Make a stand and show off your business

By Natalie Blachford

Natalie Blachford, account manager shares her Top Tips for exhibiting at a hospitality trade show.

The Custard team has been out and about at several hospitality trade shows in the past couple of months, looking after the PR for the UK’s only dedicated pub show PUB16, organising the speaker schedule for Hotelympia’s Hospace Technology Hub and Waste Works theatre stages and seeing what this year’s Casual Dining Show had to offer.

Along the way we’ve been noticing some of the things that make exhibitors at trade shows stand out from the crowd – although not always for the right reasons!

To help anyone preparing for a trade show later in the year, we’ve put together our top tips for attracting the right attention, ensuring maximum lead generation and minimum time wasting.

Do your research

Before you even book a stand make sure the show is right for you. Look for statistics on who has attended in previous years – which sectors are they are from, what positions they hold, how many are decision makers and what percentage have purchasing authority. Also look at which other companies are exhibiting or have exhibited in the past. While you certainly don’t want to be missing out on a show your biggest competitor is going to be at, you also don’t want to be surrounded by so many similar businesses that it’s impossible to stand out.

Location, Location

When you’re booking a stand at a show, make sure you’re choosing a top spot for being noticed. Think about the natural flow of visitors and where will have the highest footfall, as well as what’s nearby and how easily you can be seen. Download a floor plan of the show, or even visit the venue in advance to see what the space is like. Prime spots along or at the end of central walkways may come at a premium, but tucking yourself away in a corner at the back will feel like false economy when passing trade is sparse.

Optimise marketing opportunities

You need to make sure your existing clients and customers, warm prospects and other visitors to the show know that you’re going to be there. Most trade shows will offer opportunities for promotion in the lead-up to the show which you should take advantage of. Make sure your profile on the show’s website is up to date, upload any recent press releases you have and tell the organisers about any new product launches or special offers you’re going to be running at the show so they can include you in their pre-show PR. Send out invitations to your contact to visit you at your stand and join in conversation about the show on social media – the more buzz that’s created beforehand the better the show will be.

Invest in your stand

Trade show exhibitions can be an expensive marketing channel, there’s no doubt about it, but if you’re going to put the money into being there you also need to invest in creating a stand that is attractive, engaging and represents your brand. We’ve seen exhibitors rock up with their products in a backpack and a couple of stickers to go on their backboard and still make sales, but to really be successful a little more preparation, creativity and cash needs to go into it. Not everyone can splash out on a double decker bus or fully operational bar, but good quality vinyl panelling, an eye-catching product display and clear branding can work wonders.

Have the right amount of ‘sell’

It’s really important to strike a balance between overly pushy sales and uninterested in potential customers. Thrusting free samples in the face of everyone who passes or trying to get everyone to sign up to your newsletter or book an appointment is going to be off putting to people who feel under pressure, but equally standing playing on your phone or chatting to your colleagues and not looking up will also lose you potential business. A warm smile to passers-by who look your way is great, followed by a friendly introduction to anyone looking at your stand and the offer of a sample to people who show an interest is enough to get conversation going, which you can convert to a sale later on.

Maximise your presence

Manning a stand isn’t the only way of getting involved at a trade show and organisers are often looking for businesses to contribute in other ways. If you’ve got a great spokesperson with loads of industry knowledge to share, put them forward as a speaker. They’ll have a captive audience they can impress, raising the profile of the business and driving traffic to your stand. You could also think about sponsoring the show, which will guarantee your name is seen on all of the show’s marketing materials, or you could even host a VIP area at the show or a post-show drinks reception to increase your presence. There are always deals to be done, so speak to the organisers and see what opportunities are available.

Don’t forget the data

So you’ve had loads of people visiting your stand, they love your product or service and seem like great prospects. Great! But if you don’t collect their data on the spot, the opportunity is lost and you won’t get it back. Having a badge scanner or collecting business cards is probably the easiest option, but if you can think of a more engaging way to capture data it’ll be even better. Think along the lines of a competition to enter, an interactive quiz to complete or even get creative and set up an Instagram photo booth to tag all your visitors in – the more fun you make it the better you’ll be remembered.

To find out how Custard can help you with your exhibition presence or to work together to identify the best shows for you, please drop our MD, Petra an email.