Our company has been doing these trade shows for 15 years and attended 15 conventions in the first 8 weeks of 2016. With the encouragement and assistance of many other exhibitors we have produced this short information sheet.
This is designed to make vendors and associations make the most from their relationship. Vendors attend shows to attract new customers and sell products / services. Associations use the trade show to earn revenue in most cases and most importantly give attendees more reasons to attend the annual convention.
Vendors plan up to 12 months in advance for the very busy January/February convention season. With many options and conflicts, many companies have to choose which ones to attend or at least decide which staff member will be attending which show. The more information available as far in advance will make for the best trade show attendance. It may be as simple as posting the event on your association website with a city and a date. This allows basic planning and airline bookings. To get the best rates, we will often book tickets months in advance.
Vendors are also some of the most knowledgeable speakers that an association can tap for doing seminars on a wide range of topics. These speaking gigs need to be booked a long time in advance and will influence which conventions that a company travels to.
When details are finalized, a short email from the executive director or convention / vendors chairman is certainly appreciated to update the potential exhibitor. This can be done at the same time to solicit sponsorships, newsletter advertising and any other opportunities that the association has to earn revenue and give the potential vendors more ways to reach their target audiences. This can include info on the costs to exhibit, expected number of attendees, amount of time attendees will have with trade show etc.
Information package upon arrival
Vendors appreciate having the same information package as all attendees, so that they feel a part of the conference. This gives them a schedule, handouts, name tags, and anything else they may need. Vendors also appreciate the ability to sit in on sessions if it is something that interests them and with all the attendees in a session in can be extremely tiring / boring sitting at a table for days alone.
Meals and other events
Vendors do not expect anything for free, but we like to know what is expected of us and what is provided. Having luncheon / breakfast tickets included as part of the trade show fee can be an option available in advance or at the time. At times the trade show area is setup in the dining room and it can be awkward sitting there while everyone else is eating. This comes back to having an information package that lets exhibitors know what is expected of them.
Trade Show participation games
Many associations have a Bingo card or Dance card that all attendees are given where they must solicit certain people to initial their cards to be entered for a drawing. The most successful ones I have seen include not just the vendors, but speakers, HOF members, NAA representatives etc. This gets attendees to mingle more with everyone, not just the vendors. Some vendors are not 100% on board with this as they may be speaking with one client and then be interrupted by someone wanting their initials, but overall anything that brings people to the trade show area is a good thing.
Fun Auction Donations
Vendors are happy to make fun auction donations to get exposure of their name and company during the auction. From experience I will try to get a good client to sell my particular donation, so at least the name gets pronounced correctly and they know what we do. I have seen many items go for far less than their potential because the young rookie selling the items was just handed something to sell and did not know the product or the company donating it. It is highly recommended that outside donations and vendor donations are described to the crowd by the fun auction chairman or the emcee before letting the auctioneer sell the item. This is especially evident with newspaper advertising certificates or similar items. It can speed things up as well.
Vendor Spotlights / Introductions
Most associations give their vendors a minute with the microphone to introduce themselves to the attendees. The timing of this is extremely important to the vendors. The preferred timing is during the opening day at a time where everybody is in attendance. This is usually the opening luncheon but can be during the opening remarks or at the beginning of a session. This gives attendees time to stop by the booth or ask others about particular vendors. Having it the last day when some vendors have already left doesn’t help anyone, or having it at the beginning of a session when half the attendees are in a different session doesn’t make a good experience. I have seen it during a coffee break when everyone has left the room to find coffee, I have seen it at breakfast when there is only 2 auctioneers that have made it down.
One minute is more than enough for an introduction and an elevator pitch, and will make for very satisfied and returning vendors.
Also, when the President or Chairman is doing housekeeping duties, just reminding the crowd to visit the trade show, and maybe mentioning a few vendors each time is certainly appreciated
Trade Show Location and Setup
This has to be the most contentious issue at times. Every hotel is different and everyone has different ideas. The bottom line is vendors want traffic between sessions. If people walk by us continually for 3 days and don’t stop, it is not the associations fault as you have done all you could.
The preferred location is simply in the hallway in the traffic areas between where auctioneers enter / exit the sessions and where they have to go for their coffee. Having a separate room means no one ever goes into the room. Having the vendors in the main speaking room or dining room may appear to be a good thing but it is even worse. The worst convention I have seen was where the vendors were in the main room where all activities took place. Sounds good right? The coffee was in the hallway. When the session finishes everybody immediately exits the room at the front away from vendors. As soon as the session restarted all the vendors where expected to be quiet as we would look very rude to continue talking with a potential client.
There will not likely be many vendors at this convention next year, especially national companies who have significant travel costs to attend.
Having a vendor clerk your fun auction or competition is a great opportunity for them to showcase their services. They often have potential clients sit in and clerk for a while or at checkout. This is quite time consuming for the vendor and after a long day it turns into a long evening. All they ask for is a mention once in a while that they are supplying the clerking, and having dinner provided for them. Often they are spending time setting up while others are having dinner.
After Show Followup
Associations vary in their after show followup. This is a good time for vendors to be upsold on other products that the association has such as newsletter advertising and post show mail/email list availability. Even asking for comments and feedback makes the vendor feel appreciated. There are a few that will send a hand written note in the mail thanking the individual vendor for helping make their show a success. When a vendor is doing their post convention analysis about whether it was worth it, sometimes these little things may convince a company to attend next year even if the show wasn’t the most profitable for them.
Vendor committee members
Every board changes completely every few years, and new members bring a new skill set with them. Most people added to the vendor committee do not have any experience with a trade show. It is one suggestion that you have one local vendor on your committee to provide some insight and feedback on what they can and should do, and give long term continuity to your program.
We have created this to generate discussion on how vendors can help associations, and associations can help vendors.
What can you add to this from your experiences?