Make Exhibitions Work for You

Make Exhibitions Work for You


You’re going to have to do some work, you know, that hard stuff that occasionally puts some money in the bank.

You need to have a strategy; something that maximises your business exposure before, during and after the show. Your goal here is to exploit ALL opportunities to generate new business. And believe me, there are plenty, and they don’t all cost money; just some effort on your part.

Know before you go

Preparation for an exhibition starts long before the show opens. Check online – visit some exhibition websites to see what’s on offer.

You can also set up appointments ahead of the show. With SAITEX and AB7, my company Exhibition Management Services – aka EMS- offers a free, online matchmaking service on our website…  no, it’s not an online dating site…  where you can find visitors from your industry or sector and request meetings. These contacts are pre-profiled, and you can pre-select and pre-schedule meetings with them. Remember, SAITEX and AB7 run simultaneously, at the same venue – Gallagher Convention Centre – for three days. That’s plenty of time to see dozens of potential customers.

You will also have to book and pay a deposit on your stand early rather than late – whether it’s a small 3x3m cubicle or a million-buck, custom-built extravaganza. If you wait too long, your masterpiece could end up in a gloomy corner far off the beaten track.

You will need to decorate it and equip it with certain vital items. Spend a bit of money on this; first impressions last. Business cards are a must before anything else. Seriously!

Filling your stand

If you’ve got any cash left over after that, you can hire good furniture for reasonable rates. Potted plants fill bare corners and add a touch of serenity to the vibe. A product display is very effective; people want to see; people want to touch, even taste if possible. Product brochures add a bit more substance to your presence. So do free samples if applicable to your product.

Price lists are optional; you can offer a special show price, but settling on prices comes near the end of a negotiation – price depends on quantities, delivery time, and many other possible factors.

It is useful to attract interest before day one. Look at ways of announcing your participation to existing customers so they visit your stand. Emails with your products, hall and stand number will give you some pre-publicity. Update these during the show, and also after the event.

If you intend to offer specials during the event, make visitors and customers well aware of this. Use signage but make it classy, not handwritten messages on scraps of paper.

The time to shine

Your stand must make a good impression. You must stand out, especially with 800 other exhibitors around… For those of you with bigger budgets, make your stand visually appealing so it immediately catches the attention of people passing by – even if your product is not what they are specifically looking for… a new opportunity might arise from the interaction.

Enhance your display by adding lights, audio-visual presentations, graphics and interactive features. Also, provide visitors with something to sit on, especially if you’re going to be talking to them for a while. There is nothing worse for visitors than standing around after spending all day on their feet.

Make a good impression; be approachable and personable; not overbearing. Project professionalism, and be part of your corporate identity. Make sure all your business stationery is up-to-date, consistent and accurate. If you have staff or casuals, ensure they are appropriately dressed, or better, wearing your company’s branded clothing.

Perhaps the most important item on your show stand is an order book and, if possible, POS pay station. Many visitors will buy your goods there and then – be prepared. If possible, give visitors something to take home – a freebie – make sure it’s branded.

Keep a record of visitors that take a real interest in your business. Ask for business cards. Have a pen and notebook handy for visitors to write down their contact details. This will enable you to engage them later.

The show’s not over

Follow up, follow up, FOLLOW UP with visitors! Don’t let time pass. They will quickly forget your business, or go with someone else who beat you to it. Be proactive!

P.S. SAITEX and AB7 take place from 15 to 17 July 2012 at Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand. If you’re not an exhibitor, at least visit these shows. You never know what you’ll find or who you’ll meet there!

John Thomson
Trade show guru John Thomson established Exhibition Management Services nearly 30 years ago and has pioneered the development of trade exhibitions in African countries. Born in Malaysia and schooled in Britain, Thomson has travelled to over 85 countries and organised over 200 events in Africa. He is the longest-practising practitioner in the exhibition industry in South Africa.