In the last 4+ years, we must have participated to at least a dozen trade shows, makers fare, etc. Has all of those experiences been profitable? As learning experiences, yes. Financially, not at all. In fact, we’ve done more shows where we wouldn’t cover our fees with sales than profitable ones.
That can be a depressing thought in a way. But I don’t see it negatively.
In fact, whether a sale/show event is profitable depends on a lot of factors: the market it deserves, its location, how much visibility it has, and, of course, the type of product an exhibitor sells.
As Us & Coutumes sells mainly products that become part of people’s home, it’s only normal that they will be less likely to make an “on the go” purchase when visiting a fair because they need to think about their decor, take measurements, etc. In other words, our offer isn’t really tailored to get a lot of immediate sales in those kinds of events.
It took a couple of years for us to realize that, but once we understood what to expect from a fair or trade show, it was more a matter of adopting the right attitude about it than really questioning our products. We now simply envision these moments as opportunity to make our brand visible and to connect with new potential clients. We give info to people interested in what we do and most of the time, we get sells during the weeks following the event. It’s like an ongoing publicity event. Is it hard to evaluate ROI? Yes. Unless you ask your customers where they saw you, you won’t know if a sale is the result of an event. There are certain tricks that you can use. I’ve written another article about that here if you’re interested. But in general, it is kind of hard to evaluate your ROI. We have to live with this.
So, if you participate in a new event you’ve never been to before, how can you know what to expect? First, it goes without saying that you should question people that have participated to this show before to try to get an idea of what to expect. In fact, you should do that before you even decide whether or not to apply. But, after that, there is very little you can control. You can try to communicate on social media but it’s not going to make a huge difference comparing to a very well-done promotion campaign for a well-organized event. I would suggest instead reaching out to more mainstream media or working with the show team to offer images for media if there’s a need. Influencers are also worth a shot.
What can you do other than that then?
You can prepare yourself like crazy.
You should come to a show with the attitude of someone who says: I’m going to be the very best of the show. Everybody is going to look at my boot or table and they’ll be in admiration or jealous.
You should think like that because it’s the single thing you can control, and this makes all the difference between a deceiving result and a profitable week.
Going back to us, once we accepted the fact that we would go on to do shows knowing we wouldn’t sell much products during the show, we had to change the way we presented ourselves. We were going from displaying our stuff like a jewelry maker on a table to presenting ourselves and our products by showing demo units, having a wall with benches hanging on it and giving out flyers. We also had two roll-up banners made with nice imagery that really helped make our boot stand out. They often come on sale online and can get the cheaper ones for around 100$.
These are the two roll-up banners we ordered. The message they put forward was specifically design for catching attention quickly during a trade show.
From that moment, everything just went better, and we would get people to really pay attention to us. People slowed down when passing in front of us in the ale and we started given 3 times mores flyers and specs sheet about our benches than before.
We were standing out. And so should you.