Why You Shouldn't Overdo It at Trade Shows

Growing up in a full-fledged popcorn family with a history in the snack business dating back to the invention of the popcorn machine in 1885, you learn a thing or two about the industry, namely, tradeshows.

Trade shows can be overwhelming, especially specialty food shows. They are packed with thousands of booths and brands, people, bright lights and of course your competitors. It’s tough to know how to make an impact.

The first step is to have a clear vision of what you want to accomplish.
Everyone’s trade show goals are slightly different. For G.H. Cretors and Hi I’m Skinny, we have a few objectives that we like to focus on. The first is to solidify with our existing customers that we are a strong and credible brand. We do this through our visual presence: our booth, our staff and our materials. We’ve already proved to them we can deliver a quality product with high customer service levels; the show is a chance for them to see a more concrete image of us.  

This is the first place where the “less is more” advice comes in to play. Don’t overcrowd your booth with staff. It’s not inviting and it just looks messy. You want people to feel like stepping into your booth to chat. It shouldn’t feel like a rock concert. Have your staff “look” like a team, with branded polo shirts and a branded pin. Make sure your brand and the “hero” of your brand is very clearly represented. Your booth graphics and structure do not need to be elaborate to make an impact, they just need to be strong and clear. In addition, don’t overwhelm your booth with marketing materials. A single handout is enough; have it easily accessible. Visually, you don’t want anyone to have to struggle. They shouldn’t have to be at your booth for 40 seconds to know what you do. It should be instant.
Our second goal is to drive new business. We want to attract new customers. Our visual presence makes the first impression. The second is made through engagement. Make sure your entire show staff is well prepared to speak to new customers, whether it’s making small talk to stall until a sales rep is available or briefing your staff on how to respond to each visitor.

At our booth, we have "cheat sheets" to answer simple questions, such as “Who is your distributor in the LA area?” If your staff has these answers readily available it helps manage the traffic flow and avoids the issue of visitors lingering around. Again, “less is more.” Don’t overwhelm each visitor with a long elaborate sales pitch, instead simply answer their questions, and when a pitch is appropriate to the situation, keep it brief and to the point. A small added piece of advice on this topic: Never assume you are talking to “a nobody.” Treat every visitor as if they are your biggest customer; you never know who you are talking to.

The bottom line for a successful tradeshow: Be prepared. There is nothing worse than a team scrambling behind the booth to find the sales manager’s business card to give to the Whole Foods buyer or having an uninviting, cluttered booth with no room for your top distributor team to come in and have a seat.

Last but not least, if you are in our world of snacks, it goes without saying, but sample your product. There’s nothing like a personal taste to leave a lasting impression. Have small bags for people to take home. Whether or not you pick up that new retailer, you might just win over a new consumer!

Claire Cretors serves as president of Cornfields Inc., a leading, healthy-foods private label company and creator of the G.H. Cretors and Hi I’m Skinny retail brands.  After joining the company in 2006, Claire became executive vice president in 2007 and president in January 2012. Claire has made it her mission to build on the foundation laid by her father, Cornfield Inc.’s founder. She strives for continuous innovation, holds quality as a top priority, and stays ahead of industry trends. Prior to joining Cornfields Inc., Claire worked in investment management at Northern Trust in Chicago and as a consultant for Bearing Point in Washington DC.  She received an undergraduate degree in business from the University of Denver and an MBA from American University. Since Claire started with Cornfields Inc., the business has experienced growth of 500% and the company has more than doubled the space it occupies in the snack category. For more information, visit www.cornfieldsinc.com and www.ghcretors.com.

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