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Trade Shows Are Business Benefits If Properly Planned

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Yes I am and I will tell you why. I have been a trade show junkie since I was just a little sales manager. Yep, I am not lying. To me, trade shows are the premier method to be able to see, touch and learn about any and all things in any market you go to a trade show for.

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My trade show experience has been 99 percent automotive aftermarket. and I’ve been attending them since 1980, both domestic and international. The one thing that is always the same at each trade show is the chance to interact with a sales rep in the booth, or to see a machine actually being run through its paces. In some cases, you can actually be hands-on with the machine, tool, or tooling that make the really cool parts and pieces that we need and have in our segment of this automotive aftermarket.

Now, don’t get me wrong…trade shows are not all fun and games. They’re a lot of work for the exhibitors who must arrive several days before the start, spend endless hours setting up, dialing in and testing all of the equipment, and laying out all of the tooling, literature and other marketing displays to present a reason to stop by. You have to make sure your staff is sober, fresh and looking good on opening day. All of this is done behind the scenes, so that everything is looking good, running good and is ready to be seen, heard and involve YOU the customer arriving on opening day.

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I am a big believer on having certain rules in my booth. I do not allow any food to be eaten, or radios playing or any other distractions. I was at a trade show and the booth next to ours had little to no traffic, even though we were slammed busy. I would glance over at the booth only to see that the staff was sitting on chairs reading the local newspaper, eating hotdogs and hamburgers and when a customer did actually step into their booth all they said was, “If you want some brochures they are over there and my business cards are over there on that table.” They never got up to say hello, shake a hand or greet them in any manner at all. I would have fired them on the spot had they worked for me. Later as we were tearing down they said …”what a lousy show” and I know why they had a lousy show…they did not come prepared.

I also expect my people to be on their game to be able to help, inform and hopefully earn available business. I want all of my people to have the “look” and be dressed professionally for the show. I pride myself on bringing very knowledgeable people who are on their game and know their stuff eight ways to Tuesday. I encourage exhibitors to keep their booths fresh and very open for the attendees to be comfortable when they enter. The booth should be open and inviting, and the customer should be able to easily recognize what booth they are in and who they are talking too. That is why I totally encourage the exhibitor to have booth attire that reflects your company’s image as well as be a uniform of pride that your staff can wear. I ensure the 3 “Bs” are reviewed each and every morning as well as right after lunch. The 3 “Bs” are breath, broccoli and boogers. You don’t want any of your staff to (1) have bad breath, or (2) broccoli stuck to their teeth and we certainly don’t want any (3) boogers hanging out of…well you know what I mean.

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I always make it a point to have the latest catalogs and new literature out front where it can easily be picked up by the customers. If possible you can also create “demo” times in your booth by setting up specific times that certain products or machines will be demonstrated. As always bring your best of the best staff with you to these very important trade shows.

I think one of the best things about trade shows is introducing new products to the market. I know I have had some real home runs as well as some severe duds over the years but if you don’t try you can become stagnant by always having the same stuff and look. These trade shows are not cheap and they cost real money to plan and implement. I know the equipment folks have the highest costs due to the weight of the machines they bring for you to see. Trade shows are an investment and done properly they will deliver to you a very satisfied customer.

On the flip side, how do prepare for the trade shows that you attend? Do you just walk each and every aisle to see what is there, or do you have a game plan? I suggest a two-part attack to insure you cover everything you want to see at the trade show you attend. With today’s technology you can preview most trade shows before you even get there by visiting the website and reviewing the exhibitor list. I suggest that you make a list of the “must see” companies, then another list of the “want to see” companies. Then create another list of seminars you want to attend. Once you map all of this out you will have created a roadmap that will save you and your team time by not having to walk the many corridors of booths and fanfare.

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Of course, I know a lot of you just flip a coin to decide if you will turn right and walk each and every aisle or turn left and work each and every aisle. Generally, I make it a point, even as an exhibitor, to walk every aisle as I want to see everything…plus I collect stickers from every booth that has stickers. It is something I have done for more than 30 years and I do have quite the sticker obsession; I mean collection.

I suggest you wear very comfortable shoes, and be sure to take advantage of the many show bags that are available to put the literature and other goodies you will pick up as you migrate the show floor. Eat a good breakfast, and be ready to walk, walk and walk some more as some of these shows can be quite large and they cover a great deal of acreage.

This is also the time to express your satisfaction and say “thank you” to an exhibitor on how well they did what they said they would do after your last purchase. It is also a good time to speak with management if something did not go according to plan when you made a purchase or were not satisfied with the level of service you received. I know for a fact that most companies do a great job in treating their customers with respect as we all need to continue to earn business each and every day.

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Trade shows cost you, the customer money and time to attend so make the most of your experience by having a plan, and also have FUN. ν

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