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trade show

Top 3 Tips For Having The Best Trade Show Experience For Your Creative Business

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I've been attending and working at trade shows for years. Between my parents dragging me along to expos to shop for their businesses to my nearly 10 years in the association industry, I'm constantly working on or attending something. All of this experience helped, and at times, hindered my trade show prep. This was my first time representing my own brand and products. That makes this first Suds trade show unique for me. It was also my first time working on a micro budget. I've designed booths that were triple the size of the my Suds booth that had 1,000 times the budget. Working with a few hundred dollars versus tens of thousands was challenging - to say the least.

Here are my top 3 tips for having the best trade show experience for your creative business.

Invest in good flooring.

When we put in our soap kitchen, our contractor saved the carpet and padding he pulled up. It was a lifesaver for the budget because I didn't have to pay for flooring (it's mandatory to put down some sort of flooring). Standing for days on concrete floors kills your back, knees, feet and well, your entire body. I thought the padding and carpet would help alleviate some of that pain and it did to a certain extent. When I looked at everyone else's flooring choices I saw this foam tile flooring. I didn't know this existed until I saw it in the expo hall. All of the trade show booths I've built have always used carpet because it is more professional in that setting. But for the craft/handmade businesses this foam tile is the best invention ever. I'm upgrading our flooring for our next show. I'll be getting a ton of tiles to use. Plus, I can use them during our craft shows to make standing for hours, days, and weeks easier on my body.

Take this Creative Live Class

I love Megan Auman. Her classes on Creative Live are thoughtful and super helpful. I can't recommend her wholesale class enough. She covers every aspect of the wholesale trade show. I felt super prepared for our event because I had watched her class and was able to implement several of her strategies. I was able to present a level of confidence at the trade show because I knew what the buyers were expecting. I even saved several of the sessions to my MacBook so I could watch them in the evenings after the show had closed. This way I was constantly in the selling mindset and learning how to improve.

Get a Lead Scanner

I was dumbfounded at the sheer lack of people scanning badges. I found out from the show organizers that I was one of TWO people to use the scanner. Yes, it costs money. Yes, it isn't cheap. Yes it gave me nearly 100 stores to EASILY add to my marketing campaigns. I didn't have to try to look up people, remember details or anything of that nature. When I had 10 buyers in my booth all I had to do saw scan their badge, add a few notes in the app if I wanted to, and move to the next buyer. The lead scanner is ALWAYS worth the money. Always. I have a spreadsheet of names, email addresses, physical locations and store names all because I spent a few more dollars and go the scanner. If you are of the mindset that buyers will have business cards and you can just collect them, think again. Buyers never bring enough cards. What are you going to do then? What you do is scan their badge and you have everything you need.

Old Town Suds' Trade Show Booth

I think the hardest part of making our trade show booth was figuring out the feel I wanted to project. I knew I wanted hard walls, that was a given (thank you trade show background). But, how do I want to display all of my babies soap? Thank goodness for pinterest. First off, there are hardly any soap trade show booths on there. What is plentiful are the stationary show booths. That, my friends, became my starting point. How do different handmade printers make themselves standout? How do they differentiate themselves from their neighbor? How do they stay true to their identity and still wow everyone who walks by? Luckily, when you are turning into an insomniac, these answers come quickly. Sidebar: my best ideas come between the house of 11pm and 3 am.

practice setup

Old Town Suds makes 80% of its products out of beer, wine and/or chocolate. Three things that I love to partake in! We are located in the Virginia vineyard region so I am always among the grapes and that is basis of our booth design; plus it flows naturally from our farmers' market display.

The semi-gloss  black hard walls took 5 coats and 2 gallons of paint. (Honestly, they probably could use a few more coats.) Then came the handmade shelves. These were constructed from cheap lumber we found at the lumber yard and some molding to provide a raised edge. They are wide enough to hold a beer bottle and a bar of soap laying down. Wide enough to create soap pyramids but not wide enough for much more than that. A lesson learned is, for our next trade show, we'll make some shelves for the corners and make a few wider shelves.

 

Next up are the lights. We used the clip lights from home depot. Originally, I thought they would provide enough spot light to highlight a few products and help draw eyes into the booth. Well, it was a good try. For the next go, we'll be investing in a different set of lights.

The sign was laser cut out of wood and held on with velcro. I really think it added a needed dimension to the booth. Also, we put a copy of our Washington Post coverage plus a few photos up of me making soap. They were to add color to the booth, plus add that little touch of showing just how handmade our products are.

Here it is! The finished product. Our first trade show booth. For my first one, I am extremely happy with the outcome. It's the first booth I've built having less than a $20,000 budget for JUST the build. It's the first booth I've built where I've been selling my own product and everything that was made by me. For those reasons alone, it's my favorite trade show booth to date.

Booth Shot

Up next, some more lessons learned and what I want to approve on before our next trade show this summer. I can't wait to make this an even better display for our wholesale customers.