Many building material companies have started to realize that trade shows are a big waste of money for them.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. There are ways to remake the trade show so that it can do what it used to: increase sales for manufacturers and solve problems for customers.
Why Trade Shows Have Been a Waste of Time
1. Attending Trade Shows Is Too Expensive
Even if you gain something from attending trade shows, the expenses add up very quickly.
After factoring in the cost of planning, designing the exhibit, freighting it to the location, setting it up and tearing it down, travel, entertainment, and paying salespeople to attend, it becomes clear that it’s a major investment with too little return.
2. Your Exhibit Has a Short Shelf Life
Investing a lot in your website makes sense. Same with your marketing programs and the content you create.
All of those will work for you 24/7 for 365 days of the year.
The money you invest in the trade show? That benefits you for two or three days. Then it’s over.
Do the math – it just doesn’t add up.
3. Success Is Difficult to Measure
Trade show success is often measured on anecdotal evidence.
The boss likes the booth. The salespeople had a great time. There was plenty of traffic to the booth. The customers who stopped by seemed interested.
Great. But what you should be looking for is a measurable increase in sales because of the show. Most companies don’t even know how they would track that.
4. Trade Shows Only Reach a Small Portion of Your Customer Base
A company with 20 employees might send one or two people to the trade show. The further away a company is located from the event location, the less likely they are to send anyone at all.
The trade show floor might look busy, but almost every single one of your potential customers is where they usually are – at their desk or on the jobsite.
Trade Shows Will Take Several Years to Rebound
Unfortunately, trade show producers don’t release attendance information. But anyone who’s been to recent trade shows will tell you that there are plenty of exhibitors but not as many attendees.
I asked contractors why they weren’t attending trade shows now. They gave me two reasons:
Business is so good that they can’t afford to take even a few days off.
They won’t miss anything anyway – there aren’t any new products or ideas.
Now Is the Time to Reinvent Building Materials Trade Shows
Does that mean it’s all over for trade shows?
NY NOW, a wholesale gift and home show, hired Brad Ford to blow the dust off of the trade show experience. Ford came up with lots of great ideas that the building materials industry should consider adopting.
Here are a few of them.
Rebrand the events. The word “trade show” has a lot of old school, negative connotations. We don’t need it. Use new terminology like Marketplace, Market, Festival, or Success Factory. Whatever you call it, make it sound up to date and relevant.
Curate the content for the attendees. Find out what the attendees actually want to see and make sure those companies are exhibiting. Don’t wait to see who signs up – pursue the companies that the attendees most want to see.
Focus on buzz-worthy companies. You can’t increase attendance unless the exhibits are interesting. Give small startups and inventors free space for their first year so attendees have a lot of new and innovative things to check out. The increased attendance will also benefit the companies who pay to exhibit.
It’s not too late for trade shows to reinvent themselves. They still have the opportunity to become more relevant. All they need to do is let go of the “this is how we’ve always done things” attitude.
Maybe that’s easier said than done, but the trade show isn’t going to last much longer if it doesn’t adapt.
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About The Author
I am the leading sales growth consultant in the building materials industry, I identify the blind spots that enable building materials companies to grow their sales and retain more customers. As I am not an ad agency, my recommendations are focused on your sales growth and not my future income.
My mission is to help building materials companies be the preferred supplier of their customers and to turn those customers into their best salespeople. Contact me to discuss your situation.