Standing out from the rest of your fellow exhibitors is often a combination of what you do, what your visitors can do, and what your booth looks like:
A quick scan of my Linked-In feed seems to confirm it: shows are returning to a lot of areas in the country. This morning I saw the news that Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak said that Nevada would be “100% open” on June 1st. This is definitely good news for shows in Las Vegas. I also saw a story last week, speaking of Las Vegas, that Tesla’s Boring Company had completed the mile loop under the Las Vegas Convention Center. Not really related to Vegas opening up, but cool nonetheless.
The Las Vegas Convention Centered recently showed off their nearly $1B expansion with the debut of the new West Hall, touted as a 1.4 million-square-foot West Hall expansion.
Trade Show Executive published an article last month detailing the return of tradeshows to Orlando, Dallas, and Atlanta, which has also been shared extensively on Linked In.
So yes, no doubt shows are slowly coming back. And I think the key word is slowly. You might add “randomly” as well to that description since many states are still experiencing increasing COVID cases (hello, Michigan!), which means some areas will open sooner than others. And yes, politics plays a part. Pandemic fatigue also is a big part.
My big question, though, boils down to how exhibitors and attendees will balance their desire to get back to the show with their desire to believe they’re safe when they do. That may change in the next few months as more and more people are vaccinated and the country edges closer to herd immunity, but of course there are always flies in the ointment, like virus variants, refusal among many people to wear a mask in certain situations, and so on.
Bottom line: shows will return, but it’ll be months or at least another year before the whole country can say that we’re getting close to normal.
What happens when you, as a company, take a stand on an issue important to you on the tradeshow floor?
As with pretty much everything, the answer is: it depends.
I don’t see it all the time, but there are a few examples where supporting a cause is a big part of a company’s tradeshow exhibit. A part of their public-facing stance.
The first one that came to mind was a recent update to an exhibit we did for Dave’s Killer Bread. Dave Dahl, the famous Dave of the namesake brand, had a, shall we say, interesting history. As a result, in 2019’s updating of the exhibit for Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, DKB focused a large part of their messaging on an issue important to them: making sure felons have a second chance. Their main counter and backdrop behind it were graced with statistics and images offering their take on the issue.
Another recent project seen at Expo West was Kashi’s spare booth warning of the lack of organic farmland in the U.S. There was no product to taste or see, just a simple 20×20 exhibit that displayed their concerns.
Another client, Bob’s Red Mill, made a change to their overhead banner touting that the company was an employee-owned company.
Once you start looking, it’s not hard to see the causes that companies support in their tradeshow booths. World’s largest B Corp. Zero waste to landfill. 100% organic. Save the Bees. The free-from market. And on and on.
Sure, you could say that especially in the natural products world, showing off your bona fides is just good marketing. And that’s true. But many companies go beyond that and plainly support causes as part of their tradeshow exhibit that a few years ago would be rare.
It’ll be interesting to see how this continues to unfold, and if it’s as obvious in other industries.
Ever have one of those moments when you wish you had a picture of something from the tradeshow appearance you did, oh, six months ago, but you can’t find it? Setting up your exhibit at a tradeshow is a fleeting moment, and the more photos you take and the more records you keep, the better off you’ll be as you prepare for next year’s show. Here’s a quick video on a handful of things you might consider tracking from show to show:
It was March 2, 2020, when things began to fall apart. When things really started to hit home.
I was getting ready to head out to Portland to catch a flight to Southern California to assist a number of exhibiting clients at Natural Products Expo West. It was a Monday, and I’d already heard from a few clients the previous week who’d decided to pull out. By the time Monday morning rolled around there were still some clients hanging on, but as the morning progressed as I alternated between packing and checking email and refilling my coffee, another couple of clients had cancelled.
In the midst of all of that, I managed to set my Hydroflask coffee cup in the microwave to heat another cup. You’re not supposed to microwave it. As I stood in the kitchen with a hundred things bouncing around my head, I didn’t realize what I’d done until it was too late. Oops! Hydroflask coffee cup meltdown!
The AirBnb was already booked, as was the flight and the rental car. I had reached out to a couple of friends that I was planning to drop by to see. I spoke with my wife and we came to the conclusion that since it was all paid for, even though there were only a client or two left on the list who still intended to be there, I might as well head out. What’s the worst that could happen, right?
As I sat on the plane in Portland awaiting takeoff, I got an email from the only client who had so far not cancelled. Now they were withdrawing. No clients left. A moment later, the official email came from New Hope: Expo West was cancelled. Nothing to do now but ride it out.
The next day, I went to the Anaheim Convention Center and found that about half of our clients had exhibit crates sitting in their booth space, but no one from the company had come to the show. So of course, I offered to assist. I spent the day coordinating return shipments, making sure that clients were taken care of.
The next few days were mostly a nice little vacation. I visited a handful of friends in the area, visited both the Nixon and Reagan Presidential libraries, which were fascinating, then spent a day at Joshua Tree National Park. Got a tour of the Entercom radio building on Wilshire, thanks to my cousin who worked there. Good memories. Hard to believe it’s been a year.
Since then, Expo West was initially postponed for a couple of months. Then cancelled. Then Expo East was cancelled. Then Expo West for 2021 was pushed back to the end of May. Then it was turned into a virtual event.
