This is the first of nine articles written by Matt Michel. This article can be read in its entirety on the Service Roundtable website (www.serviceroundtable.com/freebies). The article gives advice of what to do and what not to do at home shows.

Home shows represent great selling opportunities for all sorts of companies, but are especially attractive for home service companies. Yet, few companies take advantage of the shows like they should. This is a quick primer on ways to maximize your home show potential.

Most service companies take a haphazard approach to home shows. They set up and staff the booth with salespeople or whoever is available. There’s little planning, little training, poor lead collection, and worse follow up. As a result, their results are less than optimum.

With only slightly more effort and expense, a home show’s productivity can be boosted dramatically.

One big mistake is to assume that setting up and manning the booth is the bulk of the activity. It’s only the tip of the iceberg. The bulk of the activity is below the water.

1.Select The Right Show.
Not all home shows are created equal. You should select the show based on the cost and opportunity. The cost includes booth space cost, the cost to man the booth, and so on. The opportunity is the number of legitimate prospects from your service area that will be at the show. This may mean a smaller show could yield better results than a larger show if the smaller show costs less and is more closely aligned with your territory.

Unfortunately, you might not be able to get much information about some shows. Here are a few questions you can ask before exhibiting:

What is the attendance? Be careful. Take any response with a grain of salt. Home show organizers tend to include exhibitors in the attendance figures. They also count each person while you only care about owner occupied households. Surprisingly, the show may not be able to break down this figure. You should still ask for it. If you only get a breakdown of exhibitors and non-exhibitors, cut the non-exhibitor figure in half.

What is the demographic profile of attendees? Again, some home shows collect this information, but most do not. Still, it helps you to understand if you are reaching a mature market or young professionals.

Where do the attendees live? This is one of the more critical questions. You only care about people from your service territory. The number of owner-occupied households from your service territory represents your target potential.

How many exhibitors? Large shows with lots of traffic will have lots of exhibitors. These can be great opportunities, yet you might also get lost. Compare past attendance with the number of exhibitors. The higher the ratio of attendees to exhibitors, the better.

Who are the ten largest exhibitors? This gives you an idea of the show theme. If the largest exhibitors are all interior design related, this gives you an idea about the nature of the show. It still might be a good opportunity, but it likely changes the themes you push at the show.

What is the cost per square foot? This balances some of the other considerations. A low cost show may be worth a try, even though the target potential is light.

What are the show dates and times? Weekend dates are best. Longer shows are more wearing, but generally give you more opportunities if the show is well attended. Divide the target potential by the number of show hours for the traffic. A short show might be attractive if the traffic levels are strong.

What is the show doing for promotion? This is obvious. The more money spent on promotion, the better the likely attendance.

What booth locations are available? Should you pan a show because you cannot get the booth location you want? Probably not. However, the availability of a great booth location might make a show more attractive.

2. Don’t Overlook Non-Traditional Shows.
Not all home shows are “home shows,” per se. Church bazaars, civic events, street fairs, farmers markets, flea markets, craft shows, and county fairs might all represent good opportunities. This is especially true if your competitors overlook these shows.

3.Set Clear Objectives.
Know what you want to achieve. The mere presence of a goal helps you stay focused and increases the likelihood you will achieve your desired outcome. The objectives should be straightforward and quantitative. Some possible objectives include:

  • Number of leads generated
  • Number of appointments set
  • Number of service agreements sold
  • Number of resulting sales
  • Number of prospects added to your mail list
  • Number of potential employees recruited

4.Create a Show Budget.
Your costs are not merely the cost per square foot of floor space. Don’t forget pre-show promotion, post-show promotion, ad premiums, employee salaries, booth design, collateral, electrical, carpet, and so on.

Two rules of thumbs from B2B trade show exhibiting are:

  • Multiply the cost of space by 4 and add 10% for incidentals – Candy Adams, president of Trade Show Consulting
  • Multiply the cost of space by 5 – Edward Chapman, Exhibit Marketing author

5. Leverage Show Management For Maximum Opportunity.
The show managers want to work with you. They want you to be successful. They will help, but you’ve got to ask for help. Show managers are juggling a lot of details leading up to a show. They are dealing with scores, if not hundreds of exhibitors. They’ve got a tough job already. Don’t make it harder.

Make it easier and you’ll find they are more than willing to extend extra consideration to you.

Ask about the show promotion plans and how you can participate in any pre-show or post-show promotions.

See if there is a co-op fund available if you market the show. See if you can get a link from the show’s website.

Ask where the show managers recommend a booth location. Ask to be notified about booth cancellations if the booth is in a better location.

See if the show will provide booth training. Some provide it. Some can refer a good trainer.

