Monday, December 29, 2008

Mapping out the coming year

OK, it's slow and it seems there is nothing to do. Well, quite the contrary, get out the calendar and let's do some planning.

Each trade show program and calendar are unique, but many milestones are common. When is your keystone show? That is, what are the two or three large shows that anchor your calendar and help you shape your planning and revenue (and sales)? Let's try a few examples:

If you are in retail technology, you probably start the year at NRF (National Retail Federation) at the Javits Center in January. Fact is, if you are headed to this show, you better be ready, since it opens on January 11. FMI-Marketechnics is probably next in up May (this year in Dallas). The rest of the year is probably populated with medium-sized and smaller shows where you reach out more vertical segments of your market. Kind of a front-loaded year.

Healthcare technology probably is centered on HIMSS in February and AHIMA in October. Many smaller vertical shows fit in in March and the fall season to round out the slate.

Aviation and defense suppliers are at the Navy League (April), AUSA (October) and international air shows (Paris this year in June, Dubai in the fall and Australia in March).

Technology and data storage types rely on SNW Spring (April) and Fall (October) with Brainshare (March) and Oracle Open World (September) as pegs on the board. Add in the Microsoft TechEd series and the plan starts to flow.

Security providers and suppliers use the March Vegas-based ISC-West and September's ASIS (American Society of Industrial Security) as landmarks of horizontal business and fill in with ISC-East (August) and CardTech-SecureTech in between (along with regional ASIS' events).

So, look over your year and plot--your exhibit partners will appreciate the foresite and the projection. July and August are slow for them and for conferences and trade shows in general. Don't forget to plan a vaction for yourself and training, too (Exhibitor's show in Vegas in March and TS2 in the summer).

Lesson Learned: plan your work and work your plan. Make time your friend.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Connecting with prospects

I was reminded today of how long it takes to establish a relationship.

A colleague in Tucson, Fred Narcaroti, and I spent some time talking about how to build business. Fred pointed out that it takes a minimum of three contacts for a person to know you well enough to ask you about your business, let along award you business (a contract). When you apply this to trade shows and the world of face-to-face selling, you have to agree: a trade show is a step in the process of changing suspects into prospects and then into clients.

On the trade show floor, you most likely are meeting your contact for the first time. It could be the very first contact or could be the first face-to-face talk. It might could be the time you meet to close a deal. The point is, it is a step in a process. Whether it's three times, as Fred suggests, or 6 or 9 times, you have to make the connection on more than a "hi-how-are-you-can-I-sell-you-something" basis. As we've discussed earlier in this space, people do business with people who they like. And it akes time to get to know someone.

Lesson Learned: take the time to get to know your prospects and be patient.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Trade shows, networking and LinkedIn

What do these three things have in common? They are all about making positive, direct contact with people.

While I am, and probably always will be, the advocate for face-to-face contact (the first two), the third item is growing in both popularity and effectiveness. But I have learned, as with the other two, these methods work best when they are a part of a larger campaign.

Let's skip right to LinkedIn: I learned a valuable lesson just yesterday on it's power and usefulness. For those of you not familiar, it is, in quick summary, the social media choice for B2B types, a Facebook for business people. Within in it, you post a profile and make connections. With those connections you can ask for and make recommendations and introductions. And here is where it gets complicated for some.

Making a recommendation or introduction is a priviledge. As a connection pointed out to me, we are the guardians of our relationships and play a role of "trusted advisor". In other words, don't go willy-nilly connecting or recommending people you just met. This isn't an electronic bar scene where one is out to score, but rather an extension of the trade show floor where you either start a conversation (or relationship) or take another step in the process. Don't abuse what you have been trusted with.

Lesson Learned: place value on the relationships you have and are developing and respect, not abuse, those that have entrusted you.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

An open letter to Steve Jobs about trade shows

Dear Steve,

In yesterday's release about MacWorld 2009, did you really say "Trade shows do not deliver the same return on investment that they did in the past."? I realize the real news in the release was about you not being the keynote at this event, but, come on, that isn't really the kind of message you, an advocate of effective brand selling, wants to deliver in this economy, now is it?

I can understand if MacWorld has run its course as a B2B trade show or a platform for you and Apple. I can also understand if the sales cycle of Apple has gotten to the point that shows don't fit your marketing mix. But to write off shows with a general sweep of the hand as not driving sales well and being a "once-a-year shot" is unfair to an entire industry.

Even without the stats from our friends at CEIR or Exhibitor Magazine , trade shows still are the best return on investment when it comes to face-to-face selling. The basic math says you can meet more customers/prospects/suspects for the price of a single air fare and expenses in one place than you can with one-on-one sales calls. Plus you get the benefit of featuring your brand in a showcase where business leaders and leading buyers are in one place where you are side by side with your partners and competitiors. And let's not forget that face-to-face selling closes sales faster than multiple e-mails, phone calls and text messages. You are better off standing next to your client than you are watching them on a screen. The live experience just can't be replaced.

So, please, don't write off an entire show or industry just because it doesn't fit your specific needs. Of course your products are best sold through your stores or on line. But where else can you be the face of a whole industry, a thought leader? Where else can you encounter people and start conversations that might not otherwise have been possible?

I realize shows are expensive and ROI is important, particularly in this economy. However, there is also ROO (return on objective) and the almost immeasureable brand impact that must also be considered.

Thanks for reading, Steve. Happy holidays and best wishes to you and your family and good health to you. I appreciate all you've done for your industry, technology, entertainment and America. Be thinking about your friends in the trade show industry and what we could really be doing together in 2009 and beyond.

The Trade Show Guy (TTSG)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Getting answers to your questions

Recently a client asked her incumbent exhibit house a simple question and got the runaround. I'm still not sure why.

The question she asked was for a set of set up or construction drawings. She is adding a graphic to a backwall of a booth she has in her warehouse and needs the dimensions of the wall for her graphic vendor.

The reply to her request was off-putting and cryptic--no, they didn't have any drawings and the sent her the space layout for a long-past show. No help at all.

Now, why the constructor of an exhibit doesn't have assembly or engineering drawings is beyond me. How did it get built? How is it assembled by the I&D crew? Could it be because they weren't being asked to produce the new graphic that they were being evasive? Hmmm.....

There is absolutely no reason my client shouldn't have gotten a set of drawings. She, after all, owns the booth. As it is, she is now having to be inconvenienced by pulling the wall from the crate and measuring it by hand. This involves forklift drivers, time, travel, etc., etc., etc.

Lesson Learned: you own the drawings, designs and electronic files and all that comes with your booth. be sure to ask for it or an explanation of why you don't or can't have it. Be straight with your vendor and have high expectations.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Using space to tell your story

Over the weekend just past, I had the opportunity to visit the King Tut traveling exhibit here in Dallas. It was a great sensory experience and really brought the artifacts and story to life.

Keep that in mind when you design or lay out your trade show exhibit.

The Dallas Museum of Art transformed itself for this exhibit. I am fortunate to have seen some of these artifacts when they first traveled the US back in the late 1970s. A lot has changed in what they show and how they show it. The three key things I came away with as an exhibit person were these:

  1. Use light to your advantage
  2. Be consistent and clear with your message(s)
  3. Don't clutter the space
Using light. Each artifact in the displays was lit carefully and correctly based upon it's material and place in the story. Glass or plex cases surrounded artifacts to not only protect, but enhance (with light) what was being shown. The absence of light was also used and floors, walls and ceilings were black or dark colors to not distract from the photos or artifacts.

