Being veterans of numerous trade shows across several different industries, venues, and continents, we have run the gamut of experiences. From unexpected success, to grand disappointment, we have seen both consistency and irregularity in the shows we continue to attend. Though we are now inclined to live by the motto “expect the unexpected” at most events, there have been some lessons learned and cues picked up over the years that have helped us make the most of every trade show. From what potential clients say about your materials or designs, to what they say about your competition, the exhibit you’re attending, or general trends they see, every piece of information you gather can and should factor in to how you move forward once the show is over.
Here are a few of the most significant tips we’ve gathered from our experiences at trade shows that have aided in the success and growth of our company.
Expect to Meet New and Interesting Contacts
One of the single best things you can get out of attending a trade show is the contact information for anyone interested in your brand. This is perhaps an obvious point, but it can sometimes be forgotten amidst the rush of an event. While trade shows are great for getting orders, the personal interactions you have often have a longer lasting impact on potential partners or buyers. A potential customer that leaves your display after having met and talked to you is more likely to remember your brand and order from you in the future than someone to whom you just throw a sales pitch. If you take an interest in the patrons of an event, they’ll be more likely to return the favor.
Expect Trade Shows to be Long-term Investments
When attending trade shows for the first time, one of the primary mistakes you can make is expecting an immediate return on the time, money, and effort put into the preparation. It can be disheartening, especially for those with newer brands, to come away from an event with only a few solid orders for the products you have spent months or years designing or fabricating.
Nevertheless, as the old adage puts it, good things come to those who wait, and patience and perseverance can be invaluable traits for the survival of your brand. Follow through and contact people who showed interest in your designs or materials; strong business relationships are created over time as customers learn how you work and become more confident and comfortable with your work.
Expect To Sell Less, and More, Than You Estimate
No matter how much you plan for a show, there is still, unfortunately, no way to predict just how successful you’ll be. And though this might sound discouraging (or untrue) to some, it is meant to motivate you to prepare for all outcomes.
Before a show, take some time to run through a few scenarios of potential outcomes, considering everything from not selling much of any product to selling large amounts of all of your offerings. Think of how you would move ahead with a brand or new product if they aren’t received well. Would you continue to push that product or design or decide to shelve the idea in favor of something different. Additionally, consider how you would ramp up production of individual or multiple lines if demand runs high; could your suppliers keep pace, and if not, how could you work around it? This exercise not only gives you a rough strategy on how to proceed after a trade show, but also keep the whole process from becoming too overwhelming during and afterwards.
Expect to Size Up Your Competition
A big part of trade shows is being able to see what is currently available in your industry, from materials to designs to style or color trends. This may be another obvious point for most, but sometimes, either due to scheduling problems or not having enough people to man your booth, one can often realize that at the end of a show, they haven’t actually gotten the chance to see what else was on display.Make sure to walk around the show at least once while you’re there to take stock of what else is being offered. Though trends and materials are often covered by industry newsletters or blogs throughout the year, seeing current designs and styles first-hand can give you a much more visceral impression of what other brands and designers are working on.
Most Importantly, Expect to Get Feedback On Your Products and Learn from Customers
It is vital, for both new and longstanding brands, to be aware of what consumers are saying about you and what you are making. And as a venue, there is no better atmosphere to interact with potential customers than a trade show, where they have direct access to you and your designs and products.
Take particular notice of how people describe and connect with your goods; the words they use and the manner in which they talk about your brand is a great signifier of their enthusiasm or indifference. Be sure to pay attention to everything that is being said about your brand, both the positive and negative sentiments. While it can be helpful to hear what styling cues aren’t appreciated about a design or material, it’s just as important to know what you are doing that people do like and are excited about.