Attending a tradeshow is extremely important from a marketing and sales perspective. It gives you an opportunity to expose your company to a large number of retailers, press and potential customers in a very short period of time. The trick is getting the most “bang for your buck” so it’s best to narrow down the top tradeshow in your industry. In the toy industry, the top shows are the New York Toy Fair held every February; ASTRA Marketplace in June and the ABC Expo in September. Of course there are many more options, so do a little research to find the show that’s the best fit for your product and your budget. Other great venues are your local craft and holiday shows. These are direct to the public and offer you a great opportunity to see what the consumer is actually saying about your product.
LOCATION OF YOUR BOOTH
Once you’ve decided to attend a show, the first thing to do is fill out the contract and pick your booth. There are a few things to consider when choosing your booth. First of all, the first time out, you don’t get much of a choice. Don’t be discouraged by this, it’s a seniority thing. Each year you will accumulate points that give you a higher ranking and therefore a better booth selection. Even so, keep in mind these few pointers:
1. DON'T GO NEAR A POLE! You are going to be told that the pole won’t obstruct your view or the pole will give you more space between you and the booth next to you. Sounds good right? NOPE. These poles are about 4 feet in diameter. (At least at the Javits Center) Unless you’ve been to a show and have seen the placement of the booths, expect that the poles are close enough to the aisle to completely block you. What does this mean? Your buyer will be walking down the aisle; they look at the booth before yours, see a pole and turn to look to the other side of the aisle. Considering your booth is likely 10×10, it takes all of 4 steps to get completely past you.
Within two steps, a buyer’s eyes are already looking down the aisle at the next booth. So in essence, the pole causes the eyes to go away from your side of the aisle and by the time the buyer looks back, he is past you. I’ve been near a pole. I watched this happen for 4 days. Trust me on this; don’t go near a pole!
2. You want to look at how the buyers are entering the area. In regards to the toy fair, the buyers will be coming down an escalator. Get on the aisle where the escalator comes down. Buyers will walk down that aisle first. If you can’t get on the aisle that is an obvious entrance point (these aisles will fill up faster) then look at how people will flow through the space. Try to stay away from the back or side sections. The more central you can be, the better.
3. Look at the other companies and where they are positioned. Often times you can see the placement from the year before or who is currently registered for this year’s show. Try to position yourself next to bigger, more established companies with similar product lines. They will have buyers who will be seeking them out and in return, will find you.
4. A corner booth is worth the extra money. But they are very hard to come by. A corner booth gives you traffic from 2 directions. Not everyone goes up and down every aisle and this will expose you to people who either wouldn’t have gone down your aisle or might have missed you because you didn’t listen to me and took the spot near the pole.
PRIOR TO THE SHOW – THE BOOTH
1. Plan Your Booth. Map out your booth and decide what you will need for the design and function to best showcase your product. This is a huge expense but the good thing is that you usually only need to make the investment the first year and a 10x10 booth fills up fast. My opinion is to keep it simple and clean. Don’t overcrowd your booth. You want to carry a consistent look and feel as a company by creating a booth that is a reflection of your logo and packaging. You will need a few basic elements to pull this off.
2. Backdrop with your company/product logo. A pop‐op display is ideal but expensive. A better alternative might be a large banner made with your company logo to hang along the back of the booth. The buyers are looking at the back of the booth to get a quick read on what they might find in your booth so the more you can express in a photo and a few taglines, the better.
2. Shelves or table(s) to display your product(s). A table placed at the aisle is the standard design layout in a 10x10. It allows the buyers to view your game or toy easily as they walk down the aisles. If the buyer needs to work at figuring out what your product is all about then you will lose them. Shippers are another great way to display the product on a piece of “furniture” that is lightweight to ship. In addition to your product, make sure you also have some type of sell sheet on your table for the buyer to take away.
3. Chairs and table to conduct business. An additional table is usually not needed in a 10x10 booth. If you choose to use one, I prefer a tall bistro table. It’s nice to be able to stand and use the table. You should rarely sit while working at the show so using tall barstools allows you to rest a little during slow periods but you are still at eye level. I have rented these items but have also gone to Ikea, Walmart or Target, purchased them and thrown them out. Crazy as that sounds, it is cheaper than renting. You need to look at shipping charges at the convention center. Also, consider shipping items to your hotel and carrying them in yourself. The hotel might charge a handling fee but it will still most likely be cheaper than what you will pay the union. Double check both options to see what works best.
4. Floor covering. Most shows (even the craft shows) do not include carpeting. You are required to cover the floor in your booth. Floor coverings are an expensive investment. Unless you have some type of 10 X 10 remnant, I would rent for the first year.
5. Lighting. I feel that lighting makes a huge difference in gain attention as you walk down the aisle. There are numerous tradeshow lighting units but you can also find many creative options around your house or from the local hardware store. It doesn't have to be fancy but just needs to highlight your backdrop and/or products. Keep in mind; electricity is another extra cost in the show. Your booth comes with NOTHING except a drape in the back and on the sides to designate your area.