Consistent messages. The displays were arranged in such a way as to tell a story. It was a chronology of sorts so that you understood Tut's family origins and the history of what he dis politically and culturally. By the time you reached the "burial chamber" you knew who he was and what he brought with him. And where he seems to be "going" into history yet written.

Clutter. While there were thousands of artifacts found in the burial chamber, only a select few (and those Germain to conveying the tightly-formed story) were used. Photos of the actual excavation and discovery in 1922 were hung in key locations. Technology was used carefully and when appropriate.

If you get the chance to see this exhibit, please do. It's both a treat for the student in us all as well as the exhibitor that works within us.

Lesson learned: craft your messages and use light and space carefully and sparingly to reach your audience.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Assessing your trade show program

In conversation with a client yesterday, the topic of how to allocate marketing budget within business units (and to specific shows) came up.

How do you divvy up the marketing pie across markets so that you exhibit at the most effective shows?

My client is a savvy guy and is really taking a hard look at how money is dispersed. As an illustration, his company has three major business units and attends about 8 to 10 shows during the year. Budgets for shows vary widely, with one marquee show taking 50% to 60% of the total trade show budget (and the corresponding business unit commanding a budget 10 times larger than either of the other two). There shouldn't be anything wrong with this, except that, using even the simple "cost per lead" measure, several smaller shows account for more leads (10 times in some cases) and more sales (measurable, booked sales).

You could use the lead count measure, but you might be shortchanging the show. Perhaps the staff is not trained or the show wasn't promoted enough in advance to give them the right introduction to prospects on the show floor. Whatever, something is amiss in why this show commands the lion's share of the budget and company's attention. Particularly when smaller, less expensive (both dollars and staff time) draw more leads and close more sales.

You could allocate budget based on revenue generated by each business unit. In our example, it would be more balanced: the three units are a 50-30-20 split. So, instead of getting 80% to 90% of the trade show budget, the unit would get only 50%. This causes managers and sales people to be more strategic (and accountable) for their trade show decisions.

Don't forget that not all measures are numeric: your presence at a show speaks volumes to your marketplace, so don't forget the intangible measures and costs of going or not going.

The talk with my client ended with the oft-repeated "plan": take 3 years to get to know your program.
  • The first year is learning the where and what of the past and present and learning the marketplace.
  • The second year is time for fine-tuning--vendors, methods, simple image things.
  • The 3rd year is the time for more significant change. By then you know the market, can judge shows and their impact (both internally and externally) and can shape your path to the future.

Lesson Learned: be realistic and forward-thinking in choosing shows and managing your program. Don't go just to go and be fare to the markets you serve itnernally.


Saturday, November 1, 2008

Booth attractions: Using whatever form

Having a "draw" at your exhibit is an important part of the lead-gathering process. Whether it's a serious presentation or a live-action dance team or entertainer, it's all about the lead--and the attention on the show floor.

The Buzz.

At the recent NACS show in Chicago, having a celebrity or key figure seemed to be the way to go. With MM/Mars and other NASCAR sponsors in the hall, they leaned on their relationship with their sponsored driver. Now, I've never met Kyle Busch in person, but I understand this cutout is near life size. Visitors to the booth shot photos of (and with) the cardboard Kyle and, with the other icons in the both (the MM characters, either in walkaround suits or plastic replicas), drew attention to the brand.

Other celebs and public figures made the scene, too. Once exhibitor built their whole exhibit around the election. The candy company did a mock vote with candy flavors and themed the entire booth and interaction at their exhibit around the election and the two major party candidates. No word on who won this vote, but the cutouts were proportional and a good attention-getter for a small (10x10) exhibitor. I imagine they did pres-show mailings and post-show followup using the theme.

Still others used live action icons. The jerky company brought out Bigfoot, both in carboard and costumed form. You could get a still photo with the real guy or you could pose with the cutout. Videos from their TV ad campaign played in the booth.

Chiquita Bananas did wonders with a small island booth. Simple display racks of fresh bananas in a structure keyed to their brand and colors was the backdrop. An actress/model, dressed as the 1960s TV ad icon worked in the booth, posing for photos with visitors and stocking fruit. The model was also well-versed and armed with the verbal messages that the Chiquita people wanted conveyed to their C-store audience. that's pervasive branding.

Still others relied on our memories and sense of fun. The Icee Bear, Myley Cyrus and the Blues Brothers all made appearances. Even the Chester's Chicken Rooster was walking the aisles. Free food samples and interactive characters brought attention to a myraid of brands in a busy space. But it seemed to work for them. And many of them did it right--integrating brand and message in a fun, memorable way. But always, always tie it to the gathering of leads and follow up.

Lesson Learned: integrate your brand message in a fun, memorable way and the prospect will remember you.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Road warrior

I was fortunate last evening to sit on the plane next to a meeting planner/trade show manager. Jen is the event marketing specialist for a California-based software provider. She was headed to Orlando for Educause.

It was a brief conversation, but reminded me of some things that experienced event people have in their "collections." Things like:

Put a map of a convention center or airport in front of us and we'll probably be able to tell you from city each is from.
Each show is like a reunion: we meet up with other TSMs and vendor-suppliers that we only see in a given city or at a certain show.
Remembering where all of the good restaurants are in the show city.

These might seem like odd things, but as in any profession, there are things unique to the experience. They help you know what to do by instinct and be able to advise your client or staff with confidence.

Lesson Learned: have a good memory and use the information to save money and time.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Squeezing a memory out of a show

Snakes and snails and puppy dog tails....chances are somebody has made them into a foam stress item at one point in the trade show world. In an effort to reach out to trade show and event attendees, many exhibiting companies are resorting to the old squeeze play. OK, so I've overdone the analogies. The truth is the world of foam stress balls has grown beyond stress balls. And some of the participants are using the little foam guys in an integrated fashion and to great advantage.

At the recent NACS show I saw a variety of things in this category: foam giraffes, cars, sumo wrestlers, gasoline storage tanks (really), footballs and wrist bands. Anything tha
t you could want in a foam shape, you could have to take home. In fact, one of my colleagues said he's been collecting these things are several years and has hundreds of them.

The best example of an integrated use of a foam figure was Quantum Services. While most exhibitors come up with a foam thingee at the last minute or as a gag, Rachel Bernhardt and the crew at Quantum build their exhibit marketing image around the giraffe icon.

Quantum ( provides audit services to the convenience store industry. Their booth graphics rely on the giraffe icon and they've tied advance show mailings to an offer of a free giraffe when they arrive at the show. They've also used the spotted long-neck fellow in other media to attract attention. It's more than just a squeeze toy: it's a memory and a conversation starter.

Lesson Learned: use foam squeezers in an integrated way to attract attention, start conversations and be a reminder later.


*thanks to Rachell Bernhardt and Quantum Services

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sir, your fly is, er, down

Every once in a while you see a small exhibitor with a fresh idea of how to gather a crowd and get attention. At NACS this year, I met the guys from PestWest Environmental.