6. Enter Show Contests.
Many shows have contests for exhibitors, such as best new product, best service, and so on. Because the entry dates are usually well in advance of the show, few exhibitors enter. The winners are usually featured or profiled near the entrance to the show.

According advertising executive, Wayne Dunham of Dunham Communications, “In a field of 3,000 exhibitors, I’ve seen situations where there were only 11 submissions for 12 awards. Why not get the extra exposure?”

7. Teach a Seminar.
If consumer seminars are to be held in conjunction with the show, see if you can provide a speaker. If you can’t get on the agenda the first year, try to put your name in the ring for the second year.

8. Read the Rules. Each show has minor differences. Read the rules. Are there limitations on the height of your booth? Can you project your logo onto a wall?

One contractor private labeled bottled water to pass out at the company booth, only to discover at the show, that passing out refreshments wasn’t allowed (presumably, it impacted the show’s concessions).

If there’s a question, don’t wait until the show to find out. Ask the show managers in advance.

9. Prevent Billing Problems.
If there’s a problem with the bill, address it immediately. Do not wait until the end of the show or worse, after. Keep a copy of your quoted billing prices for show services. Compare these to the final bill. Is the carpet priced per square foot when it was quoted per square yard?

10. Promote the Show To Your Customer Base Beforehand.
According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), pre-show advertising or email campaigns raises your booth attractiveness by 46%. Even better, conversion of visitors to qualified leads is 50% higher. Yet, CEIR says the average company only spends 6% of their show budget on pre-show promotion. It should be two to three times as much.

What kind of promotion should you perform? Start with your own customer base. You’re spending a lot of money to display at a home show. Your team will be attending. You’re presenting a good face. You’re showing off. Everyone is in sales mode. This represents a great time to meet and greet your own customers.

For home service companies in particular, home shows are opportune. Home service companies, by definition, conduct business at the customer’s home, not the shop. Consequently, home service companies often operate out of a dump. The “shop” is more of a workshop than a storefront. Few home service companies have showrooms and fewer still are located in areas where a showroom would do much good. They do business “somewhere out there.” Thus, they try to save on bricks & mortar. At a home show, however, you do have a storefront, even if it’s temporary.

The most discouraging thing in the world is to exhibit at a dead show, without traffic. Even worse is to exhibit at a show with traffic, but none of it is at your booth. It sucks the energy right out of your highly motivated team.

When someone does stop by, your people are either lethargic or they pounce on the prospect harder than a brand new life insurance salesperson at his first cocktail party. The show costs too much for you to take a chance on traffic. Do your best to guarantee it.

Market your presence at the show. Mail or email to your customers, inviting them to come see you at the home show. Give them an incentive, such as a gift they can only get if they stop by the show or a special drawing held at the show for people who received the mailing and stop by to register (note: be sure to emphasize that only a select number of people are eligible for the drawing and that since they must stop by your booth, the odds are pretty good). Give special attention to anyone on your customer list who’s been MIA for the past couple of years; it’s a chance to renew old relationships. And when mailing to existing customers, make the invitations personal, from the owner or their service advisor.

Identify people who might be in a position to make a significant purchase in the next year or two and invite them to attend the show and come by your booth as well. You can identify these people based on the age of their home. For example, an air conditioning contractor should market to subdivisions built just old enough that they will be entering a replacement cycle. By contrast, a plumbing contractor might try to target homes built in the first five years after low flow toilets were mandated, before the manufacturers had worked out the problems with low flow toilets. The plumbing contractor could offer homeowners a solution to stoppages with the new “super toilet.”

Visiting a booth at a home show is far less intimidating to these people than asking a salesperson to drop by their home. The show represents an opportunity to see what you’ve got – actually see it – and to meet the people at you company in a non-threatening environment.

When you bring people to the show, and then to your booth, you will energize your team. It’s exciting. You can feel it. It’s like playing golf on a day when every drive you hit goes 300 yards down the middle of the fairway. Things click. Plus, you attract other homeowners attending the show. People tend to follow the crowd. They want to know what’s going on, what’s so interesting.

Do not count on the show to bring enough people to you. It might, but it might not. If you are proactive, you can ensure the show works, no matter what the turnout. You can use the show to renew old customer relationships. You can use it to create a non-threatening environment for homeowners-at-large who have a need or desire for your products and services to learn more about them and your company. Plus, when you
attract a crowd, your booth appears far more dynamic, attractive, and interesting.

Matt Michel is president of the Service Roundtable http://www.serviceroundtable.com/, an organization dedicated to helping contractors prosper. Matt is also the publisher of Comanche Marketing, a free marketing e-zine. Subscriptions are available at http://www.comanchemarketing.com/
You can contact him directly at matt.michel@serviceroundtable.com.
Or send your comments to Contracting Business at letters@contractingbusiness.com.