Setting Up A Booth At A Trade Show
Be careful of all of the add-on costs involved with a booth. That $200 booth may end up costing you $800 by the time you are done.
Always ask the show promoter, if vendors are allowed to distribute material from anywhere other than their own booth. If they allow this, be careful, you may find your competitor hanging around your booth area during your busy times, handing out their information. Yes, this really does happen. Make sure the contract clearly states that this is not allowed to be done.
The Booth Location
Have the show's promoter show you a layout of the exhibit area. Have them show you who is exhibiting at each booth. This way you can avoid being too close to a competitor. Try to determine the primary traffic patterns for the show. If they are having seminars at the show try to have your booth along the major route to get to the seminars. You will have higher traffic levels passing your booth, this will give you added exposure. In order to assure yourself of a good booth location, you will need to reserve your booth as early as possible.
Your booth location can also determine the price of the booth. With some shows the end booths may cost more, because they offer you two exposed sides, instead of just one exposed side as a regular booth has. While we are on the subject of booth location, make sure you are aware of which other exhibitors are around you. You may find you are set up right next to someone who uses a PA system to talk to the crowd of people in front of their booth. If this happens, you may find it impossible to talk to someone who is at your booth. I have been to several shows where they have someone standing there with a PA system, demonstrating the product that they are selling or offering. While they usually generate a large crowd, it is almost impossible to talk to anyone at the other booths around them. Don't get yourself into this position.
At some trade shows, a large company may buy several booth spaces that are together and setup some sort of training or demo session that runs every so often. Like every half hour. Some times they will even have seating or refreshments for the attendees who are watching the training or demo session. If you happen to be next to them, you may run into problems.
While they are giving their training or demo session, you may find:
* People are spilling over and standing in front of you booth, thus blocking attendees from being able to get to your booth.
* They will most likely be using a PA system, which can make it hard for you to talk to your customers, if they can get to you at all.
* With people standing in front of your booth, it may cause a security problem for you, especially if someone in the crowd has sticky fingers.
* If they are handing out a refreshment, your booth tables may be where they sit down the empty refreshment containers and you will be left to clean up their mess.
I can’t stress this enough, make sure you know who is going to be exhibiting around your booth.
The size of your booth may also determine your location at the show. Some show promoters will put the smaller exhibitors (less expensive booths) on the outside edge room, and the exhibitors with the larger booths getting the center of the room. This may not be so bad, being on the outside edge, you are less likely to have someone putting on a training or demo session next to you.
Try to stay away from the concession area. You may find attendees leaving trash from drinks and sandwiches in your booth. If seating space is limited in the concession area, you may have them standing in front of your booth eating. Thus, blocking people from getting to your booth.
See how early you can arrive to setup your booth. Make sure you are setup before the show opens. Before you start unpacking everything, check the electrical outlets and phone outlets, if you have any. Make sure they are working.
Make sure you have a tool box with you, also have electrical tape, duct tape, safety pins, flash light (with new batteries), etc. You never know what you're going to need at the last minute, so be prepared. If you are going to need a handcart to move your stuff in with, make sure one will be available to you. It is also advisable to find out where you should park for loading and unloading. Some hotels or convention centers will have a specific location and they may have a specific time for you to be there to unload and setup. This way they don't have everyone trying to use the loading docks at the same time.
Take some time when setting up your booth, you want it to look as nice as possible. Walk around and see what other exhibitors have done at there booths. If this is your first time setting up at a show, you may want to visit other trade shows in your area, just to get some ideas on booth design before you set one up yourself.
When using tablecloths to cover your tables, use cloth ones, not plastic. The plastic ones look cheap and will hurt your image. You may want to check with the show's promoter to see if they are working with anyone to provide booth display items. You can usually rent display stands, lights, tables, curtains, table covers, etc. Don't go overboard, you may find that it will cost you a small fortune.NOTE: DO NOT rent a computer for your show booth. Bring your own. I’ve talked with someone who did rent a computer, thinking it would be easier than bring one with him. The price of renting was reasonable, but it was not worth the headaches he had. When he setup the computer everything seemed to be working fine. When he started to show off his program, everything started to go wrong. There was a virus on the computer and it was missing the printer drivers that are standard with Windows. Needless to say, he wasted a lot of money on his show booth, because he was unable to demo his software.