While they only had a 10x10 booth, they were close to the front of the hall. The company's roots are in lighting and lamps which, ultimately, led them to pest attraction and control (elimination). They had a popup backdrop with their logo and a draped table with samples of product and literature. Pretty typical small exhibit stuff. But their differentiator and conversation starter was the blow-up fly on a stick. Jerry and James used this prop effectively by standing in the aisle (hey, remember the easement approach to space?) and getting attention. It started a lot of conversations. And once they engaged a propsect, they had their messages down succinctly. Worked with me.

The point of all this is simple things and ideas work. Remember why you are there and think about what gets your prospects' attention and ear. Then, once you've "hooked" them, get to the point fast and clearly.

Lesson learned: simple ideas and visuals work.


Special thanks to Jerry Hatch and James Shaffer from Pest West ( or

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sign, sign everywhere a sign

With apologies to Bill Engvall and The Five Man Electrical Band, this entry is all about signs--the hanging variety used at trade shows.

The NACS show was a great example of companies using hanging structures as a part of their dimensional marketing strategy. Many use them as signposts so that visitors looking for them can find their booth from across the hall. Others use them as an extension of the booth itself--whether that be a physical extension of the structure or a graphical look that ties to the booth.

They can also be used to convey a message--verbal or visual. Perhaps it's the logo of the company, an extension of the booth message or look, or perhaps it's a symbol from a related or overarching campaign. Any and all of these approaches are justified when it comes to the highest signage in (or above) your space.

If you have an iconic product, then you have a real advantage. Heinz Ketchup and Goetze's Candies are examples of those who hung signs representative of their product. You have to be careful with scale (the size of sign in relation to the booth and the height limit), or your sign could get lost in the air. Keep in mind that at some shows the height limit can vary by the type of sign you have or from where it originates.

Hanging signs versus signs supported by the booth structure may be subject to different height limits. In most cases, height limits are measured to the top of the sign and are either at 16, 20, or 24 feet from the floor.

But above all (pun intended), keep the integrity of your icon--the same rules that apply to it in print or as a 3-D logo in the booth at eye level are to be enforced. Be sure the colors are true to the PMS colors specified for other uses. That can be tough when ink or dye colors change or look different under different types of light or from when they are applied to fabric or surfaces of sign material. Ask your vendor as they should have the experience to advise you of the challenges of the translation.

We'll discuss this again in a future entry with more examples.

Lesson learned: variety is the spice of trade show life in the hall.


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Effective Booth Captain

The just-completed NACS show was a great exercise in being prepared and having measurable results at the end of it. My client, Retalix, did all of the things you need to do to make sure that the staff is prepared and knows what's going on before, during and at the conclusion of a show.

One of the critical pieces of preparing a booth staff for a show is the pre-show meetings, including the opening day standup meeting. Doug Fick, the VP of Sales for Retalix' Convenience Store business segment, gave one of the best, most complete captain's speeches I've ever heard.
In his Sunday morning speech, Doug hit on the important things he wanted his staff to know:
  • What to do when a client approaches.
  • Who to refer prospects to in the booth.
  • How to collect and qualify leads.
  • Which key customers would be visiting the booth during the show, when to expect them and to whom to refer them.
Doug spelled all this out to the staff as they stood around him. It was conversational in tone, professional and imparted useful information to the team. What's more, and beyond the staff training part of the show, Doug knows what to do with the leads and how to classify and distribute them at the show's conclusion. On the last day of the show, Doug was able to tell me who the key players were who visited the booth, could target and quantify the potential business from the show and was moving on to changing leads into business after the show. To Retalix' credit, they have a central customer/prospect database and use it to further classify, qualify and track the progress of a sale. I wish more people who use trade shows would use the tools that Doug and people like him use and implement to get the results that they truly want. The result of all this was a lead count and collection of gathered data that met the expectations of the sales team and executives and can be tracked.

Lesson learned: prepare your staff and the results will follow.


*Thanks to Doug Fick, Herman Beckley, Tal Spirer, Darren Vader and the whole Retalix team

Monday, October 6, 2008

It's not about the booth

I had dinner with a colleague from the industry last evening. We traded stories and leads and finally got to philosophy. After several minutes of spirited discussion, we both concluded one thing:

It's not about the booth.

While this seems an overstatement of the obvious, too many exhibitors and suppliers view the trade show experience as about putting up an exhibit. Great for those who want to think that way. But as suppliers and supporters of strategic marketers we really are solutions providers. As I've said many times, if you do this right, you can do it on a bear piece of concrete. However, you shouldn't have to do that. But the perception of exhibit marketing is changing as is the approach.

More exhibitors, facing reduced budgets because of tightening credit and higher shareholder expectations, want a lighter booth and don't want to store a thing for months out of the year unused. Suppliers want to keep designing and producing effective space-using exhibits that keep saws turning and warehouses full. we need to rethink this model?

That's not to say exhibits need to go away. Quite the contrary--the best and most effective way to sell to new and existing customers is face to face. there isn't a replacement for that. That said, that means that the exhibit space needs to be a strategic location for selling and effective in execution.

Fewer, more targeted exhibits that are part of a larger strategy--well-timed and placed trade advertising, trained staff, consistent messaging.

Let's not shoot for the tactic but aim a bit higher.


Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Finishing Touches

The last day of set up is always a day of punch lists and tending to do the last-minute details. Before you can leave the booth that one last time before the show opens, did you:

  • Put out the pen holders and other office supplies?
  • Label the last crates as "Empty"?
  • Cut the poly off the carpet?
  • Put out the wastebaskets?
  • Distribute keys?
  • Lock up?
  • Secure the last badges for the latecomers?
  • Give the booth one last heavy wipedown?

There's more, but that comes with making lists with some thought.

Have a great show!

Lesson learned: remember the details and the big things don't become big problems.


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Hanging a sign

They look so great and graceful (well, mostly) hanging in the air over the show floor. But somebody had to get hanging signs up there. Usually, it's up to you to get the job done.

Hanging your completed sign has a few steps:
  • Put in the order for the riggers well in advance of the show.
  • Assemble the sign.
  • Spot the location above the booth where the sign is to hang.
  • Attach the aircraft cables
  • Hoist the sign.
  • Make sure it is turned the way you want it.

Obviously, this is all done in cooperation with your rigging contractor. By putting the order in well in advance, you take advantage of any discounts. When you arrive at the show, check in at the service desk and, if you can predict it, let them know when you'll be ready for the riggers to come.

A typical rigging team is made up of two or three men: one on the ground and two in the basket (either on a forklift or a gooseneck crane, depending on the height of the sign.

Most promoters either have the sign at 20 or 24 feet to the top of the sign.

In most halls (like here in Chicago), the riggers open and assemble the sign. In some non-union environments, you or your I&D team can assemble the sign and wait for the riggers.

Spotting the location above the booth. Do this with the lead rigger. At NACS, they had the coolest laser device. We found the center of the booth and pointed the laser from that spot to the ceiling. This confirmed the location (a particular beam) where the sign will be hung from.

Part of assembly is to attach the cables. These aircraft-rated cables and attachments are usually specified by the hall or the city, so follow the lead of the riggers.

