A trade show is an event
where a group of specialized sellers displays their products to a
group of corresponding buyers over a period of several days.
Hundreds or thousands of potential customers congregate at these
expositions looking for books and other items such as yours. Your
part in this is to create a prominent display that communicates your
message effectively to the largest number of attendees. Reaching
this objective can be as easy as PIE if you Plan what you
will do, Implement your plan and then Evaluate your
Begin your strategic planning by deciding
exactly what it is you want to accomplish. Inexperienced exhibitors
believe it is necessary to sell enough books at each show to cover
their costs of attending. Although sales are important, you will
rarely sell enough books at a show to defray all your expenses.
Orders received should not be your sole criterion for success
because the true benefits of exhibiting accrue after the show is
Your objective for any exposition should be to
initiate contacts and perform other activities that will give you
the best long-term return on your investment. These include
performing market research, discovering new ideas and treads for
future books, continuing your education, networking, socializing,
stimulating publicity, creating national or international
distribution and uncovering opportunities for special sales or
Now that you know what you want to accomplish,
decide which specific shows will help you reach these objectives.
Depending on the books or products you are selling and your target
markets, there are many conventions from which you could choose. Of
course, there is the annual BookExpo America (BEA) which is the
largest of all the book-related exhibitions in the United States.
Or, you might want to exhibit at a show with a more specific
audience such as the Natural Products Expo West, the Gourmet
Products Show, the Premium and Incentives Show or CIROBE (Chicago
International Remainder & Overstock Book Exposition). Visit your
local library for a directory of expositions called Trade Shows
Worldwide (Gale Publications) to find a list of most major shows
as well as their costs, dates and locations.
If you are a relatively small independent
press you could get lost in the crowd at these larger shows. In that
case you may decide to exhibit at one of the smaller, regional book shows. The
Mountains & Plains Booksellers Association, the Southeast
Booksellers Association and the New England Booksellers Association
are only three of the regional associations holding annual
Before you decide to exhibit, attend the show
to see if it will be worthwhile for you. If there is not time to do
so, contact the show management and ask if it attracts the right
audience for your product line. How many people will attend? What is
the cost to exhibit? If you attract 1% of the potential audience,
will it be cost effective for you (keeping in mind the long-term
ROI)? Where will the show be held? Will the show be adequately
promoted among your potential customers?
Prepare a budget
Next, calculate a budget to determine how many
shows you can attend. While the cost of the exhibit space is a large
part of a show's budget, it is not the only expenditure to consider.
You must also estimate transportation and living expenses, the cost
of the display, literature, shipping and promotional costs. Here are
examples of expenses you are likely to incur at the 1999 BEA (April
30 - May 2):
Exhibit Space (Main Floor) $2500 (10. x 10. )
Space in Small Press Section $ 695 (6. x 8. ;
includes carpeting, 2 chairs and 6. table)
Carpeting $ 100
2 chairs, waste baskets $ 60
8. Table $ 110
Display $ 500+
Hotel, meals $ 200 per person, per day
Round-trip transportation Varies
Car Rental/Parking $ 70+ per day
Electricity $ 100+
Booth cleaning $ 65
Shipping to/from the show $ 150+
Giveaways $ 100+
Literature $ 200+
Promotion and publicity $ 500+
There are ways to reduce the cost of the booth
space. You could share a booth with a non-competing company. Or, you
could purchase exhibit space from groups such as PMA, SPAN or from
your distributor. There are also ways to conserve out-of-pocket
expenses. Use frequent-flyer coupons for airfare or contact the
sponsoring association for special rates on airfare, car rentals and
lodging. Stay with friends, relatives or in a room with a kitchen
for preparing your meals.
Now that your strategy and budget are
complete, it is time to begin phase two. Execution of your
trade-show plan occurs at two major times. The first occurs prior to
the exposition, and the second happens during it.