Don't use hand written signs. Again, it looks bad and unprofessional. Have a printer make up some signs for you for labeling your product display.
If you are going to be setting up a TV to show a video on, have the TV about 5 feet to 6 feet off of the ground. This way it will be at or above the crowds eye level. You may want to put the TV on a box on top of the table. Just make sure it is a sturdy wood box. Don't use a cardboard box! Drape a cloth over the box to make it look a more professional. Make sure the TV is not turned up too loud. You don't want to offend your neighboring exhibitors. Also, you want the people who are talking to you to be able to hear you over the TV.
If your booth is big, you may want to setup two TV's, one at each end of the booth. Also, have your brochures near the TV, since it will become the center of attention, you will want your material right there.
If you are a photographer and are hanging samples up of your work, make sure they are large enough to be seen. At least 11" x 14" or larger, also have a photo album with only 8" x 10" sample photos.
Meeting The Other Exhibitors
After your booth is setup, take a few minutes before the show starts and walk around and meet some of the other exhibitors. Take some time to learn about the services they offer, so you may be able to refer customers to them. In return, they may become and excellent source of referrals for your business.NOTE: Some exhibitors may feel uncomfortable with you visiting their booth, they may feel that you're a competitor of some sort. If that is how they feel, don't be offended, just move on to the next exhibitor.
Working The Booth
Don't be pushy! Don't try to close every sale right then and there! Listen to what the people are asking you and answer their questions. Be friendly and courteous at all times, and make the person feel welcome. A lot of times people hesitate to talk to someone in a sales booth, they would rather grab the sales material and run. This is because, they feel they are going to have to listen to a long drawn out sales pitch. Just say hello and ask them if there is any questions you can answer. Strike up a conversation with them, ask them about their needs.
Always make an offer to send them your information packet or brochure. Especially, if they have bags full of information. That last thing you want to do, is have your information get lost with everything else they have picked up. Some attendees pick up so much information, that yours doesn't have a chance to standout, especially if this is a large show. If you are having a drawing, ask everyone if they would like to register to win. Or ask them if they would like to be on your mailing or email list so they can receive upcoming promotions.
Don't let one customer take up all of your time, offer to send more information to them or to have them call you, so you can talk with them in-depth at a more convenient time. Remember, you want to talk to as many people as you can during the show.
You will have slow times at your booth. This is very normal. In fact, if the show you are setup at is a multi-day show, don't be surprised if you have some very long and slow days. Don't panic and close up shop. My I was working a show booth at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show for 10 days a few years back. The first 7 days were absolutely dead. In fact, the exhibitor across from us, packed up and left after 4 days. On the eighth day, the crowds came, and boy were we mobbed. You see, the big name riders started showing on day 8, and everyone came to watch. So don't panic if the crowds are not there on the first day of the show. Remember, ask the show promoter to let you see attendance records for last year's show. You will probably see which days are slow and which days are the busiest. This will also help you in determining how many people you will need working the booth and on which days.
Make sure you keep the booth clean. Straighten up your displays constantly. Don't eat, drink or smoke in the booth. If you do have a drink, keep it hidden. You want your booth looking professional at all times, not cluttered with drink cups and sandwich wrappers. Don't sit down in your booth especially when it is busy, it gives the people visiting your booth the impression you are not interested in them. If you want to sit down, make sure there is no one around your booth and the minute someone steps up to your booth, be back on your feet greeting them. It is also advisable to take a quick break outside of the booth during the slow periods, this will give you the chance to relax a little.
It is best to have at least 2 people in the booth at all times. If you have expensive equipment in your booth, have a least 3 people in the booth. Two people to talk to customers and one to watch the booth. See the Security section later on for why you need someone to be watching your equipment.
