I’ll Meet You at the Trade Show

I’ve attended a fair share of trade shows in my life, as both an attendee and exhibitor, and I’m not sure which role brought the most satisfaction. Like so much of business wisdom, I learned considerably more about trade shows from my experience than any course or weekend seminar.

Trade shows are part of the selling industry whose business model operates like any other. They provide a venue to facilitate the sale of products to special interest groups. The urban shopping mall does the same thing– without the restrictive schedule.

It’s a great idea actually. Instead of consumers toing and froing from supplier to supplier searching for products or services, they’re corralled in one place along with the suppliers. Both parties enter the arena with their own strategy on how to get what they want. All the rules of selling are applicable. Seldom do participants walk away satisfied.

For exhibitors, participating in a trade show is a substantial investment. The cost of renting the booth space is only the first cheque. What to put in it, how to get it there and how to set it apart from the other exhibitors are prime considerations. And then there’s the most important consideration: who will man the booth?

After-show surveys of trade show exhibitors would strongly suggest that most companies are ill prepared when it comes time to strutting their stuff in this environment. Planning for the show is often left to the last minute, resulting in the deadline scramble to put it all together. While the excitement is high – you’re on stage after all – there is little thought or understanding given to the psychology of how attendees respond to the stimuli of hundreds – and in some cases thousands – of exhibitors pumped to sell.

Attending a trade show, on the other hand, is a minor investment. Not unlike a hectic Saturday afternoon at the mall, participants are free to shop, sample the goods and generally be entertained. The popularity of consumer trade shows is a prime example of how effective this business tool can be. But even in an atmosphere where consumers are driven to spend, the intensity of crowds, the barrage of information and the nonstop activity quickly dull the senses. Attendees succumb to stimulus overload and move glossy-eyed through aisle and aisle of stuff that increasingly looks the same.

Business-to-business trade shows have another dimension. While selling is still the key ingredient, networking and building connections with new markets and clients is of prime importance. Any substantial business –to-business selling starts with a relationship, so the value of bringing industry peers and suppliers under one roof affords an opportunity to facilitate that process.

Business-to-business trade shows are more, well, business-like. Exhibitors are selling to an established market – their industry peers – and are much more aware of the trends and health of their target market. Attendees come armed with background research regarding their specific needs and a trade show offers an opportunity to comparison shop or check out other options. And most importantly, business professionals understand that networking is still the best route to long-term sales success. Instead of frenzied selling, business trade shows are a more relaxed, social affair.

Graphics Canada 2003 will provide our industry the space to showcase new technologies that offer improved solutions for productivity. But more significantly, the show will give industry professionals an opportunity to talk shop and give some consideration to where the printing industry is heading.