In last week's post, we covered how to get the most value out of your attendance a big pet industry trade show. This week, we’re going to go over how you can maximize your vendor presence with thoughtful preparation and good follow-through.
Before the show
Set your goals. Get out your handy decision matrix again, and change the column headings and percentages as necessary.
What is included with your booth? At the very least, make sure you’ll have a table, linens, and a couple of chairs. Ideally, you’ll also have access to electrical outlets and dividers to the back and sides so that you don’t have to worry about encroachment by your nearest neighbors. Make sure your booth fee includes all of the staff members you’ll be bringing with you; some trade shows charge additional attendee fees.
Where will your booth be located? Once you’ve registered as a vendor, pinpoint your booth location on the map and figure out what is nearby - other vendors, bathrooms, power outlets, emergency or regular exits, even heating/cooling vents. If you aren’t going to be close to a power outlet, be sure to bring extra batteries or extension cords if the event organizer won’t be providing access to outlets. (You may have to contact the directly to find that out.)
If your booth is going to be in a well-trafficked location - lucky you! It will make your time a lot more productive. If you’re in an out-of-the-way corner, you’ll have to get creative to drive traffic to your booth. Get another person (in branded t-shirts or headgear - we always bring our Fetchy ears to events) to walk the main areas or stand by the nearest major intersection to direct potential customers to the booth. If you were confirmed in a good location and ended up in a not-so-good location - find the conference organizer and ask for a better booth placement or other concession to help raise visibility. Be polite, but be persistent. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
Practice your booth set up. if you’re getting the standard 6’ or 8’ table, work on the layout and other logistics before you go so that you know how it will look and what the flow of traffic will be. Then take a picture or do a diagram of the item placements so you don’t have to think about it when you get there. Two things to remember: make it inviting, and the simpler, the better. Too much wording or too much stuff can make the booth feel messy and cluttered, and that can turn off casual passers-by.
If you have your own trade show booth, complete with tables, dividers, banners, etc, make sure you know how everything works and that all of the mechanisms are functional.
Order your marketing materials and swag. No matter what you’re planning to bring, make sure you 1) order well in advance (those rush fees add up), and 2) order more than you think you’ll need. You’ll want to have some extra time built in to have everything delivered to you for inspection, and for you to ship it out to the venue or your hotel.
Create a packing checklist. This will not only help you keep track of everything you need to take with you, but also everything you’ll need to bring back.
What to pack
Add 25%. Figure out how much stuff you have to bring for the booth, and add 25% more to that total. You don’t want to run out of business cards, promo materials, or swag. You can always hand out extra swag towards the end of the show, or recycle the leftover paper goods, if you don’t want to ship or carry anything back.
What to wear. Aim for neat but comfortable. You’ll be on your feet for hours on end, so comfy, supportive footwear is key during the day. Bring branded clothing to wear during the tradeshow, and a neutral jacket or sweater to wear over it if the venue is too cold or your booth is right under an air conditioning vent. You’ll need one nice outfit for happy hours, networking events, or client dinners. If you don’t have room for a separate dressy outfit, pack basic black clothes and use a nice scarf, shrug, or jewelry to fancy it up when necessary. A pair of inexpensive ballet flats will work for most events after hours, and won’t take up a lot of room in your luggage.
Office stuff. Bring business cards, a notebook (with calendar), a half dozen pens, and a few rolls of tape (packing tape, scotch tape, and white duct tape). It’s nice to think that you’ll be able to use your laptop or phone for notes and appointments, but you may not be able to count on having a reliable power source, cell phone connectivity, or internet access. And writing notes down while you’re talking to someone instead of typing them into a computer is a warmer way of doing business. You can always transcribe the notes later.
Booth in a box. If you’re traveling with your own booth or banners, keep a copy of the sales page for the items with you, and tuck a copy into the case as well. This will help airport security and the gate agents figure out what you’re checking or carrying on without tearing the entire case apart.
