Show and Sell

Here are the tricks of the trade show circuit and how to expo your way to profits

Gregory Perkins knows how to stand out in a crowd. When 20,000 publishing industry bigwigs jam the aisles of Chicago’s McCormick Center for Book Expo America, Perkins is on hand exhibiting his line of American American greeting cards, calendars and pocket planners. “I’m there to hook a big fish,” he says. And he has the perfect bait. Perkins highlights his product line using a 10-ft.-tall display, complete with bright lights and bold, colorful graphics. “People can see us from three rows over. It really pulls them into our booth,” says the 33-year-old owner of Sacramento, California-based Magic Image. “I do about a dozen trade shows a year. They account for the majority of our sales.” The seven-year-old company earns a half-million dollars annually.

At last year’s expo, Perkins reeled in his big fish. Target Stores agreed to distribute his African American art calendars in stores nationwide, a deal worth $30,000 in sales.

According to The Power of Exhibition II, a study conducted by Deloitte & Touche and published by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, trade shows are more effective in achieving sales and marketing objectives than direct mail, telemarketing and other sales strategies, which may explain why companies spend $16.5 billion each year on exhibits. But to ensure that your money is well spent, you first have to become trade show savvy, like Perkins.

While trade shows can generate new sales and bring you face-to -face with valuable business contacts, you can generate just the opposite effect with a single mistake–for instance, selecting the wrong show to display your product. The more research you do before venturing into this venue, the better your chances for success.

YOUR CHOICE OF SHOWS
Trade shows are normally grouped by industry, market or product. They range in size, draw and cost, and can be either highly specialized or general in nature. Some shows can bring you together with large corporate buyers, while others enable you to sell directly to consumers or other small businesses. Your task is to find the show that offers the right mix of audience or market, location, industry and price.

For example, expositions are mounted each year by the NAACP, National Urban League and other major organizations. These can be good places to get your feet wet if you want to reach an African American audience and showcase your product or service to conference guests and speakers from major corporations.

There’s even a venue for small, black-owned companies that seek to sell African American-themed products to other black-owned businesses in the U.S. and abroad. Twice a year, the International Black Buyers and Manufacturers Expo and Conference brings 1,000 small businesses together for show and sell in Washington, D.C.

You can also reach black-owned businesses and major mainstream corporations at the Business-to-Business Expo, held during the annual Black Enterprise/NationsBank Entrepreneurs Conference. Ron Riley, marketing manager of Kemi Laboratories, based in Columbia, Maryland, took a booth at the Expo last year in hope of finding people to distribute the company’s professional line of hair and skin care products

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