Paul Blomfield helped to manage the 'New Zealand' stands at Australian Fashion Week, created own Apparel Magazine stands at Fashion Exposed in Australia Aussie and for clients at business expos here. He has also attended some of the largest trade shows in the world in Cologne, Dusseldorf, Munich and Shanghai.
Why are trade shows useful for startups setting out with a new brand and product?
I think that trade and consumer shows are valuable for the exposure they can bring to a business or brand. They offer exposure in all sorts of ways; branding, sales, conversations with potential clients and customers, database building and those wonderful random collisions with people that result in something great.
Most people exhibit at the trade shows to attract sales, but that is only part of the process.
Many people need to see a brand name several times before they're prepared to back the business behind it. If a stand has a good display and signage, who knows how many potential customers will see the brand and take note for future? Be bold - show your product in its best light. The dividends will pay off over time.
Visitors at trade shows are there for a reason and that reason usually is to see what products and services exist that will benefit their businesses. That means there are always customers in the crowd if you have the skills to reach out and connect with them. Assume that every visitor is a potential customer and make the show work for you. And let the money flow.
I love how much you can learn about your own product/brand, your competitors or your customers from trade show conversations. People turn up at these shows -visitors and exhibitors alike - prepared to talk and will do so with pretty much anyone they meet. I actually like those slow times at the show as they allow you to chat with other exhibitors and take the time to learn more about them and others.
It is often amazing to see just how much money and effort people will put into a marketing activity, but will fail to collect the names of those who were interested. This is the perfect forum to build that database or Facebook page. Make sure you use it!
How do you choose which trade shows to go to and to have a stall at?
Selecting a trade show is all about research. Get the show information from the organisers and look at the demographics of their visitors, but also ask organisers for some exhibitors you can call to discuss the show with. Ask about the type of customers who attend and if you can, go along yourself at least once before exhibiting. Go along with a shopping list (for a similar product to your own) and pretend to be a customer. You'll learn a lot. See how easy it is to find the companies and how easy it is to identify them. If your opposition isn't there, ponder why not - if they are, you'll assume they're getting some benefit from their attendance.
Get a feel for the areas of the show that are busy and vibrant. Keep in the busy areas, but not at bottlenecks where frustration ruins potential sales opportunites. There are often seminars or other features. Consider how these events add to traffic flow, what sort of customers they attract and if you can leverage them for your own benefit.
Select a good space. Where your stand is, has a lot to do with your success at a show. Are the stands you like already booked? Then, ask if you can be first option if there is a cancellation. Be pushy and cheeky. It sometimes bears fruit. But either way, get your name on a good stand -the best you can afford - and start thinking how to make it vibrant and interesting.
Get close to seminar areas, entrance doors, or, if you're brave, get really close to your main competitor and be prepared to duel for the best prospects.
What is your story?
Think about PR and your company's story. Many events like the ones I work with have PR teams who push the event to media to promote the show. What would you say/show to media if the opportunity arose. Be prepared to show off your story, your successes and your dreams.
Many people judge their success at a show by the sales they achieve, but fail to engage with potential customers. Many purchasing decisions start before the show and aren't completed until well after. So be prepared to sell. Have you got an order book? A call sheet to record their details on? Catalogues, business cards, technical specification sheets? Decent pictures of your products in action. Is your website, Facebook page and twitter address all visible on your signage? Be bold and stand out.
Communicating to clients about your presence at the show
Many shows have pre-promotional advertising, brochures etc that go out in newspapers and online before the show. Be ready! You'd be surprised at how many people I request basic information from who cannot even provide a decent photo, logo or backgrounder. If you can get into these bits of pre-publicity, it is free advertising for you - don't miss out. And if no one calls you, just ask the question of the organisers about how you can get involved.
What business deals have you seen happen at trade shows over the years?
Overseas you see big sales happening on the stands. There is much more of a culture of it there. I was in Munich on a footwear stand once when a big retailer visited. The retailer's entourage sat and wrote orders worth 170,000 euros - and the process took three hours. I personally haven't seen that scale of sale here - Kiwis like to take it home and have a think and them make their purchase later, but sales DO happen at the shows.
A number of smart SMEs are running topic workshops for clients and others, setting the agenda of discussion in their field of expertise. Tell us your stories.