and planned efficiently. The results of your planning can put your business on a level you may have not even thought possible; You could land the biggest client your business has ever had! On the other hand, a lack of planning can result in a tarnished reputation, bad reviews and loss of future clients.

The Circus…

The trade show floor can be a circus! Out on that floor, your competitors eagerly await the flurry of potential customers to linger their way. To ensure you can compete against such stiff competition, there are several things you should do. The first step is something you may already do as part of your day to day routine of owning a business. You should research the competition. Knowing your competitor can be a great advantage to you. Putting in a little bit of “Google time” before the trade show may allow you to gain that extra advantage. Check the websites and social media pages of your competitors to see if they have done any trade shows in the past. See if they are talking about the upcoming trade show and giving out clues about what they may be planning for their giveaways. A key survival strategy of trade shows is simply to be original. You need to set your business apart, not just from your competitors, but also the other businesses at the trade show. ”Now wait!”, you are probably saying. “Why do I care about the other businesses who are not my direct competition?” Well, on the trade show floor, everyone is competition! With anywhere from 20 to possibly several hundred other businesses in the room all vying for the attention of the trade show attendees, you need to create an atmosphere around your booth that everyone will be drawn to. Your goal is to have everyone talking about you! Another important strategy for the trade show floor is to have a back-up plan! This cannot be stressed enough! What happens if you have the same giveaway items as your competition? What if you planned an activity and the first several people to play seem bored or unimpressed? What do you do then? Pack up and head home…Fake sick…tuck your tail and run? No! All that is needed to avoid this awful situation is a back-up plan. Work out a strategy before the trade show that can be easily implemented in case of an emergency (and yes, boring booths and giving the same promos as your competitor is an emergency!).  This is your business’s time to shine not to blend into the crowd. Your job is to dazzle each person that walks by.

Step Right Up…… Win a Prize!!!

Trade shows present a unique opportunity to put your business in front of tons of potential customers and show them what you’re all about! Trade show swag and goodies are essential to trade show success, but this is the area where most businesses who are new to the trade show scene will slip up. Pens and koozies are classic promotional items, however when everyone at the trade show is giving them away, your business may not even be distinguishable from all the others. Your promo should be unmatched against all the other trade show participants. So, when it comes to your prizes or giveaways what is a good strategy? How many items should you have overall to last the entire trade show? Should you have multiple giveaways? Is it better to make the attendees participate in a game or activity to get the swag? The idea behind the trade show giveaway is to assist in having the attendee leave as your new customer. Keeping your business name on their mind is one of the core principles of promotional products. I mean, your business didn’t buy these items and then give them away just to see a smile on the face of a stranger, right? The promotional product serves as a way to entice that person into becoming your customer and keep them thinking about your business after they have left. That being said, the items you give away should be a meaningful representation of your business. The quality of the promo will leave an impression with the customer about the quality of the work you do or the quality of the products you sell. Always remember, cheap promotional items can leave the impression of a cheap company. The uniqueness of that item is also important. It lets the customer know what is different about your business from your competition. Giving away a unique promo item can send the impression that your team has out-of-the-box thinkers. So you see, the promo does matter! If you need a few ideas check out what promotional items are trending for 2017. As to whether each and every attendee should get one of your giveaways, that is up to you…. Not!! You never want to disappoint a potential new customer, so the strategy here is multiple giveaway items. Having 3 or 4 different promos means that you can decide who gets the more expensive ones (i.e. the one’s you feel are interested in your business and will become customers) and who gets the less expensive ones (i.e. the ones who are at the trade show for the freebies a.k.a. “free fair folks”) (yes, I made that name up…. but it is kind of catchy!!). You always want to have enough items to last the entire trade show. You can always get an estimated number of attendees to expect based on prior years attendance or asking someone part of organizing the trade show. Games and activities are great ways to engage people in a less “cold call” manner, add a little fun and excitement to your booth. Attendees of trade shows like to be entertained, just make sure when choosing a game or activity that you choose one that is unique and fun. Change the rules and add your own spin! This is your opportunity to show people what is different and special about your company. Having games and activities allows you to control the prizes you give away. Remember when choosing your game to choose one that can be enjoyed by anyone that attends the trade show. Your business can really steal the spotlight with a well-executed game/giveaway combo!

