“If I have a booth, they will come.” Throughout my years of work in the HVAC industry, I have come across many business owners who honestly believe that merely setting up a booth is enough to attract customers at a home and garden show. They couldn’t be more wrong!

The fact is, a successful trade show exhibit requires more than just a booth. The key is taking a new and different approach to exhibiting: one that will provide customers with a memorable experience and will set you apart in a room full of your competitors. This article focuses on six tips to successful trade show exhibiting that are proven to work. Statistical evidence proves that show attendees are searching for your company and are willing to pay more for your products and service, but it takes more than just a folding table.

1. Choose a theme.With a creative theme, your booth will be an attractive oasis among a sea of boring backdrops and white tablecloths. Consider a clean air focus, with everyone dressed up as physicians, ready to diagnose and cure customers’ home air quality issues. Another fun option is a comfort focus, with a tropical themed booth, complete with Hawaiian print shirts, flip-flops, sand, palm trees, and best of all, lounge chairs that allow show attendees to kick back and enjoy themselves.

The bottom line: Get creative! Design a booth that will get attendees to slow down and take a look, giving you the perfect opportunity to interact with them.

2. Dress for success. While it is important that all of your show staffers be professionally dressed, it is equally imperative that your exhibit look professional too. Why are we always tempted to wash the company van and pull it in to our exhibit? (Admit it, you’ve thought about it!) Do you really believe someone will decide to do business with you because they like the company truck? It doesn’t make much sense, does it?

First impressions are important. A professional exhibit creates an image of a company that will be around for a lifetime. Your exhibit should have a professionally made backdrop that highlights the company logo and enables show attendees to determine what you sell within five seconds. People will not take the time to read signs and stories. Nor will they want to read acronyms of associations you are a member of, which they will not recognize or understand anyway. Just be sure to keep it simple and visible from 20 feet away. Give people a reason to stay and visit with you.

3. Less is more.Be careful not to overcrowd your booth with too many staffers and/or every accessory or piece of equipment that you offer. Having too many choices can confuse and overwhelm show attendees, automatically creating a roadblock. Trade shows offer a unique marketing opportunity to attract homeowners to become customers. Keeping things simple, while focusing your emphasis on being new and different, will make your booth the focal point of any trade show.

4. People count.When participating in a home and garden show, choosing who will staff your exhibit is one of the most important decisions you will make. Show attendees come from a variety of backgrounds and your staffers should too. Be sure to have both male and female staffers with outgoing personalities. Instruct staffers to interact with show attendees as they walk the aisles, greeting them with a simple smile and “Hello! Are you both enjoying the show?”

It is also imperative to have at least one technically minded staffer at your booth, to answer any detailed questions that customers may have. Being selective about the people that are in your booth will give you the edge over your competitors.

5. Say it right.When talking with show attendees, you have approximately 12 minutes, before time is no longer on your side. How you use those 12 minutes determines whether show attendees walk away with an appointment, or just walk away.

Discovering a need, while building curiosity, is the key to scheduling an appointment at a trade show. First of all, you will have to overcome the most common question you hear at a trade show: “How much does it cost?” It is important to let potential customers know that, just as a doctor does not diagnose an illness and prescribe medication without first discussing their symptoms, as a comfort system professional, you must first find out what their comfort needs and concerns are before you can recommend a system that will work for them.

Second, it is important to remember that the purpose of a home and garden show is not to close a sale, but rather to build a relationship with attendees and show them that you are a company they can trust, believe in, and rely on for quality service and products.

Third, set yourself apart from other vendors by creating a difference in your approach. For example, avoid asking attendees if they are looking to buy a new air conditioner or furnace. Not only is every other HVAC vendor at the show asking that same question, but it will most likely be met with the response, “No, we’re just looking.” Instead, ask questions in terms that show attendees can understand and that will make it evident you care about them as an individual, and that you truly are concerned with their comfort and air quality needs. This approach enables you to avoid a meaningless conversation that only ends with frustration on both sides.

Fourth and finally, don’t let an opportunity slip by. When a customer tells you that they will think about it and get back to you, what they really mean is that they are confused. Seize that opportunity by slowing down and offering to schedule a no obligation appointment with them to discuss some energy-saving tips and ideas on solving their family’s comfort and/or air quality issues. This will reinforce to the attendee that you are not just looking for a quick sale, and will again differentiate you from all of the other competitors in the room.

6. Free for all?Everyone loves free stuff and you want to advertise your business, so giveaways are a great marketing tool. However, I am constantly asked what types of items should be given away, and who should get them.

First of all, make sure a giveaway is unique and memorable and will stay in front of an attendee year-round. For example, a distinctive magnet featuring your company name, logo, phone number, and website address is a great way to advertise year-round on homeowners’ refrigerators.
Next, be selective about who you give them to. People are creatures of habit. If you are handing out free dynamite with the fuses lit, everyone will take a stick just because it is free. If customers, whether current, past, commercial, or residential, stop by and visit, if you talk with a potential new customer about service or sales, or if an attendee schedules a sales appointment, any of these would be a great time to give a freebie away.

Never place freebies in a bowl or stand at the edge of your booth and do mass handouts! You’d be better off spending your marketing dollars on a big screen television. It won’t bring in anymore business either, but at least you’ll enjoy watching it!

Following these simple, yet essential, tips will get you the results you want and will make your investment in home and garden show exhibiting worthwhile. This article includes just a handful of the many ideas that are shared in my 3.5 hour in-depth seminar on Trade/Home and Garden Show Exhibiting that is specific to the HVAC industry and will make trade show exhibiting an important part of your overall business success.

Publication date:03/09/2009