Never have more than one person on break at a time. You never know when it might get busy, and if you're all alone in the booth, you may not be able to handle everyone.
One thing that we have done for some trade shows was to buy a small set of inexpensive walkie-talkies. This way if someone from the booth goes on break, they can take a walkie-talkie with them and if we need them to come back early, we can radio them. This has proven to be very helpful at larger shows.
Sometimes you may need to have extra help at shows. You may end up asking friends or relatives to help you staff the booth. If this happens, it's wise to go over everything with them before the show. Make sure they know something about your products or services, so they can deal with the attendees more effectively. Another thing is to make sure they get regular breaks and keep them well fed. It will help keep them fresh and they won't feel so run down. Don't work them to death either, remember they are there helping you. If they start feeling tired or run down, they may not deal with the attendees too well.
For example, an incident happened to me at a trade show in New York City. I was attending this Video and Imaging trade. At the time, I was looking for buy-out music to use in our video productions. (This was before we started selling our own line of music). I stopped by this one booth and asked this gentleman if he could tell me a little bit about the buy-out music his company was offering. I explained to him what I was looking for and that I needed it for our video production company. And I was interested in making a purchase that day. The next thing he said to me was "Do you have a business card?" I responded yes, as he held out his hand. I explained that they were in my jacket pocket and my wife was holding my jacket across the isle as she talked to someone at another booth and I said that I would get one for him in a minute. He then said, "Well come back when you have a business card, then I will give you our brochure", and he walked away from me. Boy, if that didn't frost my marbles!
To make a long story short, I did purchase a library of buy-out music for about $600 from another company. As we were leaving the show, I stopped by the booth where I was treated so rudely, and I walked up to the salesman that wanted a business card before he would talk to me. And I showed him that he lost a sale, then I handed him a business card. As we were walking away, another gentleman approached me and asked me what that was all about. I explained to him what had happened and how rude the salesman was. He then apologized for what had happened and he told me he was the president of the company. It's ashame that they had to lose a sale because of a rude sales force.
I know that this was a rare incidence, so just remember, whoever you have helping you in the show booth, make sure they are friendly, courteous, rested and not demanding. It's your company and it's your sales that can be affected by someone helping you at a trade show.
Don't bring small children to your show booth. Have a friend or relative keep an eye on them at home. As cute as they are, they can be distracting and they may end up occupying more of your time than you think. Some show promoters may not allow small children there, so check with them first.
If the type of show you are setting up has a registration booth, negotiate for a list of all of the attendees. By having this list, it will allow you to do a follow-up mailing to everyone who attended the show and to the people who missed your booth. Some show promoters will give you this list as part of being an exhibitor, while others will either charge you for the list of attendees or they will simply not release the list. Whatever you do, make sure you ask before signing up for the booth. If they agree to releasing the attendance list, make sure you have this in writing on the contract before you sign up for the show booth. I have heard of some show promoters not giving the list of attendees to the exhibitors after they verbally said they would. Another thing is to have them specify when you will get the list of attendees. You don't want to be waiting four to six weeks for the list.
As attendees stop by your booth, get their name and address or email address or a business card from them. One of the best ways to do this is to give something away. It's always best to make the first prize something your going to give them for FREE. Such as a copy of your video tape or to give away one of the products that you are selling. Don't give away a coupon for 10% off one of your products, you will find that most people won't take the time to register for your drawing. You have to really entice them!
You will need to make it easy for them to register. Here are a few ideas:
1. Have a fish bowl set out for them to drop their business cards into. Put a sign on the fish bowl stating that it is for business cards or entries.
2. Make up some registration forms and have them readily available to everyone who is stopping by your booth.
3. Put the registration form on a clipboard with a pen. Have a dozen or more of these clipboards ready to be handed out. Depending on the size of the show, you may want to have quite a few clipboards handy. You will find that there are certain periods of the day that you will be swamped. Remember, it is always better to have too many clipboards, than not enough. Also, make sure you have a pen that is attached by string to each clipboard. This will make it easier for the attendee to fill out, since they won't have to go searching for a pen. By having the pen attached by string, this will prevent someone from walking off with it by accident.
