Show and Sell

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

to hair salons. “We signed up seven or eight new distributors on the spot,” says Riley.

Exhibiting at trade shows has also helped corporations make transatlantic connections. Just ask Curtis Symonds, executive vice president of affiliates, marketing and sales for BET Holdings Inc.

“At last year’s National Cable TV Association trade show, we began talks with Direct TV of Japan to distribute BET on Jazz in that country,” Symonds says. One year later the two companies struck a distribution deal that will show BET’s cable program to thousands of people in Japan.

Symonds has this advice on working with international distributors at trade shows: “The language barrier is strong, and you may need to prepare by acquiring the services of an interpreter. Also, in the U.S. you can charge one fee to cover the whole marketplace. But you may have to alter your prices when dealing with an overseas company, depending on the value of the U.S. dollar in that country.”

The U.S. Department of Commerce offers the Certified Events Trade Program, which gives U.S. embassy assistance to companies participating in trade shows overseas. (See sidebar, “Useful Info on Expos,” for contact information.)

When you add up the cost of hotel, airfare, freight, booth space, signs and premiums, these shows can run you well into the thousands of dollars. Here are some lessons Perkins and others have learned to make your trade show experience a money maker–not a budget breaker:
Choose the right show. Lusetha Rolle has become savvy about picking the right shows for Cadtech Group Inc., her computer-aided drafting and design firm. The Silver Spring, Maryland-based company creates drawings of mechanical parts for government aircraft and architectural floor plans.

Rolle’s six-year-old company earns $600,000 a year, and several of her clients resulted from contacts made at trade shows. She budgets about $3,000 each year for trade show exhibiting.

“I go to very specific shows where I know the attendees are looking for drafting services or engineering support, rather than general membership shows,” the 38-year-old says. This direct-targeting approach has paid off with major contracts from Northrop Grumman, Baltimore Gas and Electric and Alliant Techsystems.

To ensure a particular show will be profitable for your company, contact the exhibit manager and ask a few pointed questions. Is a heavy volume of foot-traffic expected? Which days are high traffic and which are low? Which major industry buyers can you expect to see? What kind of sales have other vendors made at this show?

Plan ahead. It’s best to hit the trade show floor with a plan of action. Rolle, for example, begins her sales pitch to potential customers long before she gets on the plane.

“I always send letters to companies before the show, letting them know my booth location and how they can reach me at the hotel,” says Rolle. “I know who I want to do business with, and I don’t sit back and hope they approach me. I seek them out.”

The same kind of forethought should go into

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