Are trade shows a wise investment for your remodeling business?
I’ll admit it right up front. I have a love/hate relationship with exhibiting at trade shows for my remodeling and wholesale supply businesses. Here’s what I love about trade shows.
The ‘goods’ about trade shows
As a ‘people-person’ I love past customers coming to our booth, sharing how they’re enjoying their shower wall panels, or glass block windows or new master closet we designed, supplied and/or installed for them.
I love meeting new prospects, gauging their interest and answering questions about the new waterproof laminated wall panel line we’re importing from Norway. There’s nothing like ‘live market research.’
It’s fun sharing what I’ve learned about our products and services face to face. It’s fun laughing with people you’ve never met. I love it when they sign up for a free design consultation. That’s a pay-dirt moment. As a business owner I think, “Maybe I’ll make a few bucks from the time and energy my team has invested in this show.”
That’s the good news about trade shows from my perspective. Now for the bad.
The ‘bads’ about trade shows
There are times trade shows can be a pain in the rear. I HATE staffing a booth when traffic is dead. While I’m making ‘small-talk’ with a person staffing a neighboring booth (as you can hear a pin drop in the dead aisles) I’m thinking about work piling up at the office. I’m thinking I could be writing another blog post (which creates leads 24/7 with ZERO additional effort from me). I’m thinking I could be spending time with my family. My wife Rose says (and she’s correct – hey I’ve been married for 35 years I’ve learned to know this is true – ha! ha!) I work too much as it is, and a slow trade show isn’t time well spent.
I also find it harder than ever to get people to sign up for a free design consultation. They’ll say, “Just give me your card or brochure. We’ll call you when we’re ready.” I’m thinking to myself, that brochure or card is destined to a place where ‘the sun don’t shine!”
When it’s slow I think about the cost, and even more important, the time my team invested in an attractive display. I know we’re already short-staffed. I hate seeing time wasted at an event where we got a bad return on our money. In my book it’s worse than a bad ad spend. At least with poor performing ad your team doesn’t have the time-sucking effort making (and staffing) a booth.
I’ve often asked myself, “Is there a better way to do shows so my company can improve our return on time and money invested?”
Searching for ideas to make trade shows more effective
So, as a business owner who has been ‘moderately effective’ with trade shows, my goal with this article is to help you (and I) with two things:
- To identify the pros and the cons of doing trade shows for a remodeling business.
- To learn specific tips to use when we do enter shows to get a better return on our money and time.
If I’m going to spend time and money on shows, I darn well want to get a financial return from our efforts (and I want the same for you).
So, I searched out people smarter than me (OK – there’s a few of you out there saying, “Mike, that shouldn’t be hard to do!). I got names/number of remodeling business owners and trade show promotions executives who know what the heck they’re doing. I took notes and have reported what I learned below.
To make it simpler, I’ve organized this post in 3 sections. Here’s a preview of the sections:
- Section I – 9 reasons (some which may surprise you) why you should do trade shows for your remodeling business.
- Section II – 5 reasons you shouldn’t do trade shows for your remodeling business.
- Section III – 7 expert-level tips (and one ½ tip from me) to get the biggest bang for your buck when you do take the plunge and invest in a show.
Section I – 9 Reasons You Should Do Trade Shows for your Remodeling Business
Reason #1 – Having a person to person conversation in an ‘Attention Deficit’ world
For those of you who know me, you know I LOVE digital marketing. However, there’s still no better way to communicate than person to person with your prospective customer. You can see, feel and hear another person’s passion, interest (or disinterest) in your products/services. No ad, or digital lead form can recreate the face to face personal contact you get at a show.
In fact, as Tom Baugh, CEO of Marketplace Events puts it, “We live in a world of massive, pervasive attention deficit. With most everyone increasingly tethered to mobile devises, an engaged face-to-face audience is rare and very valuable.”
Indeed, trade shows provide you an opportunity to have real, live, human to human ‘Face-Time’ no electronic devise can match!
Reason #2 – Conduct live ‘market research’ without a big-company ‘focus-group’ budget
If you’re launching a new product (like I am through our network of nationwide dealers of laminated shower wall panels) you’ll get unfiltered customer feedback at a show. What do people like? What don’t they like? What questions are they asking? Would they use your new product? If so, where?
Reason #3 – Build name recognition and brand awareness
Doesn’t it bug you when the biggest companies in your market win jobs over you when you know you deliver a better-quality finished product at a better price? There are 2 reasons your competitors ‘get away’ with this. First, they’re better known than you (they seem like the safer choice to your prospects) and (2) some owners often don’t know the difference between an ‘A’ quality and a ‘C’ quality job.
Shows give you the opportunity to begin to build big company name recognition.