The cables are rated by size and the weight they can bear. The cables provided by the sign maker usually work, but in some cities (LA comes to mind), sometimes a heavier-rated cable has to be substituted.

There are several attach points (either 3 or 4 points on the top of the sign) from which the sign hangs. The number and location help the sign hang straight.

Make sure, as they are hoisting it, be sure the logo faces the correct direction (in this case the front of the hall). This signpost will help draw attendees and targeted visitors to your booth at the show.

Lesson learned: Again, plan and come prepared and your task will come off on time, within budget and look the part you've asked it to play.


Friday, October 3, 2008

Carpet installation

Laying carpet and pad may seem like a simple thing, but executed accurately, it can save you time and money, make your staff comfortable and improve the appearance of your booth immensely.

At this show we did several things:
  1. Notched the pad for the cables so that the carpet on top laid flat
  2. Measured from one lead corner
  3. Covered our finished work with visqueen

The guys started by taping off the lines of the 20x30 space with double-stick tape. This defines the edges of the booth and will eventually hold the carpet in place.

Next, the pad is rolled out. Usually, the pad is rolled in the opposite direction that the carpet is rolled. Since we have 4 rolls of 5 x 30-foot pad, we choose to roll the length of the booth to minimize seems. Once the pad is down, we notch it to accommodate the large electrical cords that will beneath the booth. Here in Chicago, the electrical power and internet/phone come from floor boxes, two of which are within the perimeter of the space. The large flat supply cords and round extensions are cut around and taped to the floor. The pad is taped together, but not to the floor, except in a few key places with gaff/duct tape to keep the edges from sliding.

Next comes the carpet. The two 10x30-foot rolls are started from the same end, lining up from the same corner as the pad to ensure uniformity. The guys are careful to match the nap and cut edges to make sure the seem that runs down the center match so that the line is unnoticeable. They kick the carpet until it matches and peel the top of the tape to afix it to the floor. Stories of floors too cold to allow tape to stick are traded.

Lastly, the visqueen is rolled over the top and taped in place at the far edges, outside the perimeter of the booth.

Now we're ready to start setting structure on top.

Lesson learned: roll each carpet roll in the same direction and try to roll pad the opposite direction. Notch for cables to have a flat appearance.


Thursday, October 2, 2008

Guiding electrical installation

If you can get to show site early, one of the best uses of your time is to work with the electricians on the installation of your power in your booth.

At NACS in Chicago, I had a great experience with the electricians and telecom guys. They followed direction well, made solid suggestions and worked fast. If I hadn't been there to talk with them, they would have just worked off a diagram and put things where we guessed they should be.

When you respect the union rules and work with them, things get done well--usually. This time it worked.

Lesson learned: come prepared and early and be open to suggestion.


Staging Freight

One of the biggest time savers in terms of getting things off and running with your I&D crew is staging freight around your booth. That is, arranging the crates with your exhibit packed in them for optimum use around the empty space.

I was fortunate enough at this show (the NACS show in Chicago for Retalix) to arrive early enough to meet the driver and work with the forklift driver. As the crates came off the truck, we spotted them around the empty floor space. I got to my "cage" first and that allowed me to get drawings, cables and other early-need items. The rest (carpet & pad, hanging sign, first cabinets) were then arranged as to sequential need.

A side benefit was that the booth space was "walled off" from the adjacent aisle and kept other forklift drivers from crossing the space.

We start installation today.

Lesson learned: control your space and freight to save time and retain control.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Taking your orders with you

A quick reminder: have copies with you or have a reference to all of the orders you have at a show.

There is no substitute for the credibility a sheaf of papers that have the record of your order for electrical, material handling, rigging, rentals and whatever else you've ordered from the general contractor. The files will give you everything in one place (charge numbers, dates ordered, locations), so that is no question of the details involved.

Turst me, it's worth the effort.


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

NACS correction

I stand corrected. My copy of Trade Show Executive arrived today and in it was their annual "Gold 100" of top trade shows.

NACS is number 52. I had my stats wrong.

The show typically over 380,000 square feet of exhibition space, it does move between cities (rotating through Chicago, but including Atlanta and Orlando). There are almost 1,400 exhibitors and the attendance typically is over 22,000 over the three days of the show.

I'll learn more first hand starting tomorrow.


Monday, September 29, 2008

The NACS Show

I'm traveling on Wednesday to a show that is significant in American marketing and the trade show world: the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS). I've never been to this show, so this should be a treat and an experience.

The exhibition is held in conjunction with the NACS conference and educational sessions. The conference is aimed at the owners of and suppliers to convenience stores and deals with their issues which include everything from food marketing to cigarette theft to beer and lottery sales. This organization has been around since 1961 and is really a big part of the petroleum industry. It is nothing to sneeze at or take lightly: with almost 150,000 C-stores in the U.S. doing $570 billion in business ($400 million of it in petroleum sales), they are a significant part of our retail economy.

This show features over 1,400 exhibitors in two halls of McCormick Place in Chicago. The show stays put every year (like the National Restaurant Show) and features suppliers of everything from gum and candy to food and automotive products and energy drinks. Like AWMA (which I attended in the spring) this is a variation on the "cigarettes and candy" show theme.

My client is Retalix, a provider to the industry of point-of-sale (POS) hardware and software and related systems. I'll be reporting from the show over the next week on issues as I encounter them and plan to put each one into a lesson-type format.

Thanks for staying tuned. We should learn a lot from the show floor.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Shoe shines and trade shows

I made my regular visit to Mr. B, the man who shines my shoes, and came away with yet another life lesson.

No, I'm not going to talk about hiring one of those shoe-shine girls for your trade show booth to build traffic. We're going to talk about customer contact and service.

Whenever I stop to see Mr. B instead of reading the paper while he works, we talk about things--politics, Dallas history, people. He's always careful about what he says as he is a gentleman. However, just by listening, I've learned about the history of the neighborhood, Catholic schools and churches in Dallas, the city council. Truthfully, I do the listening and he does the talking.

Which is my point here: be aware that your customer is going to talk and you need to listen. And your customer is listening when you talk. So be careful what you say. Stay on message. And always tell the truth.

As for quality: Mr. B never misses a beat, even while he's talking. The shoe care and shine are always the same and always excellent. The routine seldom varies and the product is very, very consistent. But in addition to the shine, he's engaged and entertained me, informed me and made me relax a bit before the day starts. And I look better for the rest of the day.

Nothing like a good shine to make a person feel good.

Lesson learned: listen, speak carefully and don't vary the quality of your product.


Monday, September 22, 2008

The well-planned and executed show

Consider that the well-planned and executed trade show does these two things:

1. Enhances all of your other marketing efforts
2. Brings your brand to life

Enhancing other efforts. When your ads, web pages, direct mail, sales collateral, electronic direct marketing, personal selling and publicity all have the same messages woven into them and match your show presence, you are memorable and truly "on message."