4. Keep the registration form brief. If it is a long questionnaire, you won't collect as many names and addresses. Also, if you are in a real busy period, you won't want to tie up all of your clipboards with people filling out your long questionnaire. You will want them to free up the clipboard as fast as possible so it can be passed onto the next person.
5. If you don't want to use the clipboard method, then make up some registration slips that are about 3" by 5" and have pens available for people to use to fill out the forms.
6. Have a nicely covered box or a large fish bowl for people to deposit the registration forms into. Depending upon the booth size, you may want to have more than one box or bowl. If you are using a box, use wrapping paper to cover it. If you are at a bridal show, use wedding wrapping paper to cover your box, it adds a nice touch.
7. You can also try just collecting their email address. The only problem with this is, with all of the junk email that everyone gets, people are more reluctant than ever to give out their email address.
There is one thing I would like to point out, it has been our experience that you collect fewer names this way. After the attendee has been to several booths, they seem to get real tried of taking that plastic badge out of the badge holder for you to swipe it through. Have another method available for them to give you their information, like taking a business card or having them sign up on your mailing list.
At a Videographer's trade show, one guy was selling a video he came out with for a new video camera that was just released. He had this new camera, which was his own camera, on display. He had the video camera mounted to a quick release plate on the tripod. This was good for the theft, as when the booth got busy, the theft walked over to the video camera, press the quick release button on the tripod and walked off with the video camera. And because it was busy in the booth, no one noticed a thing.
At another trade show in Las Vegas, one exhibitor I knew brought his personal laptop to the show so he could check email during the slow times of the day. He kept the laptop off to the side on the front table of the booth. Dumb mistake, but it gets better. The laptop was eventually stolen when he wasn’t looking. Now for the better part. Since this was his personal laptop, it contained a lot of personal information. Like software that was setup to remember his login name and passwords. This gave anyone who had it to have access to his banking, credit cards and email. Now the best part. He also had some nude photos of his wife on there. He told me, when he told his wife why they needed to cancel their credit cards and change their banking passwords, she was mad. But, when she remembered he had pictures of her on the laptop, she was livid. DO NOT ever take your personal laptop to a trade show.
1. Have more than one person in the booth at all times. Most rip-offs occur when there is only one person in the booth, and it doesn't have to be a busy time either.
2. Even as you're talking with a customer, keep an eye on everyone else at your booth. A common rip off is, one customer will walk up and start asking you to show them something and at the other end of the booth, while you are walking there or are occupied there, the accomplice is lifting something from the other end of the table. Keep glancing around to watch for anything suspicious.
3. Be careful of taking checks for large purchases. Always get a drivers license number and check the address on the license with the address on the check. Also, watch for low check numbers, like 100, 101 and 102. We have only had one bad check at all the shows we have setup at.
4. Watch for credit card fraud. Someone who is out to rip you off, will watch to see if you are getting authorizations on each charge at the time of sale or if you are doing the authorization later, because you don't have a phone line in your booth. They may walk up to you and start up a conversation, ask you for your advise about a product that you are offering and make a small purchase based on what you have told them. They will then come back a few minutes later, telling you, that they have thought about what you have said and they would like to make that purchase of the expensive product now. All the while knowing that you're not going to check his credit card to see if it is good. They have just ripped you off. Their credit card will come up declined or stolen and you lose.
5. If the show allows kids, keep a watchful eye on them. They may descend on your booth all at once, while two or three of them have you occupied, another one maybe lifting something from your table.
6. Never walk away from a customer who has asked to see a product and is holding it, so you can help another customer. Pretty soon, you will have several customers looking at and holding your products, that you won't know who has what. Some scam artist will work this way. Once they have you off guard, they disappear into the crowd with your product.
7. Never store anything of value under the front table. If someone see you storing something there, like a purse or piece of equipment, it’s very easy for them to pretend to be tying a shoe and reach under the table skirt and steal what ever you have there.
