Exhibiting at local retail events like home shows, women’s conventions, and holiday pop-up kiosks requires a different approach than exhibiting at an average B2B trade show. For example, the attendees have different motives for participating (you’ll encounter an average Joe who is out window shopping and, immediately following that, your best potential customer who is ready to buy now), your focus is different (you’re looking for a high volume of on-the-spot sales and/or to grow your community relationships), and the overall feeling is different (it’s a bit chaotic, like other trade shows, but with more relaxed (or totally frantic – depending your event’s proximity to the holidays) clientele and definitely more casual attire/décor/etc. to complement the reduced price tag of participation). However, the basic trade show sales and marketing principles are the same… Use the strategies you’ve learned from How To: Trade Show and implement the following ideas to capitalize on these differences.
1. Do your research.
Understand the event (especially the rules for exhibiting, times you can be in your space, what additional fees you might encounter, etc.) and your audience (who needs what you sell, who makes the buying decisions, what motivates them to purchase, etc.). The better prepared you are, the easier it will be to handle any other issues as they arise on-site.
2. Respect the organizer.
…The event management here has more influence than you can imagine. Yes, you paid to participate (as did everyone else), but that doesn’t give you free rein to do as you please; in many cases, your attitude and manners will dictate the treatment you receive (including special perks or punishments at the event – ie. booth placement, introductions/attention, etc.). To ensure the best possible starting point, do what you’re supposed to as politely as possible: follow the rules, meet their deadlines, let them help where appropriate, be patient, kind, and understanding, etc. (especially in the time leading up to your event, which is very hectic for organizers).
3. Don’t invest more than you can afford to lose.
Despite listed averages from previous years, there is no guarantee on attendance, quality, etc. for local retail shows. Know what you are capable of accomplishing (according to event selection criteria), but be realistic as to the worst case scenario (and what that might mean for your bottom line). If the investment required would be too difficult to recuperate, find an alternative way to promote your business now and work towards exhibiting next time instead.
4. Seek out potential partners.
Check the exhibitor list before you sign up to see which other exhibitors might offer a complementary product or service. If you can find an opportunity to cross promote (or even just show your mutual respect and appreciation), you open yourself up to connect with their audience as well. If part of their speech is to encourage participants to come see you (and vice versa) you have added a live billboard to your advertising roster. Note: Just double check that it’s a company you’re comfortable aligning your brand with before you do so!
5. Have confidence.
Your offerings are good. You are smart. People like you. Your clients appreciate the value your offerings provide to them. Other people will benefit from your offerings too. If you don’t agree with these statements yet, repeat them to yourself until you do. When you sell in this environment, you will face rejection over and over, but there is no time to sulk. Your confidence will have to carry you through to the next “yes.”
When events like these don’t fall into your sweet spot of selling (you aren’t comfortable talking to strangers, you don’t do well with multitasking, you aren’t familiar with the differences between long term and trade show selling, etc.), you need to hire someone else who can better represent your company and offerings. Hint: Your best option is probably not your favorite niece, the kid who cuts your grass in the summer, or anyone else who hasn’t been properly prepared for this type of work (despite the reduced rate they’d charge you).
7. Share your story.
Part of your appeal as an exhibitor at a local event is you! Let your audience get to know you by sharing small tidbits about yourself throughout your interactions (especially your “why” – your reason for starting/joining your company, selling those particular offerings, and being at the show today) so they feel like you have become old friends. This gives them a warm and fuzzy feeling when they use their purchase in the future and helps them communicate your value to their friends.
8. Stand up.
While sleeping behind the table (or playing with your cell phone or staring into space) makes potential visitors think they will be as bored as you look, standing tall helps you to project your voice, maintain your enthusiasm, and connect with attendees on their level (literally, as they will be standing as they walk past your booth).
9. Encourage participation.
Get the crowd involved by giving them a task (like holding a prop or pushing a button), an important word or catchphrase to repeat with you (amplifying the key parts of your presentation for themselves and others walking by to hear), or asking them questions to drive your points home (create questions for which there is no wrong answer and questions where the answer is always yes, but prepare yourself to handle any “hecklers” with off the wall suggestions, just in case).
10. Personalize interactions.
First, recognize that your audience is diverse: some will come to buy your products while others may be completely unfamiliar with what you offer, their need for those offerings, and the industry within which you operate as a whole. Next, understand their situation and preferences before starting your pitch. Finally, speak their language by choosing the phrasing that is most comfortable for them but still sounds like you. In other words, mirror their body language and pull common words from their vocabulary, but be subtle in these efforts (or you may offend your visitors).
11. Entertain the kids.
In some cases, children will accompany their parents to the event, providing a special set of challenges. When parents don’t have enough time to focus on your presentation (because their kids are tired, bored, hungry, etc.), they won’t be able to formulate the connection to you and your offerings necessary to feel comfortable purchasing that item. Remedy this by having something small, easy, and fun for the kids to enjoy while you chat with their parents.
