How to grow your business with trade shows

My greeting card company, Things by Bean, began as ten birthday cards stored in a biscuit tin. It was trade show marketing that took my company from biscuit tin to full time career. After my first trade show, our stockist list grew from just three local retailers to nearly 20 retailers across Australia. Not only did that result give my brand the capital to keep growing, it also gave me the confidence to keep going.

Spend a little, learn a lot

My first shows were a huge expense for a one-woman start-up. And when I look back at them, I’m amazed they were successful. My display was entirely DIY, with a folding table and a tiny range of cards. But the fact that it was successful proves one of the most comforting aspects of the trade show dynamic: people are there to buy.

Trade shows are a discovery platform for retailers. It’s a unique form of business-to-business marketing that’s inverse to the business-to-consumer marketing model. You’re not inserting your product or service into people’s daily life; your prospective customers are coming to you with intent to buy.

Do the maths, know your odds

I’ll use my favourite trade show, Life Instyle, as a case study. According to their reports, about 10,000 people attend each of their shows and according to Life Instyle’s show data for Melbourne 2016, 93 per cent of attendees had buying power and 91 per cent placed orders at the show. Even if just 10 to 20 per cent of attendees are looking for a product like mine, there are over 1000 potential Things by Bean customers at the show.

But I also know that some of the benefits of trade show exhibiting can’t be quantified to the dollar. Trade shows also serve as an invaluable opportunity to connect with existing customers. While you can maintain rapport over email, there’s something special about touching base face-to-face with long-standing customers year after year. Our consistent presence at the shows has become a given, which reflects the reliability of the brand.

Credibility is important. When I went to the USA to showcase Things by Bean at the National Stationery Show (NSS), I remember fellow exhibitors telling me they had exhibited for years before finding success. That concept of building brand credibility through market presence was an NSS lesson that stuck with me.

Be authentic, know your brand

Another aspect of credibility is authenticity. Trade shows force you to cut to the core of your brand and highlight what it unique and valuable. You only have a few square metres to not only display products, but summarise your brand’s identity as well. With every trade show, I learn more about my brand – it’s a flow-on effect that continues to amaze me.

Early on, I returned to trade shows year after year for financial reasons alone. But over time, I’ve come to realise that monetary value is only part of the role trade shows play in our success.

Jo Power, Founder and Head Designer, Things by Bean

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