Despite repeated rumors of their decline, industry trade shows are alive and well. Since 2008, the $100 billion trade show industry has been growing nearly 3% over the past 18 months. Beyond the obvious networking, learning, and sales opportunities, trade shows can also be an excellent place to launch a new company or product. Here are some tips on how entrepreneurs can identify the right shows to attend and get the most out of them.
During the financial crisis many people predicted that professional conventions and industry trade shows would become obsolete, replaced by videoconferencing and Web events. Has that happened?
The Internet is not doing anything at all to displace face-to-face events. In fact, demand for face-to-face is growing as a result of the Internet facilitating transactions and opportunities, and extending the trade show’s reach before and after it occurs. People will always have the need to explore, travel, and meet others in person.
Have trade shows recovered from the financial crisis and recession?
You can’t really say how the industry is doing as a whole because you have to look at specific industries within the exhibition space.
Look at the energy space, especially alternative energy like wind and solar, and they are drawing 20,000 to 30,000 attendees at shows that are not even five years old. We measure metrics across 14 different industry sectors and we track 10,000 events in the U.S., including 7,000 professional events and 3,000 public events that draw between 20 and 30 million consumers annually. We are forecasting overall growth of 2.9 percent this year and 3 percent in 2013.
What do you tell would-be entrepreneurs about the best way to find a trade show and get the most out of attending?
It’s important to set objectives first. Too many people go to trade shows without knowing what they want to get out of them, and the results they achieve are disappointing. It is easy to find online directories that list upcoming events by date, by industry, by show type, by region, and other specifics.
Next, find out who the exhibitors are, look at the floor plan online, and put together a daily agenda for which exhibitors you want to talk to and when. There can be hundreds of exhibits at big shows, so you don’t want to run around helter-skelter trying to find booths. The real benefit is that you have a very efficient platform that aggregates all these people with similar interests under one roof, and they typically have the same broad objectives as the attendees. So you don’t have to fly around the country talking to 15 or 20 different companies about carrying their products or selling them yours.
Can you give some tips for small businesses that are considering exhibiting?
The exhibition is an excellent platform to launch a new business. Especially for small and medium-size enterprises, they are an enormously efficient way to gain market entry. With an established business, first decide what you want to achieve with your marketing budget for the year and what you’re going to spend on trade shows vs. other advertising. Again, set objectives and find events where you can talk to buyers who will help you achieve those objectives.
Calculate how much space you’ll need and how much staff you need to take based on how many buyers you want to touch over how many days. Get the attendee demographics and contacts from the show organizer and do pre-show promotions three months ahead of time, instead of just getting a big space and expecting the right people to magically come by.
After the show, thank them for meeting you, extend any discounts or promos you offered during the show for an additional 10 days, and let them know where they can reach you if they’re interested.
How much does all this cost?
Many trade shows are free, but they’re open only to qualified professionals. For those that charge admission, most are well under $500. Of course you have to factor in travel, accommodations, and time away from work, but you shouldn’t think of it as an expense but an investment in your business.