Bringing the brand to life. When you create an effective trade show experience, you are creating a unique selling environment. It is equal parts:
  • Interactive (in real time)
  • Human (1-on-1)
  • Immersive (your brand surrounds the buyers)
  • Dimensional (a 3-D space reflecting your brand and that is alive)

Lesson learned: Trade shows and events are THE most dramatic and memorable extension of your brand of all media.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

The three basics in show planning

From the AAF speech:

There are three things you want to have as the underpinnings of your show program or approach:

1. Strategy
2. Planning
3. Measurement

If you don't have a strategic direction, it's just a space that isn't accomplishing anything. Know why you are going to a show, how it fits into your program and what it can deliver.

If you don't plan, it won't be worth your time and money nor deliver the results you deserve from all of your efforts. Trade shows and events cost maoney and take time. Plan your work and work your plan.

If you don't measure what you've done, then you won't know what to do next time. If you set clear, measurable objectives before you start, then when you are finished, you'll have something tangible that will help you understand and grow your business.

Lesson learned: be strategic, plan your approach and execute and quantify the results.


Effectvely using premiums and giveaways

How do I use premiums to my best advantage at a show? Should I have more than one kind?

This was a question posed to me at the AAF-Abilene regional seminar yesterday. The questioner was concerned that have a bowl of giveaways was just playing to the general "lookie-loos" at a show and a waste of money. While she admited that they needed to have those items for the show crowd, was there a better way and how could it benefit their efforts to be at the show.

My advice to her was to consider having three levels of giveaways for her booth visotrs:

1. The general, cheap stuff
2. A step up for warm prospects
3. Something really good for those really important clients

The general, cheap stuff could be a bowl of candy or those sticky bugs with a ribbon with your company name. Something that is cheap and satisfies thaose who want to have something in their bag to take home (these are big at education and school board shows).

A step up is a little nicer gift: coffee mug, coaster, nice pin. Something that you give sto someone who asks a question, completes a survey or generally imparts some information.

The third level, something really good, is kept out of sight and only given to those prospects that really could deliver an order or sale. A nice clock or desk accesory. Maybe you've been expecting them and want to recognize them. At any rate, it shows them you think they are special.

Lesson Learned: scale and plan your giveaways as traffic builders.


Friday, September 12, 2008

Show planning is like moving

I recently purchased a home and I found that I'll need my trade show planning skills to help me execute this move.

It seems there are a lot of similarities between show planning and move planning:

1. Make a master list
2. Pay attention to and adhere to deadlines
3. Watch your budget

Make a master list. The ubiquitous "to-do" list is useful just about anytime you have to accomplish numerous tasks. Make the list and assign deadlines, then order the list in date order. Which leads us to...

Pay attention and adhere to deadlines. "It has to be on the truck on (date)" applies most definitely to moving as well as trade shows. If you're not ready to load out, have a contingency plan (another truck, backup plans). But be sure to not grow your costs too much, because....

You have to watch your budget. Costs can grow if you're not careful. Missing deadlines, ordering things not in the plan, forgetting to add an item to the list or adding it late.

Lesson learned: no detail is too small in moving or trade show planning.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Walking a Show

"Walking a show" means just that: you are going to visit a trade show to learn more about it before you choose to exhibit. The idea is that if you get a feel for it by being there you will more than likely understand and make a better judgment of its value to your company than by just reading the contract or prospectus.

Learning about a show is not just knowing how much it's going to cost you in terms of space and expense to set up your exhibit and bring your staff there. It's about the environment. You should take the time to buy an airfare and a badge for the show floor because you want to learn:

  • Who attends the show
  • What's the flow on the show floor
  • Who the players are--big and small
  • Whether your competitors and partners are there
  • How the organizer handles things
Who attends? Are they mostly buyers or sellers? You can tell by badge color (pick up a show guide to find what colors mean what designation) who is an exhibitor, a buyer or a vendor. Do a quick analysis by counting badges as you walk the floor.

What's the flow? How does traffice move on the floor--to the right or left as they enter the hall? Is there more than one entrance to the show hall? Where are food concessions and restrooms? Is there meeting space in the hall or nearby in case you need to have a meeting outside your booth? Are the larges booths at the front and the smallest at the back--or do they intersperse the exhibits by size? Are there height limits to the exhibits? Can you have a hanging sign? Are there dead spots on the floor? Are you allowed to have more than one exhibit space? Can you have a cross-aisle exhibit? Is there a separate product showcase or demonstration area?

Who are the big players and the small players? Are the big players in the largest booths all positioned by the front entrance? Or do they choose to use the perimeter or sides of the hall? Are they also your competitors? Do they buy ad space in the hall, the show daily and the trade publications associated with the show? Where are the smaller booths? Are they small exhibitors but giants in the industry?

Partners and competitors. Which of yours are there? How big a presence do they have? Do they also hold receptions or have hospitality suites? Are they demonstrating in the separate demo area (if there is one)? Do you know anyone in their booths? Can you talk with them and ask about the show?

How does the organizer handle exhibitors? Is there a buzz on the floor about how good (or bad) things are going? Do they do things to help first-time exhibitors feel welcome or promote the show for them? Are they accessible (that is, are they out, active on the show floor or locked up in the show office)? Where is the show office in relation to the show floor? Is there separate meeting space? Is there a press room? How is space allocated and/or chosen? When are deposits due? What is the refund policy? Be sure to meet your show contact. Two of the more memorable show contacts to me are Allison Daniels at NACS and Shannon Burch at ASIS. Very good with their clients and understand what is going on on the show floor.

This should get you started.

Lesson learned: Know a show well before committing to it--cost is not always in dollars.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Total Cost of Program

Managing a trade show program of more than one show require broader thinking. Because you are using properties in multiple locations (and for possible different mixes of products and services), you really need to look at cost beyond the cost of each show.

In fact, combining costs across your spectrum of shows allows for economies of scale and, ultimately, savings by sharing. I've always called this approach a Total Cost of Program evaluation.

Start with lining up your shows side by side on the calendar (for the year, January to December or 18- or 24-months out). Be sure to include all the things that contribute to expenses over the year:

  1. Space rental
  2. Exhibit house expenses (pull & prep, load out and in)
  3. Show-specific changes (new graphics)
  4. Show services (electrical, drayage, rentals)
  5. Freight
  6. I&D
  7. Warehousing (for the year)
  8. Supporting contractors
  9. Your travel (if it comes out of your budget)
  10. Repairs and major changes
  11. Capital cost amortization

Total things by row and column with a grand total at the bottom right (if you use an Excel spreadsheet like I do). That grand total is you total cost of program.

Now you can divide this by account numbers or departments or charge off to partners. Or, when reality sets in, find ways to combine shows or services, cut deals on multiple functions with your vendors or other cost cutting measure.

If you want a copy of the spreadsheet I use or have otehr comments, please leave a note in the comments space below and I'll get one to you.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Classifying leads

I know I dwell on this, but let's talk about leads. Gathering leads is one of the primary reasons we are at shows--we are there to itneract with suspects, prospects and clients and maybe find a few new ones in the process. So, let's talk about one way to classify leads.

