Thanks to everyone that came by my booth last weekend at Eugene’s Good Earth Home, Garden and Living Show. Thanks also to all the Lunchsense lunchbox users that waved and hollered out an impromptu testimonial!
Ever wondered what it’s like to work a booth at a trade show? I’m happy to spill – here goes:
T MINUS TWO DAYS: SETUP
In the two or so days preceding the show, all the vendors arrive and jockey for parking places, pushcarts, and aisle space to bring in carpeting, shelving, and cartons of sellable stuff as quickly and efficiently as possible. Imagine moving an entire room in your home to a new location, multiply that effort by the hundreds of vendors occupying the 10’ x 10’ booths, and you’ll have a sense of what goes on before the doors open to the public. The building management oversees this hive of activity, and at the nice venues they provide free coffee, cookies, pushcarts and handcarts, and they might even let the vendors drive onto the show floor to unload their vehicles right by the booth. Hard work, yes, but as we’re usually pretty excited about the show, it’s not a hardship.
OPENING DAY, T MINUS TWO HOURS (OR SO)
This is when the media often make their rounds – local television, papers and radio that want to feature the show or promote a few booths. If the booth is ready to go and the vendor is “in” they might score some free publicity. This is also the only time that it’s actually kind of peaceful in the building, too.
Many vendors (including me) staff their booths for the duration of the event, so we get to know one another and often swap stories, do a little professional networking (though you’ll note the good trade shows never put competing companies anywhere near each other), and cover each other’s booths for bathroom breaks. It’s a lovely little community we create there in our aisle, borne of mutual need and benefit, and it’s often all we see of the entire show. That community begins at this time, when we introduce ourselves, check out each other’s wares, and (in the true spirit of “trade” show) we may even start bartering our goodies with one another – in fact I scored a FABULOUS pair of shoes and a hat last fall at a show.
SHOWTIME! THE FIRST DAY
Vendors are fresh and ready to talk to visitors, booths are clean and stocked to the rafters – the first day is a great time to come through a trade show! Many vendors don’t usually stop to catch a breath until the doors close, and when they do it usually hits us that after move-in and set-up, followed by hours of standing and talking to visitors, the only thing we want is a quiet room and a soft bed.
SHOWTIME – THE REST OF THE WEEKEND
The rest of the show is usually a blur of talking to visitors, restocking shelves, making change, dashing to the bathroom in a slow moment, sneaking a bite for lunch (or dinner) in between visitors, lending a hand to a parent with a tired child, refilling the candy bowl, talking wholesale account possibilities with other business owners…and repeating. We can get a little punchy too, so when there do come momentary lulls in the traffic we often lean on our vendor neighbors for comic relief. ‘Ever see a rubber band zoom by and nail the boothsitter you’re talking to? Yeah, that’d be from one of us.
And so it continues for the day the show opens to the last hour. Here’s an insider’s note: considering that most vendors would rather sell their inventory than carry it back home, if you cruise through a show in that last hour you might find vendors who are ready and willing to make deals on their remaining inventory.
AFTER THE DOORS CLOSE – THE LOADOUT
If you linger at the doors at the closing minute of a trade show you’ll likely see the vendors shift into breakdown and load-out mode: staff dash to the venue storage areas for first dibs on pushcarts, others dash to their vehicles for cartons, and others take down signs, fold up displays and table coverings, and pack up inventory for the trip home. Obviously, load-out is set-up in reverse, though it tends to be much less organized. Vendors have one thought in mind and that’s to load everything back in the vehicle – in any order, usually – and get on the road towards home. After a full weekend, the load-out is backbreaking, exhausting work which really doesn’t finish up until the vehicle is once again unloaded back at home base and all the inventory and receipts are tallied.
So why do we do this? I think that as an online vendor, trade shows are the best, fastest, most efficient way to meet customers face-to-face and get feedback on my stuff. As a fledgling biz, shows are a great way to get a little exposure and show the world what I’ve got to offer. Lastly, shows are about the only time I get to network with other entrepreneurs. Note that for me, at least, trade shows are less about making gobs of sales (though I don’t mind when that happens, certainly) than about making contact, since you, the lunchbox users, are the best source of suggestions for improvement.
Once again, for those of you that stopped by last weekend, thanks! For those of you that visited me at some other show, thanks! And for those of you who have never seen me at a trade show, stop by and say hello if you do, I’m always happy to chat!