PRIOR TO THE SHOW ‐ MARKETING
It’s true that you could attend a tradeshow without spending any effort on marketingbut if you want to make the most of the show, I highly recommend letting the world know that you are planning on being there; Perhaps not the world but at the very least a nice cross section of attendees. Make sure to review all the materials when submitting your application. Very often, the shows promote new exhibitors. You want to make sure that you take advantage of every possible free marketing opportunity available. A buyer sometimes needs to see you several times before taking interest in your product. The truth is that often times they might not even fully understand your product at first. Therefore I HIGHLY recommend sending out a postcard prior to the show with your product information, picture of the product, company website/contact info and don’t forget the booth number!! While this does add an expense, I have had great success from sending postcards. My experience has been that all the buyers stopping by and commenting on receiving a postcard were there to place an order.Remember that your booth is one of hundreds, possibility thousands so anything you can do to increase your odds of sales, the better. That 25-cent postcard may easily turn into an order worth hundreds and a customer who will continue to work with you, hopefully, for years to come.
Most shows do offer the ability to buy mailing lists with the names of the buyers who meet your criteria. This is an expense but the easiest way of getting your target market for the show. There are a few creative ways of getting lists of names of potential small specialty stores without paying for a mailing list. Of course you can’t guarantee that all of these stores will be in attendance at the show but shows coincide with the buying patterns for the industry so even if a store is not in attendance. they are gearing up to buy.
Look up any of the organizations that are associated with your industry. For instance, ASTRA is the Association for Specialty Toy Retailers. www.astratoy.org. If you go to their site, you will find a list of all of their members. ASTRA holds a huge event at the Toy Fair so many of the members come to network with their peers as well as attend the show.
Another option is to search websites of companies that are more established than you are and see where they are selling. It was a painful process to build a spreadsheet but it will give you sources that you might not otherwise have considered. Just remember, when you are building a list of customers to target, it might be a long process but put together an organized spreadsheet that you will then be able to work off of. You don’t want to recreate the wheel every year. In addition to the buyers, there is also the media to consider. Ask your contact at the tradeshow if there is an online media area and if you are eligible to post your media kit. Often times you need to belong to the organization putting on the show in order to get the media access. In addition, you might also be able to get a listing of the media who will be attending so you can send emails and information out to them in advance. The tradeshows usually have daily news that they publish. Contact the media representative for the show to submit the press release and a photo. Notify your local newspaper and news stations that your company is planning on attending the show. Major tradeshows like Toy Fair are covered on every station during the time of the show so take advantage of the timing. They love to have a local company that they can spotlight. Also keep in mind that you might live in Charlotte but grew up in Dallas contact media in both cities with a different spin on the release “Local Company launches product at Toy Fair” vs. “Dallas Native launches product at Toy Fair”. In addition, make sure you contact your college, high school, neighbor publications, etc.
Each of these types of publications enjoys the human‐interest side of your story.
PRIOR TO THE SHOW ‐ PACKING
Packing for the tradeshow needs a little thought especially if you have to ship items. You will most likely have to have everything packed up 2 weeks or more in advance depending on how or where you are going to ship it. If you are driving, then you have a little more leeway however you need to review the laws of the convention center on what you are allowed to carry in versus what the union has to do for you. Usually if you can carry it with one person or roll it, you shouldn’t have a problem.
Here is a general checklist of the items I would recommend having along:
• ADHESIVE! Scotch Tape, Masking Tape, Duct Tape, 2‐sided Tape, Velcro. Seems a bit much, I know, BUT you never know when some part of your booth is going to fail you and you need a quick fix. So look at the materials of your booth fixtures and decide what will be most useful. • Scissors • Pens • Lint Brush (this helps clean up table clothes, a quick carpet clean...because you do have to pay for them to vacuum, or if you have a popup booth with fabric sides) • Stapler • Binder for leads. • Sell Sheets/Catalogs • Price list • Media Kits • Business Cards • Quick easy snacks. • Water or other beverage • Mints (I don’t recommend gum) • Screwdrivers/tools that you will need to assemble your booth or for your product. • Extra lighting to brighten the booth. (Remember you need to order electricity) • Power strip • Extension cords • Obviously don’t forget the basic elements of your booth and your product to showcase.
DURING THE SHOW
The one thing I can’t stress enough is making sure you have an effective way of capturing your leads. Make sure you take business cards from everyone! Don’t be afraid to ask if they don’t readily offer them to you, most of them will not. In addition, have something that you can put names of the buyers who have run out of business cards. It is also helpful to have a sheet where you can staple a card and make notes regarding the conversation you had with that person to refresh your memory when you return home. Of course there are also various apps that are available to make notes. Another way, a little more expensive but the buyers LOVE, is the electronic scanner that allows you to scan their badge. At the end of the show you get access to an excel spreadsheet that gives you all the information. Keep in mind that people move quickly in and out of the booths so you need to be organized to get as much information as quickly as you can. It’s Murphy’s Law that your booth is either empty or crowded but rarely do you get to just have a steady flow.
AFTER THE SHOW
Follow up on all leads that you obtained at the show. Send emails, catalogs, samples, etc. The buyers have seen so much during a short period of time need reminders. That's why I can’t stress enough the importance of consistency in your company branding. Keep the design of your postcards, media kits, booth graphics, business cards, and sell sheets consistent. This way, the buyer will start to recognize you as a company.