Whether you are collecting business cards or swiping mag-striped attendee badges, you need to pay attention to and classify (separate) your gathered leads. The most straight-forward way I've used over the years is to call them as you see them as they are collected. That is, instruct your staff to mark the lead sheets with one of these codes:

  1. Hot leads are those that need immediate attention (usually before or at the end of the day). They want to make a buying decision now. Mark them with an "A" or "1" or as "Hot".
  2. Medium or warm leads are those that need to be dealt with in the next few days. They probably want to learn more or see a sales rep. Mark them with a "B" or "2" or as "Warm".
  3. Cool or cold leads are the least of your worries. However, don't ignore them. Usually they are the people who stop by your booth and want literature or to just say hello. Mark them "C", "3" or "Cold" and add them to the data base for later action.
Take some action with your leads at the end of each day. Collect them and have someone in charge of the process take the action. Turn your leads into sales. There are whole books and seminars written about turning leads into sales. One of the first steps is collecting them at the show and putting them into your sales process.

Don't forget this is part of the ROI discussion. But we'll save that for another time.

Lesson learned: diligently collect and process your show leads. Don't leave them behind, lose them or forget about the.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The small stuff: staging freight

From time to time there are small, detail items that help save us time, money, effort or all three. One of those small things we should sweat is staging freight.

If you arrive at show site before your work starts and before your freight is unloaded, you have a great opportunity to stage your crates and your shipment. By placing the crates and goods around your space before you start set up, you'll be putting hings where they can be unloaded with the most efficiency. Be sure to think about:

  • Your detailed manifest and floor plan
  • Where the no-freight aisles are
  • Where your electrical and internet connections will surface in the booth

By having the manifest, you will know what crate (by number) has which items (walls, headers, workstations). Couple this list with your floor plan and you'll know where to place them so the I&D team can move things with the least effort. Make sure you know which way doors open and swing.

Don't put things in no-freight aisles. You'll just end up moving them.

Knowing where electrical and internet terminate in your booth will make rolling out the pad and carpet that much more efficient. Bring a market and tape measure and work with your lead person and electrician to make sure it is clear where things are.

Lesson learned: plan ahead to save your head.


Saying goodbye--leaving a vendor relationship

It happens. The trade show supplier you worked with for so long has changed--maybe they have new owners or a new account executive. Perhaps their pricing policies have changed or they don't understand your new business strategy. Whatever the reason, you've chosen to move on.

As with any relationship, a business divorce doesn't have to be ugly or bitter. Actually, it can work out quite nicely, if done professionally and clearly. Consider these items when you've finally decided to move on:

  1. Move quickly.
  2. Make your intentions known in writing.
  3. Depart with dignity.

By moving quickly, you save both you and the exhibit company you are leaving time and money. Don't waste their time and be fair in how you tell them. Moving your goods when most of them are at a show seems to be the most efficient--the goods don't have to go back into their warehouse just to turn around and go back out. This reduces handling and shipping costs.

Write a clear communication--preferably a letter sent registered or via e-mail and fax (or all three). Describe in detail what you are going to do, when and what you expect in return. Be prepared not to receive any of your properties without having paid your final bill. Be sure and ask for not just your trade show booth and crates, but all that is yours--product, computer, graphics, set-up drawings, electronic files. Don't leave empty handed (I have an example letter should anyone want or need one). Anything you bought and paid for belongs to your company.

Depart with dignity. Be classy--in the trade show business as in most other close-knit communities--you never know who you will work with or for in the future. Remember the old saw--be careful to look because you may be standing on the bridge you are burning.

Lesson learned: be classy, clear but covet what belongs to your company.


Sunday, July 13, 2008


Where do you keep your exhibit when it isn't being used? Have you budgeted for the cost to store and handle your booth between shows?

Most of us overlook this less-than-trivial expense when planning our total cost of program budget. No matter the size of your booth (or booths) you need to consider where it's going to live when it isn't either on the road or at a show. You can store you exhibit in one of several places:

  1. An exhibit company
  2. Your own warehouse or office
  3. Another third party
A really good choice is an exhibit company in that they know and understand exhibits. However, this will be the most expensive as they will charge you not only to store the booth and other things, but they will charge you every time your goods are touched (either to ship in or out or inspect and repair).

If you choose to use your own office or warehouse, make sure you have adequate space or a way to handle it. If you use the company warehouse, will the warehouse manager charge your internal budget to store it? Do you need a forklift or a specialist to handle it? Do they understand you need access to it at anytime and do they know how to handle it so it isn't harmed?

If you have a third party who can help you (printer, trucker, I&D company, premium supplier), do they understand the same perimeters--access, handling, care? What will they charge you and how much?

You need to consider the following when choosing a place:

  1. How it will be stored
  2. The cost to store
  3. How it will be handled and cared for
How and where your goods will be stored is important in that humidity, heat, cold and security play a role in how long your exhibit will last. Do you have your own area in the storage facility? Do you have access?

The cost to store takes on many forms: Are you chaged by the square or cubic foot or the "rack". Are you paying for more than the physical space your booth occupies? Are you charged for in and out as well as other types of handling?

Handling and care encompasses who and how your goods will be touched. Do you have an assigned warehouseman or person? Is inspection and periodic repair something the storage place can help you with?

Lesson learned: Choose how, where and with who you store your booth carefully as it can hit your budget in a large way without proper planning.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Live and in person

Let's talk about trade shows live and in person. Remember, this medium is all about face-to-face interaction, so I'm going to practice what I preach.

I'm on the program at the AAF (American Advertising Federation) District 10 Summer Leadership Conference this fall. The event runs September 18-20, 2008, in Abilene, Texas.

In the two sessions I'll cover making the most of face-to-face selling with effective trade shows. It's a chance for those not familiar with trade shows to be exposed to this important medium. Overall, we'll build our discussion around:

  1. Strategy
  2. Planning
  3. Measurement
Within that framework, we'll talk about having continuity within your whole mix, but to pay special attention to shows, the only medium that really touches the customer. We'll also talk about budget basics, staffing and show examples of effective exhibits. It will be fun and interactive and, most importantly, live.

For more information on the conference, please visit or contact Callie Morris at Zachry Associates, 325-677-1342, x120, or

Join us. Or, if you can't, read about it in this space.


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Patience, Persistence and Passion

Over the past few weeks I've been in several situations that all lend themselves to human interaction. And while they are very divergent activities (a wedding, a fishing trip and a meeting with my management), several themes rang true. These same themes lend themselves to face-to-face marketing and trade shows.

  1. Patience.
  2. Persistence.
  3. Passion.
A wedding is the ultimate event when it comes to planning. There is every detail to attend to on a schedule rivaling a space shuttle launch. And let's not talk about budget. Everyone involved had to be patient, there was a persistence in making sure we all followed through with our respective roles and the passion with which it was all orchestrated goes without saying.

When our company's management came to town for an annual review, the same attributes were present: we had been persistent in meeting our goals, they had been patient with us in meeting them (and reporting them) and it was evident we had a pasion for the work we were doing for the company.

The fishing trip was the ultimate example, however: no one can sit in a boat waiting for a fish and braving the elements without being patient, persisting despite the bugs and rain and they sure must have passion for the sport.

I know this more of a "think piece" than usual, but I didn't want the lesson lost on us in the trade show industry:

  1. We must be patient with our managers as well as our customers.
  2. We must be persistent in promoting our view that trade shows are integral to the business cause of the company.
  3. We must continue to have a passion for the work that we do.


Monday, June 16, 2008


Drayage....even if you haven't heard the word before, it seems a bit ominous by it's sound.

