Trade Shows: The Roads Most Taken

To paraphrase football Hall of Famer football player Gale Sayers speaking about his ill friend Brian Piccolo, “I love trade shows, and I want you to love them, too.

Let’s face it; there were a few years there where trade shows for this industry were really hurting. Attendance was down at a few regional shows by over 50%, there was more talk about the demise of the trade show than of their advantages.

But there is no better way for a drycleaner or launderer to keep up with the current innovations than by going to a tradeshow; no faster way for an industry supplier to speak to their buyers than by exhibiting, no better way for organizations to show how they looking out for their members than by putting together the best possible trade show.

This is an area we know something about: The Green Garmento is dependent on trade shows to introduce our wares to customers. In January we were in Vegas for the Promotional Products Show (PPAI), in March we will be in Chicago for the International Housewares Show and in Sacramento for a trade show for school fundraising ideas. In April we have two shows back to back in Fort Worth, the second being for the SDA. From there we go to Bentonville, AK for a trade show specifically for Walmart (Jennie is part of Walmart’s Women’s Empowerment Council). In May we go to NYC; in June to Jacksonville for SEFA, in August Long Beach for the CCA Show and then in October we will hope to travel to Milano for ExpoDetergo before going to Atlantic City for the PDCA. And maybe we will even get to the CLA show in Key Largo in May, the July MILD convention in Michigan, the August MDLA Convention in French Lick and the NEFA weekend in November. All leading up to the April 2015 Clean Show in Atlanta.

Just writing that made me tired, but whether you’re the exhibitor, the attendee or the sponsor, trade shows are invaluable.

For the drycleaner or launderer, while no one catalogue, magazine or website gives you access to see and hear about what products and technologies are new, what innovations your competitors are having success with, and what tricks of the trade relevant to operations, marketing, ancillary sales ideas are helping make or save your peers money. But with the combined help of convention speakers, exhibitors, and just from your talking to the other show registrants, that is what every good trade show delivers.

Exhibitors get out of trade shows what they put into them. Those who simply buy a booth and man it are playing the lottery, hoping lots of registrants sign up and then happen by their booth. But good exhibitors put the word out long in advance, not just of their presence, but what new things they will be showing their booth visitors. There is no better way for an exhibitor to ensure trade show success: not just for themselves, but the whole event. When exhibitor after exhibitor entices a potential registrant by talking about how they will be showing how their new innovations work, or like we do, talk about how booth visitors will get samples of new products, the result is more excitement about the show and more attendees. We continually hear that it was our emails and ads that led to someone making the decision to come to Long Beach or Tampa or Dallas or Las Vegas; surely we have also been the beneficiaries of others coming because of another manufacturer’s marketing efforts.

That is why every trade show needs to not just encourage, but assist their exhibitors in marketing to their potential registrants. If a vendor wants to make noise about a show special, product introduction or demonstration, follow the lead of the International Housewares and Promotional Products Associations do: share their email lists of all of their members, not just the registrants. And do it months in advance – every e-mail your members receive is like a ‘Save The Date’ notice, a reminder to sign up and be part of this

Creating a good trade show is an art, but also a business. And like all businesses, the decisions of the organizations putting together these events often will dictate their energy and size. I believe the trade show is, in its most basic ideal, an Exposition. Do you want to see how a new POS system works? Come to the show. Do the non-perc machines now really clean better than what your family have used for generations? See for yourself at the show. Do you want to see how an automatic bagger works and whether it will save you money in labor or even over using reusable bags? Find out at the show.

And to that end, trade show organizers should do everything they can to help entice new exhibitors. Imagine if the Clean Show was to announce that in 2015 there would be 20% more exhibitors and over 33% more floor space of exhibits! It would be a great enticement, but it would require the show sponsors to change how they market their product to exhibitors. Currently, all exhibitors have a single all-in-one package. One price and all the electricity, plumbing/water and drayage (bringing the show materials from the show warehouse onto and off of the convention floor), irrespective of whether they need electric, plumbing water or have heavy exhibit materials to display. While it saves the big multi-nationals who can most afford it a literal fortune, it makes getting each 100 sq. foot booth almost three times more expensive than other trade shows to the other 90+% of potential exhibitors.

As many smaller, newer businesses cannot afford those rates, they stay away, or like a reusable bag competitor of ours did, simply carry a couple of samples onto the floor and try to introduce yourself to potential buyers without even having a booth.

Perhaps if the sponsoring organizations heard from enough potential visitors and vendors that they want the Clean Show to be a real exhibition, fair to new and old, big and small organizations alike, they might change this policy that keeps so many exhibitors away and others, like ours, from getting 600 sq. feet instead of 200 square feet. If the bottom line is that those putting on the trade shows are doing it for the benefit of their members, this change would benefit their affiliate members by making it easier to get more and bigger booths, their drycleaners and launderers by giving them so much more to see. Plus, by getting more people – and more exhibitors taking bigger and bigger booths – even create more revenue for the sponsors. It is an idea whose time has come, if you agree, tell somebody.