Reason #4 – You can build a list and email it more than twice
Trade shows can beat the pants off print ads because they give you the opportunity to educate people on your products and services in a personalized (one to one) way. However, when they leave the show, they’re likely to forget 95% of what you said. They’ll stick your pretty brochure in the deep, dark crevasses of a file drawer (if you’re lucky). Basically, you’re forgotten.
In today’s, easy to be forgotten, marketplace you can’t let this happen to you and your business. As Lieutenant Nathan R. Jessup from A Few Good Men would command you,
“You want to stay top of mind. You need to stay top of mind.”
The question becomes, how. As you’ll see in Section III the best companies get email addresses at the show so they can market again, and again and again (all with limited to no cost). This ‘new-age’ marketing approach is critically important in a world where, as a project-based remodeler, you’re desperately trying to stay ‘top of mind’ without draining your budget.
Reason #5 – Get a lead and book an appointment at the same time
Have you gotten leads from the Internet or after- hours voice mail messages and never been able to connect to schedule an appointment?
With trade shows (if you listen to the smart idea from Rob Booher from Booher Remodeling in Indianapolis) you’ll schedule a sales appointment at the same time your prospects are in the booth. Now, that’s sales administrative efficiency at its finest.
Reason #6 – You can ‘stack the booth’ in your favor
When a previous customer who (almost) loves you as much as your Mom, shows up in your booth and start ‘singing your praises,’ they can ‘sell’ your business waaaay better than even your best rep.
Their ‘testimonial’ can convert ‘non-believers’ in no-time-flat you’re the company for their bathroom, kitchen or whole house remodel.
Trade shows can be the conduit for these impromptu interactions which are darn hard to replicate otherwise.
Reason #7 – Connect with suppliers and subcontractors and make your business soar
Just because someone you meet at a show is not a consumer looking to buy your product or remodeling service, doesn’t mean they can’t be a connection which can ‘rock your business world!’
At trade shows you can network to find a new supplier, or a hard-to-get qualified subcontractor or even an industry influencer or blogger to feature your product or service in their next article.
Don’t limit who(m) can help grow your business to only those who are ‘attendees.’
Reason #8 – Prequalify your prospects (and stop dealing with the prospect from ‘H-E-Double-Hockey Sticks’ as your kids used to say)
As Cathy Berthold, Exhibit Sales Consultant for Marketplace Events said to me, “Mike, just because someone expresses an interest in your products or services at your booth (and are trying to prequalify your company) doesn’t mean they’re the right prospect for you.”
This is so true. Maybe the scope of their project is wrong. Maybe you can tell they have unrealistic expectations and a budget which ‘ain’t happenin.’ Maybe you can tell they will be a royal pain in the _______ (fill in your word here).
Trade shows can make your sales process more efficient by weeding out people who don’t fit what you do (or are the type of client you want to do it for).
Reason #9 – You can give them a ‘taste’ of what you’ve got
In college you might have taken a ‘survey course’ where you learned a very little bit about a broad subject. Trade shows are like this survey course. They give you the chance to show a little bit of everything – but not much depth of anything.
This can be a good thing. For example, if you have a design showroom when people are looking at your smaller trade show exhibit, you can suggest they visit the larger display at your offices. The show can be the ‘tasting menu,’ to interest them in an appointment to see the ‘main course’ …your showroom.
Section II – 5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Do Trade Shows for your Remodeling Business
Reason #1 – They’re time-consuming
Time is not only money, time is time – which is in limited supply. If you’re an understaffed remodeler, you know what I’m talking about. You’re barely keeping your head above water. It’s hard to do trade shows when you’re not getting your ‘day-job’ done.
Reason #2 – The show isn’t a self-service 24/7 operation
The beauty of your web site, blog and social media posts and on-line videos is you can get leads while sleeping. Shows are not a 24/7/365-day lead-gen platform. Most exhibitors only create potential returns and future connections during show hours.
Note – in my ‘1/2 tip at the end I’ll give you an idea to get your home show participation a ‘time extension’ like one of my favorite videos games called ‘Hydro-Thunder’ so it actually doesn’t end during show hours. More about this later.
Reason #3 – Your competitors are EVERYWHERE
Turn around the corner and they’re there. Walk down the aisle and they’re there. ‘They’ are your evil competitors (OK – their Mothers wouldn’t agree with you here). Trade shows provide an easy venue for your prospects to ‘shop’ you vs. the guy/gal down the street.
Reason #4 – Event planners and trade show executives don’t control the weather
Ever see that evil white-stuff (for us Midwesterners and East Coast people that would be snow – a dirty word in my book), kill a trade show? Beyond anyone’s control, weather can keep people inside and snuggled in their homes for those all-important home shows in early January and February.
Reason #5 – Your people aren’t jumping for joy (sarcasm intended) staffing the trade show this weekend
You’re practically begging your sales reps, your office staff, your installers and the company dog to staff your trade show display (although the company dog could be the biggest draw to get people into your booth – only kidding…kind of). Even though some will be earning overtime, NO ONE wants to give up their weekends.