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Travel. Most trade shows have specific set up/break down times, so you’ll have to arrange your arrival/departure times accordingly. Most trade shows offer discounts to preferred hotels, but in most cases you’ll need to book early to get the discount. Check the cancellation fees and timings for the hotels. It’s easier to book in advance and cancel later, rather than try to find a convenient room close to the venue at the last minute, but if you miss the cancellation deadline you could be on the hook for a hefty portion of the hotel costs.
Ship it. Trade show stuff is heavy, bulky, and hard to carry. If you can ship your booth, your marketing materials, and your swag - do it. Some trade shows will allow you to ship directly to the venue; for others, you’ll have to ship to your hotel. Call the destination first to make sure they will accept packages for someone who is not yet in residence, and check on how many days in advance they will accept deliveries. Ship things as soon as possible within those guidelines, so you have a little leeway built in for weather or operational delays. Whatever you ship, make sure it’s trackable, and have your confirmation of receipt in hand when you go to collect your stuff. You can set up delivery alerts via text or email so that you don’t have to keep checking the tracking number. If you don’t already have accounts with UPS or FedEx, set one up before you go. It will make shipping things back home a lot easier if you already have a payment method on file.
Carry on. All of those little bits of things you can’t afford to lose by shipping or putting in checked luggage are going to look suspicious going through security, so pack as if you’re expecting to have your bag searched (because it probably will be). Use ziplock bags, clear plastic containers, and other transparent holders wherever possible. Keep your power cords bundled neatly and stored separately.
At the show
Be a good neighbor. Get to know the people in the surrounding booths. Introduce yourself, explain what you do, and share resources wherever possible. If they have a good feeling about you, they’re more likely to direct traffic to your booth and help out if you get busy or need to run to the bathroom. The one thing that is guaranteed to give your neighbors the warm fuzzies is sharing access to outlets, so don’t hoard the power strip. Which leads me to....
Everybody needs a charging station. If you’re lucky enough to have direct access to a power outlet, share the wealth. If you have a phone charging station set up, just about everyone at the show will make their way to your booth eventually (and, hey - captive audience! Just sayin’.)
Stay hydrated, and keep high quality snacks on hand. Going to the bathroom every hour is inconvenient and annoying, but so is passing out from dehydration. Keep things like nuts, fruit, and protein bars at the booth so you can refuel regularly (but check with your neighbors about nut allergies before you open up that jar of peanuts).
Build foot traffic with games or services. Hold regular prize drawings or play spin the wheel (you can bring a real wheel, or do it online) where people can win fun swag. You can’t have too many tote bags.
Don’t hide behind the booth. Standing behind a table creates a barrier between you and potential clients, and makes it easier for them keep on walking. Stand out in front and to the side of your booth, and talk to people as they go by. If you have two people on staff, take turns walking the floor and networking. Hand out cards with your booth number and location written on them (good for them to find you during the show and remember who you are after the show). Tell them about your services, games, drawings, charging station, and that margarita ball you’re going to set out at the booth promptly at 4:00 pm.
After the show
Get out your checklist. Remember your packing checklist? Get that out and cross off the things you don’t have to bring back (paper, office supplies), and lay eyes on the things you do need to bring back (computers, chargers, signs, etc). If you’re shipping stuff home, check to make sure UPS/FedEx will pick up at the venue or hotel, or if you will have to drop the items off on the way back to the airport.
Follow up. I can’t emphasize this enough - follow up on every single contact you made at the show. If you have the time, create your follow up emails in advance so that you can deploy them as soon as you get back into the office (or even before).
Do a post-show ROI evaluation. Did you meet your goals? Did you spend too much time at the show? e.g., were you there three full days when two days would have sufficed, and did coming in early for a yappy hour really pay off? Refer back to your decision matrix from the top of this article.
Prepare for next year. Write up all of your notes and observations while they’re still fresh in your mind, and put them in the folder for next year’s trade shows. This will help you determine if a return visit will be worth your while, or if your trade show dollars would be better spent elsewhere.
What are your top survival tips for trade show trips?