Before the show
Your first step should be to contact the
sponsoring company and request an exhibitor's kit. This has all the
information you need regarding the floor layout, prices and services
available (i.e., electrical, cleaning, etc.). If you are interested
in exhibiting at this year's BEA you can call them at 1 (800)
840-5614 or contact Reed Exhibition Company at
http://aba.reedexpo.com/exhibiting/index.html. Here you will find a
list of current exhibitors, information for potential exhibitors and
advertising, website and sponsorship information.
As early as possible, decide upon the location
of your booth space on the show floor. Generally, you are given a
first, second and third choice for your preferred location. Most
in-line spaces provide ten feet of aisle access and are usually
eight or ten feet deep; but there are also corner, island and
peninsula locations available. Choose a space that is visible from a
high-traffic zone such as an entrance, restaurant or autographing
area. BEA clusters exhibitors by topic. For example, there is a
separate section for children's/educational items, audio/video,
remainders and publisher's supplies & services. BEA also offers
a Small Press Section with smaller, more economical booth space.
Once you know your location you can create
your physical display. Fortunately, you have several options from
which to choose. First, you can build a display to your
specifications or buy a used one. This may be a wise option if you
have many shows in your exhibit schedule. It is also the most
expensive choice, particularly when you consider containers for the
display and shipping costs. Large, bulky exhibits must be shipped
well in advance and may require expensive laborers to install it for
There are also portable exhibits available.
These come as a complete backdrop or in smaller, table-top sizes.
They are generally lightweight and may be checked as luggage on your
flight or shipped in advance to your hotel. These may also be rented
if you anticipate attending one or two shows annually. In any case,
your strategy should revolve around how you will attract the
attention of passers by and lure them into your exhibit.
How to attract attention
It is not necessary to have the biggest,
loudest or flashiest booth at the show to attract attendees. Your
main concern is to have a theme, one that is consistent with your
topic and company image. What is it you want to accomplish? What do
you want to say? To whom? What one impression do you want visitors
to have about your books? Then everything you do should support your
objective so there is no confusion among people passing by as to
what you are selling.
Think of your display as a billboard, vying
for the attention of people walking down the aisle who are not
necessarily looking for what you are promoting. Your exhibit should
have one focal point, one element that will attract attention. Use
graphics and copy to encourage eye movement to your book or product.
For example, at a recent BEA a publisher demonstrated a pop-up children's
book with a mechanical device that kept opening and closing the
book. Show rules may place restrictions on height, noise or distance
from the aisle. Investigate them before you decide upon an
Attracting the attention of potential
customers wandering past your exhibit is a key to success. Plan
demonstrations or events that will make people stop and look. For
example, magicians and celebrities always attract attention. Or,
hold a raffle or conduct a game that awards prizes on the basis of
participation. Sound and motion are typically good at stimulating
awareness. The closer your demonstration is to your theme, the more
likely it will be to contribute to your sales objective.
Your exhibit should be distinctive, creative
and attention-getting. It should also be appropriate, tasteful,
clean, neat and attractive, always projecting a first-class image.
Photographs, signs or other elements used in the display should look
professionally prepared. Hand-printed banners or homemade posters
pinned against a backdrop will make you look unprofessional and will
not attract people passing by.
Conduct pre-show promotion
Begin promoting the fact that you are
exhibiting as soon as you are assigned a booth number (and place
that number on all your communications). Prepare literature
specifically for each group of attendees. For instance, if you are
exhibiting at the American Library Association's annual convention,
your literature should not describe how your book will increase
traffic in a bookstore. It is not necessary to print as many
brochures as there are attendees. About 1% of the people will visit
your exhibit and most of them do not want to carry excess literature
with them. Get their names and addresses so you can send them your
literature after the show.
Also create press kits to leave in the press
room and to hand out at your exhibit. These should include
backgrounders on each author, a fact sheet on every title and any
information making your exhibit newsworthy.