Now that you know the ‘goods’ and the ‘bads,’ how can you make trade shows more effective for you?
It’s not hard to come up with the reasons to do (or not to do) trade shows in sections I and II. The key question is what can you do to stack the financial results in your favor when you decide to plunk down your marketing bucks for a show?
In Section III, I’ve provided 7 expert-level tips (and one ½ tip from me) from a street-savvy remodeling professional and an ‘in-the-trenches’ trade show sales executive on how to make the most of your trade show investment.
Section III – 7 Expert-Level Tips (and one ½ tip from me) to get the Biggest Bang for your Remodeling Trade Show Bucks
From Neil Parsons, President of Design Build Planners
Expert Level Tip #1 – Keep your prospects close, and your past customers closer at a trade show!
When I talked to Neil Parsons, he said to me, “Mike, while its nice to meet new potential customers at a trade show, the way to really make an event work for a remodeling business is to ‘stack the booth’ in your favor.” I asked Neil what he meant by that? He said, “Invite past customers who love you to your booth. Then buy them a pretzel or coffee and get them to stay as long as they’d like.”
Neil said, “Then when new prospects come into your booth, your past customers can gush about how much they love the work you’ve done for them in the past.”
I can see how this simple idea can be so powerful. Let your past customers do the ‘bragging for you.’ See new prospects become instantly interested in working with you. What a smart and practical idea.
Expert Level Tip #2 – Use greeters and ‘freebees’ to build your list
After Neil told me about this idea (one I’ve been avoiding for years), it hit me like a ton of bricks that it can be the key for my company getting a better return on trade shows.
You see Neil doesn’t have his company staff ‘out front’ in the booth. He uses friendly greeters. These greeters are like your favorite waiter/waitress in a restaurant. They’re warm, friendly, high-energy outgoing people. Their goal is to get people to sign up for a free prize drawing (maybe a dinner for 2 at a local restaurant).
The greeters provide an entry slip (with an email address and a signature approval to go on the email list) and ask if there is any type of remodeling project the person is considering. Then, if these people have more specific questions, the greeter’s flag down Neil’s team in the booth to give them in-depth advice.
You see, Neil’s company is not worrying (or pushing) for someone to sign up for a ‘free estimate NOW!” In reality, most people are in research mode at shows. What’s he’s doing is getting permission to continue to educate and provide value to these owners. He’ll send content through his email list. This is a low-cost, non-pushy way to build a relationship with a prospect.
Through this strategy he’ll stay electronically top of mind – long after most of the other booth owners have been lost and forgotten with brochures and cards stuck into a file drawer (or the ‘circular file’) where the sun ‘don’t shine anymore.’
Since my company already emails blog articles weekly anyway, this idea could be HUGE for me!
From Cathy Berthold, Exhibit Sales Consultant from Marketplace Events
Expert Level Tip #3 – Use your ‘3 second glance’ wisely
As Cathy said to me, “Mike, you’ve got 3 seconds to make a good first impression and if your booth is bland and boring, you may be finished before you got started.”
Cathy went on to give me 3 cool ideas to make a prospect coming down your aisle stand up (OK – they’re already standing up) …. and take notice of what you’re offering. Here’s a few bits of advice she offered up:
- Idea #1) Make your booth interactive – The booth can become interactive if you’ve got a free wheel for the kids to spin to get a free sucker. Or it can be interactive if you have a ‘live demo’ showing a whiz-bang shower wall panel system being installed (this is an idea I’m going to adopt for our future shows). Or, here’s an example of a booth which demos how to tape and drywall easier with a tool invented by Ron Morton.
- Idea #2) Point out in a problem in their lives! – Many people won’t stop at your booth, unless they think you can help them solve a problem. Cathy suggested a sign which points out the problem. For example, Cathy had an exhibitor with a new product which could save re-mulching year after year. Their sign said, “Are you tired of re-mulching?” In my business, I think we could make a sign which says, “Are you sick and tired of cleaning grout joints?”
- Idea #3) Show something eye-catching – What could you do to get people to stop in their tracks? C. Lee has a solution for clogged toilets and created a display which made it look (at first glance) there was water running all over the floor. While that wouldn’t be fun in real life, it showed the problem they solve for people – visually and effectively.
Expert level tip #4 – Not ready this year, we’ll ‘comp’ for next year’s show!
One of the things I know I hate to hear (but is the harsh, cruel reality) is when people say, “This is not a project we’re looking to do this year. I’ll just take your literature and get back to you (‘er that’s the kiss of death to staying top of mind right there).
One smart idea Cathy came up with was to offer these people comp them tickets for next year’s show. This way you’re doing something nice for them (and you can use the free comp tickets the show promoter gives you for free anyway!). I would also ask permission to email market to them your educational content, so you stay top of mind throughout the year. This is the ultimate ‘soft sell’ with smart content.