Are You Running Out Of Time…

The easiest way to have trade show success is to use a good timeline. If the trade show is in 2 days and you are just now getting around to shopping for promotional items, you will benefit to know the next few things. According to one of our Graphic Artists, David, you should start shopping for your promos about 4 months out from your trade show date. Once you have picked an item, it can take 4-6 weeks to complete the order process, artwork, production and delivery. Within that 4-6 weeks any changes you make to the design or even something like a snowstorm in the northern part of the country can delay your products. Now this is not to say we cannot do it faster! Believe me, there are ALWAYS people ordering last minute and the Perfect Imprints team are specialists at making miracles happen. Starting earlier however, allows us to give you more product options, at times cheaper shipping rates, and less overall stress leading up to your trade show. With the proper time allowance, we can usually send a sample of the products you are wanting to buy which lets you plan more effectively. Production times vary based on each product. Some of the products will offer rush-production/shipping, but not all. With many cases we see, the artwork sent to us by the customer and the product they have chosen to put it on are just not good matches. We are not just order takers here and each order to us needs to be treated with extreme attention to detail. If your logo is black and the product is a dark or navy blue, the outcome will likely not be what you wanted. By giving the proper time to the ordering process, we can help find the best product to compliment your logo and your company. Remember, the promotional items you give away are a direct reflection of your business so every detail is crucial.

Another important part of your timeline takes place about 1 month out. With just a month to go and so much work already invested, it would be disheartening to have less attendees at the trade show than expected. Take it from us, don’t just count on the people who put the trade show together to fill the room; it is a nice thought but from experience we can tell you it is unrealistic. Use social media platforms like Facebook to “tease” your followers about the upcoming event. Add links to the trade show web page if one exists, post photos of your giveaways, make a video giving people clues about the game they can expect to play at your booth. Posting several times a week to remind people about the trade show can help make sure your hard work pays off!!

The Big Day…

After all you hard work and preparation it is time for the trade show. You should at this point have done research on the competition, designed your promotional product giveaways and purchased them, created a game or other interaction to take place at your booth and advertised on social media to draw the biggest crowd possible. When you first arrive to the trade show you should get set up right away. You want to be ready for any early birds that fly your way. Once set up is complete allow extra time before people arrive to walk around and check out what everyone else has going on. Some great ideas for your next event can be drawn on what you see during this event. Give your booth a final review including testing any contraptions for your game or activity. This is also a great time for a social media post. Show your display and a few faces of your employees so people know who they are looking for. During the event it is great to post picture updates to your social accounts as well. To get an even farther reach, ask the attendees to upload their pictures of your booth to their own accounts. Another fun idea is to create a custom hashtag for the event. The more people you can reach on social media, the better. Part of the planning for the event should include assigning the role each of your employees will play at the event. You want everyone to have fun but don’t miss out on a good lead either. Make it a designated job for one employee to gather info on the attendees. Getting business cards or email addresses for future solicitations such as email blasts will save you a lot of time. If you have a game or activity, you should have at least one person attending it at all times. Remember, it is important to take pictures and videos during the event, so maybe assign that role to someone as well. It doesn’t have to be all work though! Enjoy yourself. The attendees like to see people relaxed and having fun just like them. They are more likely to approach a bunch of smiling faces over a bunch of bored sourpusses. It is vital that you plan within your means. If you have just one or two employees to help at the trade show, you should keep your booth simple enough to be ran efficiently by just those two. You may not have any employees at all in which case you need to run your booth solo. Be prepared for the amount of help you will have allotted at your booth. Know how long it will take each attendee to play your game or activity. This will ensure no one gets frustrated with long wait times and walks away.

Not Done Yet…..But Close!

Once the trade show comes to an end, your focus should be on follow-up. This final step is crucial to trade show success. It is a big mistake to just return to business as usual and wait for the customers to flood in; simply put, they won’t ! As excited as potential customers may have seemed while talking at your booth, if you don’t follow-up with them, there is a chance you may never see them again. Even if you gave that potential customer a high-priced promo and they stayed and chatted with you about your company and even said they were going to come shop your business, it doesn’t mean they will. This is the time to be PROACTIVE!! Send targeted email blasts or make direct phone calls to remind that customer of the wonderful experience they had with you at the trade show. Following up with the customer in a timely fashion is very important whether your customer is an individual or a business. How your business chooses to follow-up is also very important. If you intend on making a direct phone call or dropping by someone’s office in person, you should have your key points ready in your mind. The last thing you want is to appear to the customer as if the sale is all that matters. Email blasts can be a great tool for trade show follow-up as well. Make sure the emails are precise and contain information relevant to the experience they had at your booth. You can mention the game or ask for their feedback on the promo. You should always include links to your company website and/or social media sites.

Every trade show will be a unique experience. Even for those that occur every year, the vendors and attendees are always changing. Change however, is a good thing when it comes to trade show survival. Be the business that the attendees will flock to each year because they know from the past that your business puts on a great show. Re-invent your booth and try different activities and giveaways. Always remember that being prepared is key. By following these guidelines, you can have a successful trade show and acquire new customers for your business. We hope you found this survival guide to be helpful. Look out for more articles from the “Survival Series” coming soon to Perfect Imprints.

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Patrick Black
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Patrick Black, MAS, is the founder of Perfectimprints.com and has been in the promotional products industry helping businesses and organizations since 1999. When not geeking out over the newest and greatest promotional items, you can find him paddleboarding at the beach or hanging out by the pool with his wife, three kids, and his basset hound in Fort Walton Beach, FL.