In my previous posting, "Entrepreneur at Heart" I promised to talk more about the ins and outs of trade shows. I experienced my first trade show at AmericasMart in Atlanta just a week or so ago. We were there promoting our Pet Silhouette business My Pet Silhouette which has been seasonal thus far because it featured only one product, attractive pet silhouette ornaments. Our goal was to pick up some year round Christmas stores and to attract additional pet related businesses so that it would bring in year round cash. I had just expanded our line to include hand-stamped pet silhouette coasters which would also help us gain more year-round business. So, here are a few things I'd learned.
First, for this type of trade show, and remember, I said this is the best trade show in the U.S., you can expect to spend around $4,000. It was over $3,000 just for our registration fee. We stayed in an Extended Stay hotel and drove in from 20 minutes away to save money. Even so, between the printing and display costs and the hotel costs, and parking costs, you can tack on at least another $1,000. That included us eating in, buying our own groceries and bringing our lunches.
Location, location, location. You want to choose which building and floor you are on based on the type of product you are selling and who you think your target market is. AmericasMart has three tall buildings, 20 floors each, and each building focuses on different products. Our ornaments were seasonal, and though we had added coasters to our line, we decided that choosing the holiday section for our location was best. We registered for the trade show very late. In fact, there were only two spots left in Building 3 where we wanted to be. I asked the woman who supervised our area which of these two locations she felt was best. She suggested the second row slot and this proved to be a good choice because of all the traffic.
Create a professional, attractive, and well lit display. We bought a Christmas tree on sale after Christmas and loaded it with twinkle lights, then added artistic touches like a feather boa, gold "straw", gold bows and lots of our pet silhouette ornaments. Some vendors had adjustable spotlights. We used twinkle lights around the top frame of our booth.
Signage is also important. Your booth comes with a basic sign--black print on white card stock with you company name and your booth number. We had a large, laminated sign with our logo and name plus multiple laminated blow ups of a variety of pet breeds which we suspended. We also displayed our ornaments on two multi-tiered spinner racks. A subcontractor provided two long folding tables and skirts for them plus collapsing risers. We draped the risers with black fabric and leaned our coasters up against them. We also added gold table cloths on top of the white skirts. The booth had a rich and classy feel.
Hand outs. You want to have business cards and flyers with all your info on them. We also had order sheets. Ones with carbon work best so those who place orders have a copy to take home with them. (We didn't have these but learned quickly that we should have.)
Enticement to sign. Many vendors have a show special. If you sign with us at the show you get a ...... Our show special was a free spinner rack.
Resources. One huge plus of the show was all the valuable resources available to us. We were considering expanding our line to include pet silhouette cameo necklaces so we visited several booths to find the supplies we needed for making these.
Networking. The networking is invaluable. You get to know the vendors near you and share info. Those who visit your booth also often share valuable info. Make sure to write it down. It's also smart to ask those who visit for their business card. Jot down on the back what info you gave them, whether they ordered, and any other important info that will help you remember them. Follow these leads up when you get home.
Inspiration. I couldn't believe the innovative products people were selling. The second floor of the building I was in was devoted to handmade items. Many artists and crafts people displayed their wares and were taking orders. This is how many people get their lines started. Doing so moves you from a mere artist to a designer of sorts and you will land accounts and then need to find help making your products. Seeing their work also gets your creative juices going and by the end of the show we had lots more ideas for products we might want to create.
Prepare to grow. Many owners of million dollar businesses started by taking their small cottage industry ideas to a trade show. This is a great way to grow your business, but you also have to be prepared for those who want to order large quantities. It can quickly take you to the next level...Better have a game plan for dealing with mass quantities quickly if it happens. A top level exec from PetCo visited our booth, loved our ornaments and gave us permission and contact info to connect with a key buyer. If we land this account we will have serious expansion challenges but we are ready to give it a shot.
Though $4,000 is nothing to blink at, the investment can propel you to success. You just have to be willing to invest that type of money if you want to grow you company. It could be a life-changing experience.