8. Have women keep there purse under the rear table in a large plastic container. Generally, a theft will not try to remove the lid of a box and fish around for a purse. They will move on to an easier target.
Even though you may be at a professional show, don't count on people being honest. Someone there may try to rip you off. Keep your guard up. At the shows we have attended and ones that I have helped out at, we generally had two or three people in the booth with one person on the outside of the booth, keeping an eye on everyone.
Now, if you are not selling on the show floor, keep an eye on your display merchandise. I lost a video tape that was on display at one show. Luckily, I put blank tapes in the boxes that were on display, just in case one would happen to disappear.
In the last few hours of the show, it may become real slow. Especially if this is a multi-day show. Whatever you do, don't start breaking down your booth early. In fact, with more and more contracts, it specifically states that you cannot break down early and you may be charged a penalty if you do so. Just hang in there, you will be surprised at how many people get real offended when they attend a show on the last day and everyone is starting to pack up and leave. No matter how slow, just hang in there and keep promoting your business. If you're selling on the floor, the last day is usually the best day to reduce the price and sell it off quickly, this way you will have less to pack up and take with you.
At The End Of The Day
If you are setting up at a show with very expensive equipment or products, you may want to retain the services of a security guard. Find out who will be exhibiting around you and see if they want to go in with you on hiring a security guard. Depending upon the area where the show is being held, this might be worth it.
Don't ever leave money at your show booth after you have closed down for the day. If you have been doing sales at the show, you may want to have a security person walk out with you or leave with a group of people. Out of all the shows I have been to we have never had a problem personally. However, at one show an exhibitor I talked to was robbed of that days receipts when he was getting into his car. So be careful.
After The Show
Start entering in all of the names and addresses that you collected and mail out to them right away! Don't wait a week or two before mailing to them, do it right now. Then follow-up with another mailing to them about three weeks after the show. You have to keep in mind, that a lot of people need that second mailing to give them the nudge they need to respond.
If the show promoter has agreed to give you the names and addresses of the attendees, make sure they do it in a timely fashion. I have heard of one show promoter that took six weeks to get the exhibitors the attendees names and addresses! That is too long to wait.
Follow up with a phone call to people you gave demos to. You may be surprised on how many of them turn into sales. If you can't follow up with a phone call, then at least plan on mailing more information to them right away.
If you are planning on going to another show, start making a list of everything that went wrong at the last show. This way you can be better prepared for the next show you are setting up at. You will learn from your experiences. Every show is going to be different, so don't be discouraged if the show you were just at wasn't as good as you were hoping it would be. You will have to tailor your show booth to the different types of shows that you will be setting up at. This means you may not be using the same material or display at every show.A Side Note:
In recent years, some companies have started opting out of setting up at trade shows. Their main reason is the overall cost vs. the amount of business it generates. This trend is not just happening with small companies either, large companies are starting to pass on doing trade shows.
Even though they would be getting their products right in front of potential customers, bloggers, magazine writers, etc. They are still not setting up at the shows. Instead they are concentrating on the web.
In fact, I saw one company setup a virtual show booth on their website, complete with an instant messaging so you could ask question while the demo was going on. I found this to be a very unique marketing avenue.
First, they ran ads in several industry related magazines, saying they will be having a virtual show booth setup on their website while the trade show was going on.
Then they made announcement all over the web and their website explaining the virtual show booth.
The day the trade show started, so did they. Using a webcam and instant message software (chat software), they had people logging on from all over the world to see a demo of their new product. They were live for 16 hours a day, demonstrating their new product and answering questions.
When they show ended, so did their virtual show booth. They had over 60,000 people log in and watch the live demo over a 3 day period. This was far more than the 10,000 people that attended the trade show.
While they still had cost setting up virtual show booth, such as making sure they had enough web hosting power so they wouldn’t crash their system, overall the cost of setting up a virtual show booth was 1/5 the costs to attend the trade show. Plus, the virtual show brought in more potential customers.
Although there is no substitute for meeting people face to face, this is something to think about.