Tradeshows are a great place to bring in more sales. But to bring in sales and grow your company, tradeshows are also a perfect place for setting secondary and tertiary goals. Here are some you might want to consider:
On this week’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee (now published bi-weekly!), Kenji Haroutunian of the Big Gear Show joins me to chat about the outdoors world, the tradeshow world and much more. Great to reconnect with Kenji:
Check out the Big Gear Show here.
This week’s ONE GOOD THING: The new Crowded House album, Dreams Are Waiting.
In all the years I’ve been attending Natural Products Expo West (and Expo East a few times), one of the things that I see time and time again is the number of small unknown brands looking to get a toehold in the crowded natural foods industry, and then to see them a year or two or three down the line as they start to appear on local grocery store shelves. And then some of them become much bigger brands, and a small number are sold to larger companies. And it seems like suddenly (although it’s been a years-long effort) that the brand is ubiquitous.
And I’ve been lucky enough to work with a few of them: Bob’s Red Mill, which was a growing brand when we started to work together around 2006. They’re world-wide now and Bob’s iconic face has appeared on billions and billions of product packages. Or Kettle Chips, which was a well-known regional brand on their way to national and international status when they became my first client in 2002. Since then, they’ve been bought and sold at least two or three times (okay, at least four – I looked it up) and are currently part of the Campbell Soup Company as of March, 2018.
We started working with Schmidt’s Naturals five years ago. At the time they were an up-and-coming Portland brand started in a garage. In the handful of years we worked with them on tradeshow exhibiting, they went from that small company to being purchased by Unilever and are now, as they say, ubiquitous.
There are plenty of other examples of brands that made their first appearance at Natural Products Expo West (this is getting to sound like a commercial for the show, isn’t it?) that I see on grocery store shelves: Brazi Bites, Mary’s Gone Crackers, Castor and Pollux Pet Food, Boom Chicka Pop, Rule Breaker and more.
I have no doubt it’s not a straight line from the tradeshow floor to the grocery shelves, but I firmly believe that many of these brands would not be where they are now without the benefit of consistent tradeshow marketing.
Check out this gallery of photos including exhibits from the show floor and how those products appeared this week on grocery shelves of a local store.
Yes, you got a lousy location. What to do to prevent poor traffic and lack of leads by the end of the show? Here are a handful of things you can do to bring people to your booth:
You’ve heard it many times in the past several years: the most important thing is showing up. Be there consistently. Be there with your writings, your photographs, your content, your thoughts and leadership. Keep showing up.
On the flipside, I’ve also heard for years that if you’re going to exhibit at a tradeshow, you have to do more than just show up. You have to have a good plan or your time, money, and energy are wasted.
I think both viewpoints have some validity. So let’s break it down.
Years ago I worked with a client that had been attending the same tradeshow for years. They just kept showing up, handing out samples, gauging feedback, connecting with clients and colleagues. No reason not to, it was a good thing to do.
Then they got sold and the new owners had a more circumspect view of the marketing budget and decided to look at it from top to bottom. And that year, the slight shifting of the show dates of the big show they set up an exhibit at every year meant that two years of tradeshow marketing expense fell into one fiscal year.
Uh-oh. We’re spending that much on tradeshow marketing? Hang on! We gotta take a closer look at this.
So they pulled out of that year’s show and put the following year’s appearance on hold. The new owners had to look for their reason for being there. They found it: it was a great show for them, the benefits were worth more than the expense and they came back bigger and badder than ever.
But they had to lift the cover, so to speak, of why they kept showing up year after year. And they figured it out. And now they show up year after year.
Showing up is important. As David Newman of Do It Marketing put it recently:
Keep showing up for the people in your life.
For your clients, family, community, friends, prospects, colleagues…
Show up with empathy.
Show up with value.
Show up with caring.
Show up with help.
Show up with gratitude.
So yes, show up and exhibit at tradeshows, but do it with purpose. Know why you are showing up. Know what your goals and objectives are. Make sure your staff knows why you’re there.
And then have fun.
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.