12. Add value by educating attendees.
Teach your audience something useful or interesting about your industry, explain unique facts about your offering’s history or use, or highlight the secrets that will make your offerings (and those like yours) last longer or perform better once they get them home. This information will make your visitors feel smarter and more confident when they encounter your industry/offerings in the future; they will associate this feeling and their level of expertise with their memory of you.
13. Cross-sell, up-sell, and offer a great deal
(through bonuses, not discounts).
In order to encourage attendees to increase on-the-spot purchases, consider the persuasion of a show special. In this environment, added bonuses (“but wait, there’s more!”) can make a big difference in your sales without breaking the bank. For example, you can introduce packages by bundling your main offering with other complementary offerings (this is especially effective if you sell both products and services), sweeten the deal by giving more for the same price (examples include extending their subscription term by one month, offering additional refills of consumables that will be needed, creating a “buy x, get y” option), or show your holiday spirit by providing gift wrapping services for free (or as a special add-on offer).
14. Simplify the buying process.
Even if an attendee really wants what you sell, she won’t buy if it’s too much trouble. Know which payment methods you can accept on-site; cash is king at these events, but consider accepting checks, money orders, debit/credit cards, and maybe even PayPal to expand the options available to potential customers. Then, make sure that you’re prepared for each scenario by having order forms ready and waiting, understanding any taxes/fees that will apply to each order, keeping enough of the right change on hand (according to anticipated final price points), and so forth.
15. Get connected.
Take advantage of the opportunity you have on-site to increase your connections by offering social media and mailing list sign ups in your booth (this can be done on a tablet/laptop or by scanning a QR code or, if all else fails, filling out a paper form that you can input later). Document your event participation with videos and pictures (don’t forget to include happy participants) and post the best shots to your social media pages for visitors and other interested parties to find afterwards.
16. Collect testimonials.
Give satisfied customers a way to share their experiences with others immediately after purchasing your offerings or participating in your activities (and not just through popular review websites …although you could refer them there too). Bring your own video, audio, and/or written recording technology (i.e. video camera and microphone, tape recorder, or slips of paper – even a cell phone or tablet could do the trick) and prepare questions for attendees to answer. Don’t forget to obtain permission to post these statements on your website, social media pages, and in other marketing materials so that you can fully capitalize on the positive responses you receive on-site.
17. Don’t be stingy with samples or SWAG.
Although it’s not proper etiquette to request or “sneak” multiple repeat samples or extra SWAG, many attendees will want more freebies than whatever you’ve offered. When you call them out on their lack of manners, or refuse to give any more, it makes you look mean (i.e. you don’t want to give people the joy of trying your product) and/or poor (i.e. you can’t afford to give anyone more than one tiny gift); in either case, your actions are turning off potential buyers (who may be participating or watching nearby).
18. Turn non-buyers into ambassadors.
Make friends with your neighboring exhibitors, the groups of co-eds (“promo staff”) representing larger brands, and others wondering around your event (venue maintenance workers and show management, to name a few). Offer each new friend your business card and remind them how much you would appreciate it if they’d refer interested others to you (as they promote their own offerings or are walking around the show on a break).
19. Promote your participation elsewhere.
Do you sponsor a local little league team? Will you be exhibiting at a different trade show? Is your store running a special promotion? Will you be offering a deal on Small Business Saturday, Free Shipping Day, Black Friday/Cyber Monday, or another upcoming holiday? Do you have a website and/or physical location? Tell everyone at the event where else they can find you (and vice versa, for your other endeavors) so your newest potential clients and partners have an excuse to visit you again.
20. Take advantage of branding opportunities.
Local events offer so many ways to improve awareness of your company and offerings to your target audience and community as a whole. Speak with the event organizer and any other resources that are available to you to understand and evaluate your options. Consider your product packaging, any SWAG you plan to distribute, the samples (and their containers) you will offer, the attire for you (and your staff, if applicable), printed flyers on bulletin boards and handed out elsewhere, stand up banners in the venue (typically offered as part of a sponsorship package), local radio or newspaper advertisements, satellite promotion at your brick-and-mortar store location, social media involvement, and brainstorm additional ways to maximize your reach.
21. Plan for post-show follow up
(keep in touch campaigns) before your event.
Before you arrive at your local event, you should complete the planning required for proper post-show follow up efforts. Design a general e-mail/phone/mail/social media script that can be customized according to the visitors you encounter on-site, schedule time on your calendar to complete the follow up process when you return (initial contact should be made within 24-48 hours), and make an outline of your plan to take to the show with you so that you can explain how you plan to communicate with visitors in the future (and so that you don’t forget to ask for their permission to do so).
Especially with the holidays approaching, state fairs, women’s conventions, gift/home shows, and other local retail events are a popular way for small businesses to reach consumers. Although many aspects are different, the same basic trade show sales and marketing principles apply. Utilize the tips, tricks, and warnings you read in this article to capitalize on the unique advantages local retail events offer and skyrocket your sales while exhibiting this holiday season (and beyond).
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