Small business: Trade show tips - Simon Gamble

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Simon Gamble, President North America and co-founder of Mako Networks, a cloud-based network management company, providing services and managed appliances that connect businesses to the Internet.

Co-founder of Mako Networks, Simon Gamble. Photo / Supplied
Co-founder of Mako Networks, Simon Gamble. Photo / Supplied

Mako Networks helps merchants that process, transmit or store cardholder data to comply with Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS). The company operates from offices in Auckland, London and San Francisco.

US trade shows

We attend a variety of both technology-specific and vertical industry trade shows.
Our customers aren't just other technology companies, but also merchants that are looking for ways to protect their business from credit card fraud and cybercrime. So while we attend the RSA Security Conference, the largest computer security tradeshow, we also attend the National Retail Federation trade show. Others shows we go to include the Electronic Transactions Association Annual Meeting, Visa's Global Security Summit, the National Association of Convenience Stores technology show, and smaller expos put on by the Telecom Council of Silicon Valley.

Trade shows in America are far grander in scale than those in Australia and New Zealand.

Fortunately, that means they get more attendees, and more decision makers actively looking for solutions.

Opportunities at US trade shows

We view trade shows as a forum to meet suppliers, customers and partners in one venue. They're the place to initiate new business opportunities and meet potential new partners. As a relatively new entrant to the US market, trade shows are also an important opportunity for us to reinforce the Mako brand and our presence in North America.

To prepare for trade shows, we'll usually contact partners individually to establish meetings in advance. There's also a fair degree of coordination required to manage the logistics of getting a booth to a show and put together, often a lot more than you'd think.

Booths not always necessary

In our experience it's more about the meetings than taking booth space. Having an exhibition stand can be beneficial, but costs add up quickly: there's shipping and construction labour charges, combined with all the extra costs for electricity, carpeting and cleaning. Even getting the rubbish bin emptied sometimes costs extra.

My advice is that just being there is what's most important, whether you have a booth or not. You've taken the initiative to show up and conduct business. Most people will respect that.

Best show experience

The first time we attended the NACStech show is good example. A few weeks beforehand, we got a tip from a business contact at a different trade show that NACStech would be a great opportunity for us to meet with convenience store customers that could really use our security services. We had about three weeks to secure a booth space, get our exhibit designed and delivered, book our flights and get to Las Vegas. But we were glad we got there. It's the single best trade show we've ever attended. We created a lot of brand awareness in the US and generated a substantial amount of new business. We had people two and three deep waiting to get to speak to us at the show. We've attended every year since and it's been a consistent source of new business leads and partnership opportunities.

Top Tips

You need to build in a sufficient budget if you're planning to exhibit, which is to say considerably more than you're expecting. But I'd also say that just walking the show floor can be equally valuable. Trade shows should be treated more like a forum than a chance for show-and-tell. You can pre-arrange meetings with the broad spectrum of your business partners- suppliers, customers and partners-in a single space.

Meanwhile, having met at the trade show, the door is already open for you with new business contacts. You need to progress to actual meetings to discuss the business opportunities that have been identified during the show, and give them a chance to try out your product or solution. It'll also be far easier to follow up on the show leads if you're operating directly in the States already. Contacts may want you to follow up again with a meeting at short notice, and being close at hand is a big advantage.

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.

- NZ Herald

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