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When is it time to exhibit at a trade show?

When is it time to exhibit at a trade show?

One of the quickest ways to assess marketability of a new product is to exhibit at a trade show. Exposure to thousands of potential buyers will yield valuable feedback and provide an instant measure of overall interest. In fact, we often advise clients to exhibit at a trade show even if they’re still in prototype stage - since the input gained from buyers and/or shoppers can alter the ultimate development of the product.

Expect to invest between $5,000 and $30,000

Once we start discussing trade shows the obvious first question is: how much will it cost? That’s a little hard to guesstimate since so many factors contribute to the overall expenditure. But generally it’ll cost between five- and thirty-thousand to exhibit at a trade show. You’ll need to factor in the cost of the space, show add-ons (electric, internet, etc.), travel and lodging, necessary marketing tools (displays, brochures, etc.), and of course the cost of staff. It can all add up quickly. But the investment is well worth it in the long run.

Trade shows bring together buyers and like-minded entrepreneurs who will provide instant feedback on your product - wanted or not. If buyers fail to stop by your booth – or do stop, but aren’t interested – that’s a good indicator you’ve got a problem. Likewise, if a competitor – known or unknown – is selling something similar it’s best to learn about it early. And if attendees are browsing and aren’t impressed - this also doesn’t bode well.

Not that it’s all bad even if interest is soft. By talking with those who do stop, even if their opinions are negative, you’ll gain early insight that can be used to improve or alter your product. Criticism from buyers shouldn’t be taken personally - these experienced professionals are telling you what you need to do to entice them to buy and sell your product. So listen carefully and adjust accordingly so that the market and consumers will eventually love your product.

How do you choose the best trade show?

Usually it’s fairly easy to identify key shows that bring together your potential buyers. And if you’re lucky, your relevant show might be one that occurs twice yearly near each coast. But be prepared, some shows occur only once per year at similar times - such as the Toy Fair in New York City. Once you identify your key markets, a few quick internet searches will certainly reveal which shows will be best. Then it’s simply a matter of planning which ones (yes plural) you’ll be attending.

Be prepared to be disappointed initially

Exhibiting at a trade show, especially the first time, rarely translates into instant success. Normally, it will result in a lot of networking and even more follow-up - especially if it’s your first show. Buyers, reps, brokers, and distributors are walking the floor looking for new products and opportunities - but that doesn’t mean they’re carrying checkbooks. So be ready to gather everyone’s contact information so you can follow-up relentlessly. That’s not to say you won’t book sales at the show - though it’s more likely if you’ve done pre-show marketing and/or have an existing “customer base.”

Your first show will probably be awkward.

If it’s your first show, expect it to be a bit awkward. Your pitch may not be fully refined. You might be exhibiting with prototypes. Or your staff might be green. It’s why we usually try to guide clients to smaller regional shows first before hitting the big show circuit - so any kinks can be worked out. Just keep in mind, it’ll get better.

So in conclusion, we’d suggest you start attending shows when you’re only thinking about your product so you get an idea of what to expect and which shows are relevant. Then plan on exhibiting at trade shows as early as possible - perhaps even at the prototype stage - so you get instant feedback on the viability of your product before you spend big on manufacturing. And be prepared to possibly adjust your product when and if necessary. 

Apr 04, 2014
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