By D.M. Hector
St. Vincent and the Grenadines is in the height of its local trade expo season, with the recently concluded Agri Expo 2019 and the Everything Vincy Expo commencing shortly. It is imperative that participants — particularly micro-enterprises — maximize their returns on the money spent.
Success from a trade expo comes from lots of research and planning. The benefits to be derived from trade show participation, far exceeds that of expo sales. The benefits encompass the development of new business and customer relationships, media exposure, brand development and marketing. Therefore, expo participation must be viewed as an investment to reap long term success.
First, conduct research to determine whether the expo will complement your business goals. The benefits of expo participation can only be had from careful planning; it is not enough to just show up. Here are a few pointers micro-enterprises should consider to be successful:
- Budget — The cost of participation is key in determining your attendance and success. Cost is much more than the booth space. Be as detailed as possible in outlining the time and money that would be needed to carry out the entire production. This must include transportation, set up, flyers, equipment, business cards, samples, etc. If you are unable to meet the real cost of the trade expo, find out what assistance can be provided by the organisers or business support organizations in meeting your financial obligations. Too many micro-businesses struggle to meet their financial obligation due to a lack of realistic planning.
- Booth location and set up— Your booth location is important. However, regardless of location, ensure that you create a high-impact, stand-out booth, not an overcrowded, clustered booth. Your booth must tell a story. Design a visual that depicts your brand and the strength of your product or service. It is all about taking your product to the next level and attracting traffic to your booth. Flyers, colour schemes, layout, labels etc. is essential and should be staged and critiqued before the start of the event.
- Staffing— Get your pitch right! Everyone working at your booth must know about the product and or service. All workers must know what they are selling — product, service and experience. Each worker must be able to confidently and professionally handle the questions thrown at them. Create tags that will answer some of the simple questions such as: price, flavours, materials, services, location etc. Second, work out, as far as possible, a timetable. That is, who would be there at what time. Stay energised. That way, people can get a quality experience every day, of every shift at your booth. A tired and frustrated booth operator will undermine the entire process.
- Create a unique experience— There must be something at your booth to make people remember you. This would require lots of planning and innovation if Plan A does not work or is being utilised by your competitor. Some examples include a photo-frame, special discounts, creative business cards, samples, a visual unit, multimedia display, going live on social media, etc. This is your time to sell and tell your story!
- Generating momentum— It is not enough to just set up at the expo and expect people to come and visit you; you must create the momentum! Every business, no matter how small, should have some social media presence. Use your social media, or onsite business house to generate the momentum about your presence at the expo. You should use the platform to promote your unique experience. It is critical that you invite potential retailers to visit your booth. Further, capitalise on all press, promotion and demonstration activities to speak about your products or services. Liaise with organisers to know, what media houses were invited and their scheduled visit. Do not be afraid to approach the media.
- Document the events at your booth— Be prepared to take pictures, make short videos, have a jar or box for the business cards you may have collected. Carry a diary or create a slip to document the names and information of potential customers, partnerships, suggestions, etc. It is important that you get customers and non-customers to sign up for your mailing list and to follow you on social media. Use the opportunity to engage with visitors and gather information that may boost your business. Some questions you may ask include, “Would you buy this?” “Why not?” “How do you find the pricing of the product?” “What attracts you the most to the product?” “Have you ever heard about us?”
- Find time to visit other booths— If your station is not attracting high traffic, visit one that is. Look at what is creating the attraction, especially if it is your competitor. Always look for ways to form partnerships and network within the event. If you have a complementary product to a neighbour, never be afraid to join forces and create something together. Keep an eye out for other booths, as you may find new and cheaper suppliers, marketing techniques, etc.
- Post expo review —One may do all the preparation before and execute well during the expo, but it is critical to your success that follow-ups with potential leads take place after the expo. Post expo follow-up should not just include customers and business connection but also the event organisers and other business support agencies. Always prioritise your expo leads and contact the most important ones soonest. It is important that you evaluate your experience and note lessons learnt. Focus on what could have been done differently, who bought and inquired about your service or product? Use this information to build a stronger product. Design your endgame strategy prior to attending and decide on what exactly you will be looking for.
These simple pointers are designed to aid micro enterprises in maximizing the long-term benefits of the investment in time, money, energy and resources that goes into preparing for a trade expo.
M.D. Hector is a trade professional. This article is intended only to assist small and micro-enterprises in improving their trade show success.