There’s a bit of received wisdom that goes around that I might have to disagree with. Ever since I started attending trade shows for my newly formed greeting card business four years ago, there seemed to be this simple yard stick that people use – cover your costs in sales at the show, and all is well. That’s a nice simple quid pro quo, and it does help set a target, but to be honest, I think it’s phooey.
The equation is, in fact, a far more subtle and complex one than simply making back attendance costs. There are things that happen at trade shows that are utterly invaluable for any developing business. Apart from the obvious things like generating sales and leads, it’s a master class in how to – and not to – do things. It may be particular to the greeting card industry, but the willingness of peers to share experience and tips is something that makes a trade show far more than the sum of its parts. Everything from printing and agents, to display and dealing with various business models are discussed freely and openly. Seriously, you could not buy the information you can pick up at a show!
Then there’s the brutally honest critique of visitors. I’ve got a theory that you can measure the potential of a range based on the number of drive-bys and sight-seers you get. Ok, drive-bys are the ones who ignore you. Painful, maybe, but constructive if you find out why. Sight-seers are those who stop to look, even though your stuff isn’t quite right for them. What do they want more of? What do they want less of? Or maybe they just really like it, even though they sell ironing boards or something. So, if it’s your first trade show, you can learn as much from these two groups as you can from actual paying customers. And unless your business comes with a ready made sales force, distribution network, or a squillion pound ad budget, then this is the best way to meet as many retailers, international buyers and agents per square foot as possible.
Trade visitors can also open your eyes to possibilities – new types of paper, new techniques that you can incorporate into printing. I, for one, adore getting the sample packs that paper merchants and printers deliver. It’s like a mini-Christmas, and opening those boxes is like a going over a Niagra of potential ideas. So much stimulation. Mmmmmm….
There are great opportunities to promote you business beyond your stand at trade shows. Traditional PR opportunities, as well as social media moments abound. All the key organisations and publications are going to be there and are tweeting and reporting before, during and after the show. As someone who used to get paid to generate exactly this kind of profile raising activity for clients, I know for a fact that the cumulative effect of these snippets is well worth the effort.
And don’t forget how important the social aspect of these events is. As an example, I loaned a certain lady a ladder four years ago at a show, and we’ve been firm friends ever since. We commiserate with each other when things aren’t going well, celebrate each other’s successes and generally help each other where we can. (Sharing DIY supplies is a powerful bonding experience at a show!) And at every show I go to, I make more friends. Sometimes, it takes several years for me to actually remember their names, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t there for each other!
Despite the simplicity and smallish size of my business, my costs are relatively high for trade show attendance, due to a number of factors, including the fact that my business is located in the greeting card hinterland we call Belfast. But that doesn’t stop me attending, or make me feel like my money is not well spent. If anything, it’s the opposite. At a trade show, I feel like I’m getting a very necessary dose of being ‘where it’s at’. Without these events, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have met the buyers and other key people who helped me get to this stage. I met some of those people at my very first PG Live, four years ago – a show that would have been classed a disaster if I’d used the old ‘cover your costs’ equation! Roll on Spring Fair!