Tradeshow Exhibiting for Dummies
By Jonathan Goodyear
I hope that this column finds you in the midst of enjoying another great Dev Connections conference. I ve attended (and spoken at) many conferences over the past decade or so, but recently I was presented with the challenge of exhibiting at one. Had I known what I was getting into, I might not have made the decision so easily. What I d like to do here is take you through the process of exhibiting at a tradeshow, so that maybe it won t be so challenging when the time comes for you to do the same.
To get you up to speed, about a year ago I decided that running a consulting company wasn t enough punishment for me. So I decided I wanted to launch a product. One thing I knew for sure was that I didn t want it to have anything to do with supporting the software development process. What we came up with was a product that allows restaurants and other merchants to send coupons and promotions to their customers as text messages on their mobile phones. Our unique spin is that we install a device at the merchant s store that allows customers to sign up right at the register, as well as validate coupon codes (vs. the dumb concept of just showing your mobile phone screen to the cashier). We named it PlumReward (http://www.plumreward.com).
We spent the next eight months building the application infrastructure using C#, SQL Server, and the .NET Compact Framework (the device in the store is an HP iPAQ PDA). Once we were happy with the product, it was time to promote it to the world. What better way than at a tradeshow? As it happened, the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Show was coming up in a couple of months, so that seemed like a good place to start. I ve broken down my experience and advice into several categories below.
As the event approaches, the price of a booth increases ... a lot (think airline tickets). What started out as a $2,500 booth quickly jumped to $4,500 before I committed to doing the show and reserving my spot. Don t take everything you are told at face value. Double confirm EVERYTHING. I would also avoid getting a spot near a peninsula booth (unless you are the peninsula), as they generally do not have any height restrictions, meaning you could get swallowed up by your neighbor. Corner booths are nice, and are worth the extra few hundred dollars to get them.
I found out that your spot is exactly that ... a 10 x 10 square of cement flooring surrounded by black drapes. If you want, say, carpet, you have to pay extra for it. I suggest also paying to have a carpet pad, so that it s easier on your feet as you stand at the booth all day. Electricity and Internet are also an extra charge. While you really can t do much about the price of the electricity, I wouldn t pay the exorbitant price for Internet access. Instead, use a wireless Internet card hooked into a router that is fitted for it you ll save hundreds of dollars.
If you re spending all this money, you d better look good doing it. There are literally hundreds of Web sites that sell tradeshow supplies and in my opinion, they are all horrifically overpriced. Some things (like signage) you really can t live without. Instead of getting a huge back display, though, I purchased two 24 x 90 banner stands to sit next to the 6 table the conference provides. I got a 7 banner to hang on the drapes behind the table. On the table, I put a 35 LCD monitor (TIP: you can use one from your house and save the rental fee).
I suggest buying a podium to hold the product you are demonstrating. One thing I will admit is great about tradeshow furniture and other supplies is that it is very lightweight and suitable for travel (because that s what it spends most of its time doing). Most podiums fold right up, and the banners collapse into their stands. Again, order early. Tradeshow supply companies tell you that an item takes 5 to 10 business days to produce. They can make it quicker for you, but you ll have to pay big rush fees .
Don t feel compelled to buy all your tradeshow supplies from one place. It pays to shop around. To keep costs down, you can skip the tradeshow supply Web sites for many booth essentials. I bought two really nice guest chairs at SAMS Club and got a round table from IKEA that actually got quite a few compliments from neighboring exhibitors.
Everybody knows you can t have a tradeshow booth without some swag to give away. Ideally, you want it to be compelling and cheap. Even though I was dealing with a different crowd than the typical tech geek that attends programming conferences, I still went with a toy. I chose purple (our company color) yo-yos. Again, order early, because while the online stores list hundreds of thousands of items, they often don t have everything in stock at all times. I wouldn t pay more than $1 per unit, so you ll probably have to buy 500 or more units to get that price. You also may want to consider giving away one big item to get some attention. A candy dish is also a cheap way to be friendly to passers-by.
You need materials to pass out to interested people who visit your booth at the show, so definitely hire someone to put together something nice for you. Don t try to pretend that you re good at marketing or graphic design. I suggest you have the same graphic designer do all your creative (from logos to banners, swag, and collateral) that way you convey a consistent message.
Save yourself the union labor fees by making sure all the pieces of your booth can be carried by a single person. Near the end of set-up day, look around for abandoned booths. If you act quickly, you can switch to a better location at no additional cost. Don t pay for housekeeping services for your booth it s a waste of money.
A couple of weeks before the show you should put out a press release to tell the media that you ll be there, as well as what s new/great about your company and its products/services. I was able to get a complete press release written for me and released to the media by Send2Press (http://www.send2press.com) for well under $1,000 a steal in my book, given that it led to many other press opportunities. Also, drop off some brochures in the press office at the event.
The show went very well for us, and we got a lot of good leads. But there are some things I will do differently next time:
- I won t offer the big giveaway again. We got a lot more attention, but I think it just reduced our signal-to-noise ratio.
- I ll always have two or more people at the booth, because you may lose some leads if people have to wait.
- I ll bring a cart with me to carry heavy items. Loading and unloading can be a cumbersome process without one.
- I ll buy/reserve everything earlier. I paid a few thousand dollars more than I should have because I missed some key deadlines.
- I ll stock beverages in the booth. You get thirsty talking to all those prospects.
- I ll take better notes about each prospect on the badge scanner print-outs. It s hard to remember what you talked about with each person.
- I ll have the same vendor do all my signage. Even though the same colors were used in the source files, there were slight color variations in my signs because of the different hardware/software that was used to print them.
There you have it. I could go on and on, but I ve got a limited amount of space here. Feel free to drop me an e-mail if you have additional questions. Thanks, and enjoy the show!
Jonathan Goodyear is president of ASPSOFT (http://www.aspsoft.com), an Internet consulting firm based in Orlando, FL. Jonathan is Microsoft Regional Director for Florida, an ASP.NET MVP, a Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD), and co-author of ASP.NET 2.0 MVP Hacks (Wrox). Jonathan also is a contributing editor for asp.netPRO. E-mail him at mailto:[email protected] or through his angryCoder eZine at http://www.angryCoder.com.