As far as learning curves go, there are few experiences as effective as debuting at a trade show. Back in 2006, when I started this business, I was essentially flying by the seat of my pants. A mere few months later, I exhibited at my first trade show. I learned 95% of everything I needed to know with that initial experience. (Seriously!)
Here are some of my most valued lessons:
- Keep that booth simple. As designers, we are built to notice every minute detail. What color to “paper” the walls of the booth? Are the displays equidistant? Here’s a tip: buyers don’t care. Furthermore, they’re trade show pros with limited time on their hands, so the focus should be on your product, not the overarching aesthetic. And yet, at the same time, make your booth unique and step up the basic white tablecloth backdrop with a more original look.
- No white tablecloths. (See point #1.) With some creativity, you can easily design a unique, eye-catching and simple booth without spending a lot of money. Attend a couple of tradeshows before your debut to help kick-start your creative genius. Look through interior magazines for ideas, too. Lighting is everything, so make sure your products and booth are smartly lit. Lastly, don’t forget to incorporate your logo and company name into your booth so that buyers can easily identify you.
- Know your booth. Stay active backstage and follow-up. For example, know your booth shipment weights ahead of time and request detailed invoices from your vendors to ensure you’re not being overcharged. Double-check your booth furnishings, lighting, electricity and security orders have been received 3-5 days before set-up day. Also, read the trade show setup manual. Know the rules about what you can and can’t install, what union labor must install, etc., and budget your time and money accordingly.
- Spend money nationally, not regionally. Big money comes to big cities. If you’re looking for the widest possible reach, consider a national show, rather than a seemingly more cost-effective local fair. Most buyers head to the big shows first, as they know they will catch the bigger brands plus find the new, lesser known, but exciting products on the cutting edge—all under one roof.
- Marketing homework works! We practice the Rule of 3: Write. Call. Email. The more outdated emails, phone calls, and snail mail become, the more powerful my pre-show marketing trifecta is. Buyers’ ages range from fresh out of college to lively octogenarians, and you better have practices to reach every single one of them. I send a postcard with a product or lifestyle image with tradeshow info, then we make actual phone calls to remind customers of my booth info. As we get closer to the show date, I send out an email blast or 2, reiterating said info. Bottom line: everyone knows where I am x 3.
- Release all expectations. Many of my colleagues agree that their first trade show ended up as their best show–ever, and I believe it’s because in the early days, one is much more open to any possible outcomes: no context, no experience, no assumption. Writing 10 orders on Day 1 can be exhilarating! Every subsequent show is measured against the best show and consciously or subconsciously we have those $ figures in our head to meet and beat. My best and most successful shows are when I have released any expectation of sales and financials, stayed open and excited because each show is different and always remember my passion for the product I am presenting.
- Be present, calm, and in a state of gratitude. Calm confidence with an undercurrent of enthusiasm is extremely magnetizing. Being present keeps you as more of an “observer”, and shifts you out of a state of expectation. Staying in the moment and being grateful quickly quells negative thoughts and disarms negative booth neighbors. Additionally, I respond to any complainers with positive statements or avoid them entirely so I can stay open to great opportunities coming my way.