The annual ABC Kids Expo, the biggest juvenile products trade show in the US, is right around the corner. This year, unbelievably enough, will be my 8th trip to ABC. Every year, I look forward to exploring this gargantuan trade show packed with baby products, and trying to find the next big thing(s).
But year after year, some vendors make me shake my head. Why would you pay for space at a trade show and then make it anything but easy for buyers to engage with your products and (gasp) place an order?
Last year, I took notes about mistakes and best practices I noticed while I was at the show, and I think the manufacturers who read this blog may find this list helpful. As for the rest of our readers: here’s an inside peek into an important part of our business. Here are 11 things exhibitors can do to get maximum impact out of their investment in this (or any) trade show.
- Consider your first impression. The visual appeal of your booth is everything at a trade show. Do something to make your space different and exciting. Show your products in all their glory, and don’t forget to have good, visible signage with your company’s name and web site. Capture my attention or I’m moving on.
- Have printed catalogs and price lists. Don’t tell me I can download it (I won’t). Don’t tell me you’ll mail it to me (you won’t). Don’t hand it to me on a thumb drive (I’ve never once looked at a catalog in this format, yet I have a nice collection of them). Also, collate your materials ahead of time – this will save time for both of us.
- Put your booth number on everything you hand out (a lot of vendors use stickers for this). If we like what we see, we’ll want to come back and write an order. But only if we can find you.
- Have a show special. As a retailer, let me tell you: there’s nothing as motivating as a good discount or free shipping (or both). If you believe in your product, your first priority is to get it into stores. If it sells, the discount at the outset will be more than balanced by the reorders that will follow.
- Don’t come alone. Your booth needs to be manned at all times, and a single person will find that practically impossible. Human beings need to eat, go to the bathroom, etc. Even if you’re just getting started, bring a friend, a cousin, your mother, anyone. An unattended booth is a lost opportunity.
- Think about how your product will be merchandised in a store. I can’t tell you how many companies show great products with terrible (or no) retail packaging. This is a show for retailers, and retailers need to think about how a product will look on the shelf. Inspire us with brilliant packaging or display ideas and we’re much more likely to take the plunge.
- Be proactive but not aggressive. No matter how quiet the show gets, don’t sit down and read a newspaper or get absorbed in your iPhone. Make eye contact with people as they walk down the aisles and smile a lot. If I smile back and keep walking, don’t ask, “Do you sell baby products?” as a conversation starter. We all sell baby products. That’s why we’re at this show. If I like what I see, I’ll stop and talk to you.
- Embrace social media. If you have a Twitter handle, include it prominently on your booth signage so people who are tweeting from the show can reference your company and help you generate buzz. When buyers place an order, ask them for their company’s Twitter handle so you can tweet that your product is coming soon to that store. Use a similar approach for Facebook. If you want to be really whizzy, print QR codes that people can use to “like” you on Facebook or follow you on Twitter right from their phones.
- Serve refreshments. The dish of candy is ubiquitous, but if you really want to make a splash, do something a little different. A tempting treat next to an empty chair is the perfect bait to slow down a tired, hungry buyer for long enough to hear your pitch. Reciprocity can be a powerful thing.
- Understand the process. Some buyers are very decisive and will see your product and immediately place an order. We don’t work that way. We visit booths, collect (beautiful, printed, collated) information, make decisions in the evening and then return to place our orders at the end of the show. No amount of high pressure selling will change that, and it is most likely a turnoff in the long run.
- Stay organized. You’re going to collect hundreds of business cards at this show, not to mention a boatload of orders (you hope). You’d be shocked to hear how many vendors have lost our orders placed at trade shows. I know it’s hectic, but there’s no excuse for that. Bring a file tote box for the order forms and be diligent about using it. Bring a notebook and tape in business cards as you get them. Jot down notes about the conversations you had and follow up after the show.
With that said: Manufacturers, do you have any helpful hints to make the show better and more productive for buyers? We’d love to read your tips and tricks.