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Stand up and be counted

Dave Angus, European Key Account Manager at Glue Dots International, gives us his unique insight into how to make the most of trade shows.

Dave Angus, European Key Account Manager at Glue Dots International, gives us his unique insight into how to make the most of trade shows.

Managing and running a stand at a show or exhibition is hard work but there's always the promise of cementing relationships with existing customers and the allure of attracting new contacts, and we all need a regular supply of new customers.

Taking the decision to exhibit at a show or exhibition isn't an easy one, and the first question is of course, "Can we afford to exhibit or can we afford not to?" Over the years, I must have attended and run hundreds of exhibitions for a wide range of very different companies, and there are a few simple rules for success that I always apply:

Do your homework to make sure you book the right show or exhibition. Focus on your sales and marketing objectives to help establish the event you're proposing to attend is the right match, before committing time and money.

"Shows and exhibitions can be a big investment - get it right, and you will reap the benefits," says Dave Angus.

We work very closely with our distributor West Design Products, working alongside its team when attending shows, and this works well as we naturally promote each other. If you're thinking of attending a show for the first time, I'd recommend you first attend as a visitor before making a decision.

Talk to exhibitors about their experience, talk to the show organisers to find out about PR and marketing opportunities, check out the competition, watch how busy the show is, and how visitors flow through the space, where are the busy areas and where should be avoided. Once you're satisfied that it's the right show, you'll then need to evaluate the full cost of attending.

Designing your stand is crucial to success. Whether you're designing your own or have enlisted a professional designer, if you set your objectives and plan well in advance you're more likely to succeed, make fewer mistakes and save money.

TIP: When I'm running a stand, I always take a worksheet, checklist and a box of supplies. It's called the 'What if' box!

Make your own what if box. Mine includes: contact record notebook/pro-forma, product leaflets, product literature, pricelists, order forms, paper, glue dots, notepads, business cards, pens, spare name badges, paper, power-point adapters, scissors, cable ties, paper clips, batteries, cash, and first aid kit.
Read the exhibitor manual to make sure that you've organised everything you need on your stand such as lighting, furniture, signage, electricity and somewhere safe to lock away valuables like computers, bags etc.

Important considerations
Don't overstock your stand
Make sure your stand is well lit and your products look attractive
Try to appeal to visitors' senses. For example: touch, taste, smell, listen to, watch or feel?
Group your products that work together.
What are you going to give to good prospects to take away - how will they remember you?

Make sure that you're attendance at the show is promoted and linked to your marketing and PR effort including things like preview and review features in relevant publications, press packs, direct mail, e-newsletters and website. Check the event website to find out who the media partners are. These publications will normally run features and articles about the event.

It always takes longer than you think to park and set up a stand so, make sure you leave plenty of time. Manning a stand is a full-time job, and is one of the most costly aspects of attending a show.
Your team will need to know what the objectives of the show are so hold a pre-show meeting with the team. Make sure individual roles, expectations and sales targets for the show are known. Do you have a dress code? When do staff need to attend? You'll need to make travel and accommodation arrangements. If you're staying overnight, will staff be expected to have dinner with the whole team - if not, what's their budget? Who will keep the stand tidy and restocked?
How will you capture contact details of all visitors to follow up later? Make sure that you maximise your investment and never leave your stand unmanned. You don't want to miss opportunities and you also need to make sure products and personal belongings are safe.

Make sure that you have the right staff who understand your product or service inside out. I always stand up at a show and try to look alert. It's a fine balance between pouncing on someone and missing an opportunity.
Over the years, I can't tell you how amazed I am to see people who are manning stands that are eating, texting, on the phone, sitting down and looking more interested in talking to colleagues that engaging prospective customers. I even saw someone reading the paper whilst visitors to the show walked past!
Remain focused on why you're there, and what you're trying to achieve. I add up the total cost of the show and divide it between the hours the show is open - that provides a great focus.

You only have a few seconds to connect with visitors before they walk past. A well designed stand will attract customers but I always try and engage in eye-contact, smile and say something to gain their attention: "Are you familiar with Glue Dots?" or "How are you getting on?" Or "Can I quickly show you how Glue Dots work?"
Most visitors are pleased to learn more about new products and innovation but you first need to establish that you're not wasting their time, and find out quickly if your product offer is relevant to them by asking a few simple questions.
The key to being an authentic sales person is to believe in your product and work for brands you believe in. For me, it's not about selling but providing information to customers and letting the product sell itself. People buy from people they like and before leaping straight to the hard sell, it can sometimes be about building a rapport and finding out what sort of business they run and matching your products to their business needs.
If you're clever and well prepared, you can show how your product would be the perfect fit for their business and begin to show them how your product's features and benefits would be useful to their customers in no more than 30 seconds. In other words - The Elevator Pitch!
It helps if you have a great product like Glue Dots, and as it's a fairly new product in the UK, once most people have seen a short demonstration, understand why the product is different and what it can do and how useful it is, most trade buyers want to list the product.
Most importantly, listen. So many times I've seen exhibitors continue to sell when the customer has said, "Yes I like it!"

My main focus for the Glue Dots brand has been trade shows, and we've recently switched our strategy from brand building and exhibiting to selling at trade shows, and we've had great success.
The difference is subtle but the outcome could not be more different. We talk to visitors about their businesses and how Glue Dots could work for them, explain the show deal and ask if they'd like to give the product a try. We then open a pro- forma and followup after the show. This new approach gave us a massive uplift in sales at this year's Stationery Show.

During the show, you'll have taken the details of those visitors who showed an interest. Make sure you take accurate notes and business cards from visitors to your stand and by designing your own pro-forma enquiry sheet, you can then record helpful information for when you get back in touch. That is of course, if you haven't been using a data scanner, which does a lot of the hard work for you.
Post show follow up is vital - probably one of the last things you'll feel like given a few days standing on your feet not to mention the backlog of work that usually builds up whilst you're away. Make sure that all that hard work and effort isn't wasted, and build in time for those follow up orders, phone calls and anything else you promised to send or follow up on during the show. And then follow up on the follow up and stay in touch!

Dave Angus is European Key Account Manager at Glue Dots International and manages the existing retail and wholesale art and craft accounts. Currently working on developing the retail side of the business in Europe into key sectors including major multiples, stationery, discounters and DIY. For more information visit www.gluedotseurope.com.

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