Expert level tip #5 – You gotta be real – create a ‘before/after’ display and before/after pics
While sexy finished project studio shots from your manufacturing partners look very sharp, they aren’t real work done in your specific market with your expertise.
Cathy advises to include in your booth a live before and after display or before and after pictures (of actual jobs). You can explain how you created this cool transformation (and even what neighborhoods these jobs are in). While these pictures or displays aren’t as pretty as the studio shots, they scream out ‘we’re capable, we’ve done it and we can do it for you.’
Expert level tip #6 – If your staff isn’t excited to commit, you must acquit
I guess you can call this one the “Johnnie Cochran trade show tip.” I’m sure you and I have dealt with the disgruntled sales rep or installer being ‘stuck’ staffing your trade show booth. They’re the ones with scowls on their face, staring continuously at their phone or sitting in a chair behind a laptop ‘getting work done.’
Bottom line -they don’t want to staff your booth and it doesn’t take a crack detective (or any live living human being strolling down the aisles of the show) to figure this out.
As Cathy told me, “If your people don’t want to staff the show they shouldn’t be there. In these instances, you’re far-better off with friendly people you hire to work the show from outside the company to lead generate.”
If they won’t commit their efforts to grow your business at the show, they shouldn’t be there.
Expert level tip #7 – Promote your event at this event
You’ve signed up for a show which will have hundreds or possibly thousands of people walking the aisles.
However, what you really want is for them to eventually visit your business and focus on your products and services exclusively.’
So, here’s a thoughtful idea Cathy dished up. Why not have an invitation made out for them to attend a demonstration or event at your place after the show? Use this bigger event to promote (and secure attendance) for your event.
Cool idea, hey?
My ‘half-tip’ – Create a ‘trade show’ which stays fired up with ‘digital juice’ long after the show is over
I like to get leads when I’m sleeping. I also like to get leads when I’m NOT staffing a trade show booth. I’d also like to get ‘residual juice’ from my past trade show investment. And it’s cool to know is there’s a way to actually make this happen. Here’s how.
Instead of just ‘doing the trade’ show I’d recommend you blog and ‘social media’ post (the daylights) out of your trade show participation. Write an article (with pictures from the show) about a cool new product you’ve introduced. Get quotes from actual attendees about how unbelievable it is.
Or write an article about ‘trends in the marketplace’ with different products (including your company’s products) which you feature in a blog post. Let the other companies know you’ve featured their products and have them spin this post out to their following (it’s a ‘digital marketing layup’ for them – sharing positive content about their products/services somebody else did the work to create). Here’s one example of this in the image/link below.
When you promote this content (which Michelle our Marketing Manager does to perfection!) you’ll get a trade show which ‘keeps on giving!’
If the idea of blogging blows your mind read the following article, I wrote a few months ago:
Thanks for reading this article to the bottom. Quite frankly, it got longer than I wanted – but I got so many good ideas from others I just had to share.
So, at the beginning I said I had a love/hate relationship with trade shows.
Well after doing the research for this article I think part of my problem is not asking for some of these good ideas from others before doing the years and years of trade shows I’ve already done.
Heading forward here’s 3 things I’m looking to do (and will suggest to my network of nationwide bathroom wall panel dealers they consider as well) to ramp up our ‘trade show game.”
- Use greeters and have a ‘free contest.’ I want more email sign ups, to continue to educate people who are in the research process and this is a great way to get them.
- Make our booth interactive – I’m thinking we should have a wall we partially install so people can watch how easy our wall panels are installed. I’ll only do this during peak show hours on the weekend to keep costs down.
- Invite past customers and buy them coffee or a pretzel – Our success is from these people choosing us. The more I can have them ‘hang out’ in our booth, the more they can share what they’ve loved about us with others.
So, has this article given you any new trade show ideas? Are you ‘for them’ or ‘against them?’ Please comment below or call me to talk trade shows (or wall panels – hey, I need to talk wall panels because that’s one important way I make a living – ha! ha!)
To ‘talk shop’ about digital marketing, blogging, trade shows or bathroom remodeling products or become a shower wall panel dealer with labor-saving tub and bathroom wall panels call 877-668-5888 and ask for Mike (or that wacky dude who writes those articles).
If you’re interested in a speaker about digital marketing at your next event, I’d love to talk to you also. I’m looking forward to getting to know you and helping our businesses grow.
If you’d like to connect with Cathy Berthold at Marketplace Events call 440-248-5729 x101 and with Neil Parsons at Design Build Planners call 732-520-7737.
If you’re convinced home shows are for you, visit www.marketplaceevents.com to see if there is a show near you.
If you’d like to connect on LinkedIn, you’ll find me https://www.linkedin.com/in/mikefoti/
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