I recently got back from the Fancy Food Show in D.C. this past weekend. The Fancy Food Show was originally a trade show for food industry professionals. Now, the show stretches much broader than food and is more greater-grocery in scale (personal care, toiletries, etc.). The show is massive in size with 1000s of booths (I believe this year’s show had ~4,000 booths) ranging from mom and pop relatively new start ups with zero distribution to large manufacturers showing off their new innovation. There are booths from Mexican to Moroccan companies.
As I was walking the show, the majority of booths were small 10 x 15 – most likely local or new companies that shelled out a few thousand dollars for their booth space. For some of these companies, this could have very well have been their first trade show. For others, they could have a number of trade shows under their belt. In either case, I believe that anyone can learn a few useful lessons to make the most of the trade show experience. As a small business owner, trade shows are crucial to achieving initial distribution. You need to remember that when marketing your business, it is not just to consumers but also to customers! Below are a few tips to help you market to potential customers and make the most out of your trade show experiences:
- Rent not just a booth but also a meeting room. In trade shows, you have category buyers from large retailers browsing the floor for innovation that will deliver incrementality to the category that these buyers manager. You need a place not just to demo your product and give your 30 second elevator pitch, but also a place where you can give a deeper sell-story with supporting facts, trends, additional product, etc. Rent a meeting room and set up meetings with these buyers as they come to your booth.
- Bring current innovation, hide your work in progress. As always, you want to show the latest and greatest. However, you do not want to give away all of your playbook. Keep your work in progress (or innovation that you are still developing) behind the booth where no one can see. When someone important walks by, set up a separate meeting or take them somewhere to show them the secret innovation. This will not only help you to develop a relationship but to also show these buyers that you are a partner that can help bring innovation into their categories.
- Sell sheets. Always have a 1 page sell sheet per product line that contains an image and description of the SKUs in that line, key selling points, and the specs for the item (UPC, GTIN, Unit Size, Units per case, Case and Pallet dimensions, etc.). This helps a category buyer to get more information on your products and gives them all the info that they need to place an order.
- Business cards. Pretty obvious, but you would be surprised how many people forget to have these available.
- Walk the show and find potential partners. Perhaps you have a new idea, but no way to produce the idea due to a limitation (production, knowledge, scale, etc.). Meet people at the show from other booths that can potentially turn your idea into reality.