Drayage, or material handling, is the cost the general contractor of a trade show charges exhibitors to move goods from the dock to the exhibit space on the show floor. Charged by the hundred weight (CWT), it is a fee that grows as the weight and size of your exhibit grows.

To calculate CWT, take the total weight of your shipment and divide by 100. Multiply that number by the rate. For example, 4,200 pounds of a shipment equals 42 CWT. At a rate of $40/CWT, that works out to $1,680. Be aware that there are minimums, so that even the smallest FedEx box dropped at your booth counts as a shipment and will be charged. Note that there are different rates for show-site deliveries versus advanced warehouse shipments and crated versus skidded shipments.

If you are a company growing from a small, in-line portable exhibit (say, in a 10x10) to a 20x20 or larger, you need to be aware of these charges. If you are handling it for your company, be sure you understand the material handling form in your show packet and can describe your incoming shipments on those forms.

If your exhibit company is handling this for you, be sure and have them disclose the cost to you prior to the show, so that there are no surprises when the final bill comes and/or you can plan your pre-show budget appropriately.

Even better, if you are new to using a custom exhibit, have your exhibit company do a "total cost of program" estimate for all of your shows for the year so that you realize what the increased expense will be. Be sure and go through this exercise when you are building a new booth as it may impact how many and at what size you do shows.

Lesson learned: be wary and aware of the Drayage Monster.


Monday, June 9, 2008

Daily rates

It's up for discussion: how much should you pay (or be charged) to have someone as an on-site supervisor for a trade show?

This might be a specialized situation, but what I'm talking about is those cases where a company or program doesn't have a dedicated trade show manager or has a show conflict where you need a second pair of arms and legs to make sure things go well on set up, during the show and at the tear down.

Most freelancers or show houses charge $400 to $1,500 per day for an on-site supervisor, with the typical fee being $600 per day. The on-site supervisor does three things:

1. Supervises the labor for installation of the exhibit and management (on-site) of all of the service orders.
2. Manages the staff and company employees, helps manage the lead process and collects bills on site.
3. Is the go-to person when there are issues that have to be dealt with in real time at the show.

This is a lot to ask of anybody. Whether they are a freelancer or an employee of an exhibit company or other agency, here's why you are paying the fee:

1. For their expertise. Chances are they know your company, the people and your products and things will go smoother when you have this dedicated person on the floor with the staff.
2. You are taking them away from other work. Hey, they are out of circulation with other clients or projects. They belong to you for whatever days you have contracted for.
3. You are buying an insurance policy. When they are there, they are yours, it's their job, their only job. If something goes wrong, they can be there to fix it. But chances are, they have already solved it before you notice it.

Lesson learned: don't be afraid to pay for solid, knowledgeable talent and be sure to use them to the fullest extent.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Leads--gathering and otherwise

The single biggest challenge I have ever encountered with shows (on whatever scale) is how to collect leads and what to do with them after you've collected them. The problem seems to start with the simple act of collecting them. There are three steps:

1. Collecting them.
2. Processing them.
3. Taking action with them.

Collecting. Whether you have a sophisticated electronic system or you just collect business cards in a fish bowl, you need to record who visited your booth. Take a step up to a form (providing a stapler and pen to your staffers) and you can add when they stopped by and the visitor's specific requirements of product and service. If you do it electroncially, consider printing out the form and collecting notes on the printout to go with the end-result electronic spreadsheet.

Processing. At the end of each day of the show, do some evaluation of each lead. Categorize them by importance--is the lead hot, medium or cool? Or do they require action now or can you hold them off with a brochure or a letter? Should you pass off the leads to the area sales rep tonight or wait until the end of the show? Can you get your telemarketing staff started on the leads before the end of the show?

Taking action. If you have a sales data base or management system (CRM or other; they need to be entered and given to the appropriate sales person or executive to take action. Don't let them go cold: you've put a lot of effort into earning these leads, don't let them go to waste. Implement!

Lesson learned: collect, evaluate and take action. Rinse and repeat as necessary.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Show evaluation: walking a show

The best way to evaluate a potential addition to your show schedule is to actually visit the show. Whether you have to buy an airline ticket and plan a trip or park near your local exhibit hall when the show comes to your town, it will payment immense dividends for you to walk teh floor of a show.

To help you judge the show, you will ahve already done your homework on it:

1. Is it in your market?
2. Do your customers or prospects attend and visit the show floor?
3. Do your competitors or partners attend?

You can make up a simple scorecard to judge the show. And always make notes for later evaluation. Once you have these data and done the other research you require (we'll cover the whole judging process in another entry), you're ready to hit the floor. Get a badge and a good pair of walking shows and a stack of cards--we're going to a show!

1. Where does the traffic go when you enter the hall?
2. Where and who are the big players on the floor?
3. What is working to engage visitors on the show floor and who is doing it?

Traffic. Most North Americans enter a hall and go right. There any number of hall traffic patterns, but this seems to be common. However, you may have those who come in, go left and circle the hall, aisle by aisle, like a grocery store shopper. Pay attention to who is going where. Do the corner booths get attention? How well are the islands attracting traffic? What's going on in the back of the hall? Where are visitors "pooling" or congregating?

Big players and prominent booths. When you first walk in the front door, who is there? How big is their booth? Do they use a hanging sign? Which way do their demos face? How is there staff deployed? Are there some big players at the back or sides of the hall?

Engagement. What are exhibitors doing to engage visitors? Is it staff deployment, booth demos on the aisle or a specific giveaway? Are there any live presentations? Which exhibitors used direct mail to get you to their booth (you'll know this if you're preregistered for the show)?

Lesson learned: keep your eyes and ears open as you walk; seeing is believing.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Choosing an exhibit house

I was reminded of this process and experience recently when a business acquaintance told me he had to make some changes to his program. Whether it's cost-, geography- or personality-driven, sometimes a change has to be made.

Moving your exhibit properties is a big deal--or not Others in the industry have written exhaustively (and well) about this topic, among them Candy Adams and others on the staff of Exhibitor Magazine. This not meant to be an end-all or be-all, rather a starting place. Remember these three points when considering a new exhibit company:

1. Do you like them?
2. Are they convenient?
3. Can they do what you ask?

Do you like them? My chamber of commerce friends all live by the axiom, "people do business with people they like". It's true. If you don't want to meet the account executive or any of teh staff, why bother? That interpersonal relationship will drive just about everything else. It's like everything else in life: it's all about timing and chemistry. This also includes do you like the quality and type of their work.

Are they convenient? This doesn't necessarily mean that they have to be around the corner, but access is important. When I sold exhibits, one of the biggest obstacles to engaging a new client was where you were located in relation to where their program was managed. However, access and convenience can also mean where your properties are in relation to where you major shows are, the cost of storage and transportation in Texas versus California versus New Jersey, or the proximity of other vendors (graphics, van lines) to the main location. It also means do they have FTP sites, can you see photos of your properties or manage them from on-line, and other access measures.

Can they do what you ask? If you need a rental property at the last minute in a city you're not familiar with, can they come through? How many passes of a graphic revision does it take to get to production ready? Do they understand your properties well enough that if you call and ask about the "graphic that fits into the light box of the 20x20 we used at the NACS show" they will know which graphic you are talking about? Are they consistent about delivering what you ask regularly, on time and within your budget parameters? Do they ask and then confirm what it is you want before doing it and then sending you a bill anyway? This really goes back to point one.