Send out mailings and announcements before the
show inviting your customers and prospects to visit your booth. Let
people know you are exhibiting, where you will be located and why is
it of value to them to seek you out. Also place announcements on
your web page. And several weeks before the event, arrange
appointments to meet with prospects at the show.
You may be traveling a great distance to the
convention, so do not waste your money. Before and after the show
dates, schedule book signings and appointments with prospective
customers or distributor sales people. Arrange media appearances on
local stations and interviews with editors of newspapers and
magazines in the city hosting the trade show.
During the show
If your pre-show promotion was successful, you
should draw at least one percent of the attendees to your exhibit.
But the quickest way to turn these visitors away is to make them
feel unwelcome. Your prospective customers expect knowledgeable
salespeople to staff an exhibit. People working your booth must know
about your titles as well as their authors, prices and discounts. It
will help if they memorize a thirty-second descriptive sound bite
for each title.
Similarly, do not smoke, sit down, talk on the
telephone or read in your booth. Keep breathe mints on hand and use
them regularly. And do not appear overanxious by standing at the
edge of your booth space saying "How are you today?" to every person
who walks by. If you are located midway in the aisle, the people
walking past have heard that question twenty times by the time they
get to you. In fact, do not ask any question that could be answered
with a yes or no. These are usually sentences
beginning in verbs: "Are you a buyer at a bookstore?" or
"Do you sell job-search books in your store?" People will
answer in one word and then walk away. Instead, ask questions that
will get them to stop and answer you. Do this by asking open-ended
questions beginning with who, what, where, when, why or how.
For instance, you could say "What type of books are you looking
for?" This will make someone stop and answer you. Look at their
badge for the city or state in which they reside and use that as a
conversation starter ("Oh, I used to live in Cincinnati. Is XYZ
restaurant still there?").
Badges are usually color coded so you can tell
if the person is an exhibitor, bookstore owner, press member,
visitor or author. But judging the relative importance of a person
(in the context of your objectives) by the color of his or her badge
may be misleading. Many people switch or borrow badges, and you may
neglect a major sales opportunity by ignoring someone with a bogus visitor's
badge in favor of one with a legitimate bookstore-buyer's badge. Be
nice to everyone.
If used properly, a giveaway item may help you
get people to stop and talk with you. It does not have to be big or
elaborate. Novelty items such as key chains, pencils, pads of paper
with your company name and/or book title usually work well. Many
companies offer free services or they make water, coffee or candy
available. Your promotion will be most effective if it is
inexpensive, of interest and value to those in your target market
and related to your theme.
There are other tips to help you reach your
objectives for exhibiting. Work with at least two people at your
booth. This will give each time to rest, walk the show, network,
look for new ideas and perform research. You will talk with many
potential customers during the show, and the likelihood of you
remembering every conversation is not high. Ask people for their
business card, and on each, note the nature of the conversation and
any follow up that is required. Keep snacks, water and fruit at your
booth your refreshment. Attend and network at social events, but do
not "party hearty" Show up alert and energetic each morning, and always
greet people with a smile.
Phase three starts before you leave for home.
Each night, review your daily performance and plan how you can
improve tomorrow. Write thank-you notes and mail them from the show.
Take pictures of people with you at your display and send them a
copy. Also, photograph your exhibit when it is teeming with visitors
and send one to your local newspapers, customers and distributors.
Once the show is over, evaluate your
experience while the information is still fresh in your mind. Should
you exhibit again next year, and if so, what would you change? What
booth locations seemed to get the most traffic? Which displays
seemed to attract the most people? Did you see a large number of
people walking around with one particular giveaway? What was your
cost-per-inquiry and is that acceptable? What new ideas or trends
should you act upon? What new relationships did you make and what
old friendships were rekindled? If you were seeking opportunities
for special sales or foreign rights, were you successful?
Participate in every trade show with a
strategic plan of action. Plan your exhibit carefully, implement
your plan and then evaluate the relative success of your actions.
Decide what you can do to improve next time and then begin the
process all over again. Success is as easy as PIE.