If you’re sensible – and if it’s practical – you’ll do a little undercover investigation of any trade show or fair at which you plan to exhibit, preferably by visiting it yourself in advance.
But what should you be investigating? Read on, Sherlock.
The Number of Exhibitors How many stalls can the venue hold, and are they all taken?
The ‘Coming Back For More’ Factor It’s worth trying to engage a few visitors and exhibitors in conversation to discover if they’ve been before and why they’ve returned. Unless the exhibitors lack any business savvy whatsoever, they won’t have been turning up at this event twice a year for the last seven years if it wasn’t worthwhile; if they all seem to be first-timers, ask yourself why none of the exhibitors from last year have chosen to return. Visitors may tell you why they’ve come back – or what they like, if this is their first time – without any prompting. ‘Have you been here before?’ will often be answered with ‘Yes – I love the selection of spices/unusual Christmas decorations/range of trailer tents and equipment’ etc. Likewise, exhibitors will often say, ‘Yes, we’re here every year – it’s one of our most successful shows.’
The Type of Exhibitors How many stalls offer something that will complement what you offer, and how many will be in competition with you?
Potential Partners Make a note of any businesses that you might be able to ally with to offer a joint promotion. This can be a real bonus for both of you. Could they give away a free sample of one of your products when someone purchases a certain item, or over a certain amount? Could you give a discount voucher for their products to customers who buy complementary products from you? Chat to these potential partners or contact them later to see if they’ll be attending again and might be interested in a scheme like this. You could also ask about their opinions and experiences of the show.
The Number of Visitors If too many visitors are allowed in at once, they’ll strat to feel uncomfortable and won’t have the time or space to give the stalls the attention they would like to. On the other hand, if all the exhibitors look bored and there are just a handful of people strung out around the hall, ask yourself why (even better, ask someone else). If there’s an admission price, has it suddenly increased, putting off visitors? Is this the quiet day? Is there a competing event taking place? Or… is it just a washout and not worth your time and money?
Flexibility Is it possible to book two stalls or spaces side-by-side? Have exhibitors been able to have any say – even if only limited – about the position of their stall, or was it designated by the organisers?
Layout Is the show designed so that people follow a natural flow that takes them past all the stalls, or are some stalls stuck in odd half rows, corners or adjacent poky rooms – which have been used to squeeze in more stalls, but may be missed by visitors?
The Visitor Pool Look carefully at the visitors around you. Are these people potential customers? Are they here as potential purchasers, clients or business-to business networkers?
Is There A Buzz? Are victors interacting with stallholders? Are conversations taking place? Can you see money changing hands or promotional literature being offered and read? Are there complementary events such as competitions and demonstrations to keep visitors interested?
What’s The Access Like?
Will you be able to transport and assemble all your necessary items easily? Sometimes, spaces not made for the purpose may only have single-width door access.
What Are The Facilities Like?
Are there places for visitors and exhibitors to relax, eat and drink? Are there plenty of clean, fresh toilets or just a couple out the back, creating a 20-person queue that leads back into the hall?
Is It Worth The Money? Check out how much the stalls cost and then weigh this between the promotional and financial return you expect to get. Some exhibition stands or fair stall fees run into the thousands. Many, many thousands. But at the right kind of show, with the right kind of business, they may be well worth the money. If you can forge a relationship with a previous or present exhibitor, you may be able to ask them for at least a rough idea of the returns they make.
Final Visiting Tips
Enter Twice, With Different Hats On: Go in first as a visitor. Forget you run your own business and walk around as a visitor would; as if it’s up to the exhibitors to lure you over and draw you in. Do they succeed, and if so how? What is it that catches your eye? What leaves you cold?
Take a break. Have some lunch or at least a coffee, and then go in with your potential exhibitor head on. Where would you want your stand to be? What could you do to compete with other exhibitors?
If you really enter into the spirit of the thing, these two experiences will be very different – but each will have something to teach you about the event.
Visit on Different Days: If the show runs over more than one day, it can be useful to make more than one visit to observe any differences. Sometimes these can be dramatic. SME-owning friends of mine have often been burnt by booking in for entire three day events first time round, only to discover that people ‘in the know’ only ever book the Saturday, for example, because the Friday and Sunday are always dead.
Investigation over! Now it’s time to use the evidence to the advantage of your business.
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