If you do decide to change exhibit companies, always, always do it with professionalism and class. Don't burn the bridge because you never know when you will encounter these folks again. Be sure to settle up your bills, ask for and get what is yours and make a clean break.

Lesson learned: doing business with people you respect and like for a cost you can afford will always result in the product you need and want.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Using literature effectively at a show

It never fails. The client wants to bring all of the brochures and collateral the company has on its shelves to a show. While the printed word in a 2-D form is a great supplement to an effective trade show, it can also be a distraction or a detriment. Three things come to mind when literature becomes involved with a trade show:

1. Handing literature to a client says "goodbye."
2. Extra, precious resources (money) is spent on shipping literature.
3. Literature makes a great follow up mailing after the show.

Saying goodbye. When a staffer hands a brochure to a visitor, it usually means the visitor has asked for it or the staffer is politely saying the conversation is over. It can also be a crutch for your sales staff, particularly those who choose to pass out giveaways and literature, rather than talking to or qualifying visitors to the exhibit.

Shipping. In my experience, I've seen the same literature shipped out that was shipped into the show. Why spend your valuable budget on shipping literature that may go unused?
In addition, it also takes up valuable storage space in the booth during the show.

Following up. Since you want an excuse to contact your tracked and untracked leads after the show, why not use the opportunity to send them that brochure with a promise to call them?

Lesson learned: brochures and your time are valuable. Use them wisely.


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

In praise of rental booths

I admit it, I'm a convert. I always thought you had to own a custom booth to be a big player. But with the pressures of financial performance a daily reality, having a quality image on the show floor has to be rethought. Enter the rental custom booth.

There are three reasons I like this concept:
1. I can just pack my stuff and walk away at the end of the show.
2. The pricing is predictable in that I&D, drayage, and rentals (structure, carpet, pad, funishings, cleaning) are combined in a single contract (that is, if you use the general contractor as I did at this most recent show).
3. It can be repeated and works well for programs of four shows or fewer.

While it ain't the latest in design, for a tech company or a company with a conflict or reduced budget, this can work very well. While it is a compromise in some areas, it is workable and delivers the messages that are critical for the client: those related to product and about how serious they are about cost containment.

Lesson Learned: judicious choice of vendor and display can result in immense cost savings and improved ROI.


(thanks to Freeman Decorating and Retalix)

The Booth Staff Meeting

The show is about to start, so it's time to gather the staff for a briefing before the attendees flood onto the show floor. At NACStech, we had a staff of about 12 for the 7 workstations. The meeting was led by the two main sales people for the business unit. We took 15 minutes to brief them on three key topics and take a quick tour of the booth:

1. How to take and record leads.
2. Booth etiquette, rules and expectations.
3. Customers and others to expect in the booth.

A quick tour taking them to each station confirmed who was to demo what product or offering at each station.

How to take and record leads. We emphasized that leads are why we are at the show. We demo'd the lead device, scanning a badge, showing them how to fill out and attach the comment form and where to stow the finished lead. (for the record, the first day yielded 54 contacts, which is actually up by about 30% over last year's show).

Booth etiquette, rules and expectations. No eating, no drinking, smoking, talking on cell phones or congregating needlessly. Engage the customer, deliver the messages you've been coached with, and qualify people before gathering the lead.

Customers and others to expect in the booth. The sales guys gave us a short list of which top customers would be by and what demos they expected to be shown. We also advised the team that press and media should be directed to the VP of Marketing or me.

The first day went well. Looking forward to the second day.

Lesson learned: plan your work and work your plan.


Monday, May 5, 2008

NACStech, the first set up day

I'm at the National Association of Convenience Stores Technical Show (otherwise known as NACStech) this week. The show runs Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center in Grapevine, Texas.

The show participation is down this year (about 100 exhibitors as compared to 125 last year in Nashville) according to the organizer. The show floor is about the same size, but the bigger players (Gilbarco, Pinnacle) have downsized to 20x20s.

Participation is probably down due to FMI (Food Marketing Institute) being held on the same days. Many of the companies at this show also exhibit at FMI, causing some to forsake NCStech for FMI.

Retalix has a 20x30 which is prominent on the floor. The rental booth looks great and focuses more on product and less on the exhibit.

The exhibiting companies at this show cover many categories: pay systems (Abierto Networks), POS software (Retalix, Pinnacle, Veriphone), POS and dispensing hardware (Radiant, Gilbarco, Dresser, Tidal Engineering), kiosks, displays, check recovery to name a few.

More as the days of the show wear on.


Sunday, May 4, 2008

Facing the initial set up at a show

It is always a good thing to show up early to the show floor. You can see if your frieght has arrived, among other things, but basically get the "lay of the land."

Once you get past the usually who-ha of wrist bands and where things are, you get to the booth space to see what awaits you. For example, when I arrived at the space at NACStech at the Gaylord in Grapevine, Texas, I was greeted with a few surprises. Not what I wanted, but not insurmountable.

I specifically had asked when I could arrive to lay down CAT 5 cables for our network BEFORE the carpet was to go down. When arrived at the agreed-upon time, the carpet and pad were already down. No mater, the contractor guys were there and rolled things back. The engineer and I made quick work of getting cables down and labeled. A short conversation with the IT guys and the internet line was installed.

The rented workstations weren't exactly configured the way we wanted them. However, we were able to shuffle graphics and we were back in business. Let's see what tomorrow brings.

Lesson learned: always, always bring your orders to show site and advise your vendors of changes/exceptions as you go.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Arranging freight

Getting the exhibit to the show is one of the last links in the chain, but a critical one: the show has to go on and it can't (effectively) without your goods being at the show.

When arranging a truck or van to pick up and drop off your shipment, remember:
  1. What are the size, shape, weight and number of pieces you are transporting?
  2. When will the be ready to pick up and returned and who is the contact person?
  3. Where are they going and who pays the bill?
Sizes and shapes. A trucker or shipping company/broker needs to know how many pieces and how much each weighs before they can give you a quote or estimate of the cost. You need to differentiate between crates, shrink-wrapped pallets or skids and loose items, like carpet rolls and rolls of pad. Since you have to calculate this anyway for your drayage (material handling) estimate and bill, it's best to know this (or estimate it) as early as possible.

Pick up times and locations. Let the carrier know when they can pick up your shipment (for example, between Noon and 4 on Friday the 2nd). If the show has a "quick facts" page (as Freeman does with their shows), fax it or e-mail it to your carrier's contact well in advance of the ship date. Be sure and designate a contact person on both ends of the shipment and be sure to include phone numbers (preferably cell phone numbers).

Destination. Be sure all pieces in the shipment are labeled clearly. If you are working with a van line, they will supply you with outbound and return labels as well as blank Bills of Lading for the return shipment from the show. Be sure that it is clear to the general contractor at the show who is to be billed for the shipment.

Lesson learned: know your shipment's condition, character and destinations and all will go well. Time is on your side, if you think ahead.


(thanks to my friends at Freeman Decorating and San Diego Mayflower for their input)