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Getting Terrific Tradeshow Results

By Nesreen Sarras |

The tradeshow you're scheduled to participate in is quickly approaching. You'll need a great (and inexpensive) booth, a marketing plan and, well, countless other things. You don't know where to begin. So many factors, so little time!

Read on to find out what steps you can take to make that nerve-racking day easier and, hopefully, less expensive! Participating in a trade show doesn't have to cost you your sanity or your life savings.

Why do it?

Before worrying about networking and dollar signs - it's important to define why you're at the trade show.

Rye Asuro, creative director at The Creation House in Mississauga, Ont., advises participants to shop around and, perhaps, talk to an exhibit consultant about how to best execute their ideas for the booth to serve the purpose for participating.

"Ask yourself why you want to be there," Rye says. "What do you want to achieve? Set specific targets for the show. (For example), that you want to meet 15 new potential clients or 15 new vendors."

Rye says your main objective when attending an industrial tradeshow shouldn't be to make final sales. It should be to showcase your product or service, build a prospective client base and meet and greet new business associates. You should try to arrange appointments to meet new clients after the tradeshow.

"One reason not to make final sales at the show," says Rye, "is you may have potential competitors within 'ear-reach', or your clients' competitors may be listening on the deals you give preferred customers."

However, if you're participating in a tradeshow that deals directly with the public, your objective could very well be to generate final sales.

Build up a buzz

Here's a great marketing tactic . . . why not send out invitations to prospective clients and vendors a week before the show? Tell them what your booth number is and where you'll be located.

"The key goal for a fantastic booth is YOU," Rye says. "A good looking booth will attract attention from passers-by, but by setting up curiosity before the show with invitations, you know people are coming to see your show, not your booth."

A shoestring budget?

Invitations, flashing lights, gifts and brochures! Want all the trimmings, but can't afford them?

As someone who makes a living by designing, Rye maintains it's very possible for owners of smaller businesses to have an 'attention-getting' trade show booth on a limited budget. A business owner's budget, he says, should determine the design - it shouldn't be the design determining the budget.

When thinking up ideas for your booth keep in mind that you'll need: a unique, eye-catching design that will attract attention; a comfortable environment for trade show attendees; and ample storage for literature.

Booths on a budget

An observation Rye has made when consulting with owners of smaller businesses is that many know what they like, but not necessarily what they need. Many first-time tradeshow participants aren't aware of what hidden, extra costs might be involved, like show fees, transport, crating and shipping costs.

Rye suggests the top three booth systems for those without a multi-million-dollar booth budget:

Pop-up displays come in one or two containers. Each container is about 4 feet wide and 2 feet deep; one container holds the frame structure and the other container holds the covering for the frame. Velcro and/or magnetic strips are also involved.

COST: A pop-up unit can be rented for a fee of $600 - $800 (1-time rental).

PROS: One person can set it up, they're easy to customize, easily portable (can fit into minivan) and are relatively inexpensive.

CONS: They can look like anybody else's because of similarity in shape - they are not very unique looking.

This is a wooden structure consisting of panels (each about 3 feet wide by 7 feet high), which get painted/designed.

COST: Each panel costs about $300. The price will depend on the complexity of the design. A 10-foot booth could cost about $1,500.

PROS: Can be customized, tailored to budget, easy to setup and take down.

CONS: This booth type consists of large and heavy wall panels, so shipping could be an issue as it might lead to extra costs in transport.

Another alternative is using the props available at a tradeshow - whether they be the already-provided curtains (that sinage can easily be displayed on), or tables and chairs that might be rentable for a nominal fee.

PROS: This allows you to spend more money on other things, like fancy sinage, brochures or trinkets to give away to visitors of your booth. Renting equipment also saves money on transporting items to the location.

CONS: This method could come off as looking 'lame' or unprofessional if not pulled off effectively.

In addition . . .

There are dozens of things you can do to spice up your booth and differentiate it from others - even if you're on a budget, like:

  • Adding printed materials to your booth, like computer print-outs, is relatively inexpensive and can bring it to life.

  • Give visitors to your booth something to remember your business by after you leave. Instead of giving out a typical gift (like pens), why not try something unique while keeping with the season. For example, ice scrapers in the winter, and golf balls or tees in the summer. It might very well payoff to have your company's name on an item that a potential client uses every day. "The key is to be remembered AFTER the show not at the show," says Rye.

You can also cut costs if you:
  • Rent: renting a booth, or parts of a booth, is certainly an option (especially pop-up design);

  • Do it your self: setting up your booth on your own will be money in your pocket - pick a booth that one to two people can assemble - not one you'll need to hire work crew to put together;

  • Build your booth show by show: by setting aside funds over several trade shows, you maybe able to build your perfect booth over time.

We asked Rye what could be done with a budget of $1,000. "A big budget doesn't always equal a quality booth," he reiterates. Here are some things that a grand can get you:

  • Some custom panels;
  • Custom graphics and signage;
  • Decent marketing strategy plans (consulting fees), and
  • Custom-built furniture

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