Maximizing Your Trade Show Dollars

Here's how to get the most out of your investment

When Wanda Thomas introduced her new children’s books two years ago, she chose to market them at a two-day Black Expo event in New York City. Armed with several display banners, books, and a lot of enthusiasm, the CEO of JCW Enterprises Inc., a New York-based children’s book publisher, was optimistic about her potential sales. This was Thomas’ first foray into self-marketing and she was ecstatic to sell around 70 books, netting just under $700 from her efforts. But she had her eye on a bigger prize.

In the ensuing three months, Thomas, whose titles include Beautiful Me and Handsome Me, focused solely on trade shows where she could reach the highest number of people interested in books targeted at African American children. The end result: some 3,000 books that sold for a grand total of $24,000 and standing book orders that totaled $37,800, with each book selling for $8.99 each.

Thomas now does at least 10 trade shows a year, most recently the National Alliance of Black School Educators’ show in November. She pays $1,000 to $3,000 for a 10 X 10 booth and uses display items like banners, banner displays, and book copies to make sales. The books sold at the events, combined with the follow-up calls based on networking at these functions, account for another 7,000 or so in pending book sales. Factoring in those pending book sales, Thomas says sales have doubled over the last year as a result of her involvement with trade shows. She’s projecting sales of $61,800 for the year.

As Thomas discovered, trade shows can be a great resource for meeting new contacts, finding new customers, and discovering new ideas that can draw large numbers of exhibiting companies and trade show attendees who are interested in learning more about a particular product or service. Trade shows can also be expensive, time consuming and–if not done right–disappointing. Small, local shows can charge around $800 to $1,500 for a 10 X 10 booth, and large, national exhibitions can cost $3,000 to $5,000 for the same space, says Susan Friedmann, a trade show coach based in Lake Placid, New York (www.thetradeshowcoach.com). Most shows are centered around a specific industry or topic; serve as a marketplace for products, services, and ideas; and last from a few days to a week.

Friedmann offers the following tips to entrepreneurs:

Avoid a booth near the front of the exposition hall or the rest rooms where patrons aren’t oriented yet or focused on the show.
Opt for a booth to the right. More than 70% of the population is right-dominant and naturally veers to their right when they enter a show, says Friedmann.
Make sure you have access to any amenities you might need, like electricity, and check it the minute you arrive.
Giveaway items related to your business and targeted to the audience you’re trying to reach can be effective reminders of you and your products or services.
Trade each giveaway item for a business card for future potential networking opportunities, but get as much pertinent information

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