Trade Shows: Making Them Work for Your Brand

To some people, trade shows are a necessary evil, while others believe by ignoring them it will make them go away. The reality is that trade shows are not going away. Just the opposite is occurring right in front of our eyes: They are becoming more important.

Because there are fewer of them, they have a higher value. Face-to-face is always going to be the best way to build relationships and sell products or services, and so trade shows will always be a part of our business.

The question really is, Are you and your company "all in" on trade shows or half-baked? Do you go through the motions? Are you there just to show others that you are there, or are you there to promote, sell, and get business--but just have not seen the results? If the latter is you, then let's talk.

Start with your goal from the show. In order to make an investment, you need to have a goal for how much you want to sell. Obviously funds are limited, unless you are Microsoft, so based on what you are investing in flights, booth space, people, meals, etc., you then should have a goal on how much revenue you need to bring in to break even, and of course make money. Doing a show without a goal is the first mistake a lot of companies make.

Next are the preparations to succeed at the show. Who is in charge? Someone must be responsible for choosing who attends, where you stay, having a pre-meeting, and putting organization to the whole process. How does your booth look? What do you want to get across to the visitors? How will your presenters dress?

Obviously I am biased, but all signs and apparel should be updated at Signarama and EmbroidMe!

Now that I have gotten my plug in, back to the trade show. Do you "work" the show, or are you there babysitting it? No in the booth. No chairs in the booth. You need to be there ready to work. You need to have nice collateral material, and answers to questions from prospects. Never badmouth competition, it will only come back to haunt you. Follow the laws within the franchising community. Don't be an "information dump" to all the visitors. People can take in only so much on a trade show floor. Positively and professionally represent your company.

After the show, follow-up is key, and having a clear next step for your visitors is also. Do you want them to go to your website? Read your brochure? Fill out an application? Visit a franchisee? Come in for a meeting? Attend a webinar? Whatever you deem your next step should be is what you are promoting at the show.

At a recent show, one of the exhibitors was complaining to me about the attendance. Now this was an owner of a franchise company, and he was very negative. It was in front of his employees, which made me uncomfortable. I had just come from our booth meeting where our director of sales was saying this was one of the best shows we have been at in years! Same show, in fact same aisle of the show. Why such a totally different opinion of the show? Maybe they should not have been at the show in the first place? The buyer for that brand needed more than $250,000 as a down payment, and a huge net worth. Sounds like finding a needle in a haystack! They were set up for failure from the start and accomplished it!

We all need to be very careful on how we spend our money, and that also goes to choosing the right shows. For us, the IFE shows of Miami, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles are very important. For some of our brands, trade shows are not the best way to build, but somewhere along the road they all end up at a show.

Whether it's an industry show, franchise show, or local Chamber of Commerce show, shows have been, and will continue to be, an important part of our diverse sales and marketing approach in 2011. United Franchise Group is positioned to have a great 2011, and shows will be a part of that success. Not the biggest part anymore, but an important part. One of the best ways to target an area, and meet people face to face.

Trade shows work, it's people that don't sometimes. Attitudes will have a lot to do with success. Look forward to seeing you out there, Happy New Year, and to your future success at shows!

Ray Titus is president of United Franchise Group, a $500 million company with approximately 1,400 franchise locations in 50 countries. The company's brands include Signarama, EmbroidMe, Billboard Connection, FranchiseMart/Biz1Brokers, and Plan Ahead Events, a home-based corporate event planning franchise.

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