Shows keep getting pushed back, postponed and cancelled. Yes, a few are going on here and there, but industry vets seem to agree that tradeshows and conferences won’t return in full until early 2022. Sure, there might be an uptick in shows in Q3 and Q4, but not like it used to be. In fact, 2022 is still kind of up in the air.
Closer to home, TradeshowGuy Exhibits is still operational. We’re not going anywhere, and are looking to when clients are ready to upgrade exhibits for shows in 2022 and beyond. In the meantime, we’ve found a way to keep moving ahead – like most everyone we know – and keep after it day by day.
With the pandemic slowly winding down (fingers crossed), what does the future hold? I’m no prognosticator and I’m definitely not an economist, although I pay attention to a lot of what’s going on in the economy. Last summer, in a conversation with a colleague, we wondered aloud what it would mean for the tradeshow and exhibit industry when “normal” returned. At that time, we were only looking ahead a few months, but here it is at least two seasons later, and we’re still waiting for the new normal to return.
The country and much of the world are still slogging through high unemployment, many stores closing, restaurants on life support and little to no job growth. In monthly calls with tradeshow exhibit producers, sellers, and project managers, it’s clear that most vendors in the tradeshow world are still operating at a fraction of their full capabilities. And most still think that they won’t reach their full capabilities until sometime in 2022. Yes, Q3 and Q4 in 2021 should show some improvement, but it’ll be a slow go for months to come.
But, once things return, people are comfortable traveling and setting up exhibits and attending shows, what does that mean?
A recent article in the New York Times tagged a few economic markers they’re following, including a prediction by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia that US output will increase 4.5% this year, which if it happened, would be the best since 1999.
Optimism is growing because of a number of things: coronavirus cases are dropping, vaccine rates are increasing, and oh, yeah, there are a few trillion dollars sloshing around in the economy and if the current administration wrangles their bill through Congress, another couple of trillion dollars will follow. Consumers are also sitting on trillions of dollars thanks to lockdown spending dips and more stimulus payments.
But what does that mean for the business world or, more specifically, the tradeshow world? It’s hard to get a handle on exact outcomes, no surprise, but experts point to the fact that in many industries – tradeshow world likely included – a number of companies simply haven’t survived, or they’ve been gobbled up by stronger competitors. Which means that there may not be as much competition.
The world of shows, events and conferences is also changing. Floor plans may change, especially if social distancing remains in effect in at least parts of the country, meaning different shapes and size availabilities for booth placement. Does that mean revised exhibits? New exhibits? Downsizing or upsizing? Who can say? Any change will likely mean exhibitors be willing to spend money for either revisions or brand-new properties. Fingers crossed for all of us in the supply side of the industry.
One final note: Marly Arnold of Image Specialist does a biweekly live 30-minute show that appears on her YouTube channel, and a recent conversation with Jim Wurm of Exhibit Designers and Producers Association talked about this very topic. On the YouTube page here, she lists a number of links that are worth looking at. Let me share just a couple:
From TSNN, ten predictions for meetings and events in 2021. Some of the predictions include: virtual isn’t going away once shows return to live venues; Las Vegas is coming back strong (no surprise); it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Northstar Meetings Group looks at which convention centers are open.
TSNN with another look at how bad the US hospitality and travel industries were pummeled since COVID-19 took hold.
Beyond the links from Marlys’ YouTube page, TSNN also posted this piece on how momentum is building in the tradeshow world.
From this vantage point, it seems like a boom is coming. The question is how big, how long and how much of it will reach us here in the tradeshow, event, and conference world.
You can still benefit from tradeshows without having to invest in a big booth and booth space. Let’s take a look at a handful of ways you might do this:
A sit-down with Jamie Young of Uptown Screen Printing where we delve into ways to plan goal-setting for tradeshow marketing, and how to find a good promotional product that resonates. Hope you enjoy this week’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee:
Find Jamie at Uptown Screen Printing.
Jamie got connected with me through Kathleen Gage. Here’s Kathleen’s appearance on this show.
This week’s ONE GOOD THING: Valentine’s Day is this Sunday!
It doesn’t take that much to exhibit at a tradeshow. Just rent a booth space, bring an exhibit, a handful of staffers and do your thing.
Uh, what’s your thing, though? That’s the big question. Are you there to increase brand awareness? Show that you have a bigger or cooler exhibit than your main competitor? Take a client out for dinner and drinks?
As George Harrison once sang, “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”
It’s better to have a plan. To know what you want. More leads? Sales? Giving away a specific number of samples? Getting more social media followers? Certainly, you want to pick goals that are important to growing your business. But one step beyond that is to not only pick good goals, but to make them concrete goals, such as:
- We want 150 good leads, 50 of which are new.
- We want 300 new Instagram followers.
- We want to hand out 1000 product samples.
- We want to do 100 in-person demos of our product or service.
- We want to meet with CEO’s of three major prospects.
Once you delineate those goals, create a plan to get there. Create the roadmap. If you want to meet with specific people, set appointments. If you want to line up new social media followers, make it easy. If you want new leads, have a method for uncovering the right prospects.
Tradeshow marketing can be expensive, but since you are at a place where thousands of prospects are all gathered in the same place, it’s also the ideal setting to generate leads at the lowest cost-per-lead you’ll ever manage.
Create a plan. Follow the plan.
Every tradeshow visitor is looking for something. And a majority of those visitors are decision makers at their company or can influence buying decisions. Make sure you’re giving them what they want: