Making the construction trade show work for your business

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Construct canadaTrade shows for the architectural, engineering and construction industry can certainly be big business. The annual Buildings Show in Toronto, for example, has become a mammoth affair, rolling several speciality shows and events into an extensive three-day program.

We’ve been there for several years, long outlasting a former competitor who shrewdly signed an exclusivity deal to keep us out of the event. (The show organizers had mixed us up with another publisher of even more dubious reputation.)

Our relationship and budget for shows like this of course are different from most readers here, as we can provide advertising services to the show organizers, and so they trade out the booth rental and booth services fees, significantly reducing the cash costs. As well, the show happens to be full of potential clients — exhibitors, after all, can be excellent advertisers in relevant construction trade show publications.

These facts mean the ROI on trade shows for us can be healthier than they may be for you or other businesses, who not only have to pay the staffing and travel costs to get there, but also the show fees.

Nevertheless, this year, several employees and contractors within our organization questioned the show costs as we go through a bit of belt-tightening. There are hotel costs, plus travel expenses, and these add up. Is it worth it?

The numbers still are positive for us, but you should consider the observations from Mark Mitchell in evaluating your show booth rental investment.

  1. Most companies have a few big customers who make up the largest portion of their business. You should already have strong relationships with these customers. You should be making regular sales calls on them, which makes a trade show unnecessary.
  2. National shows are usually not buying shows. Increasing money spent on local and regional or distributor shows may actually result in more sales. At local shows, you support your local distributor, train their sales people and actually sell some stuff.
  3. Even national shows can tend to be regional in nature. Smaller to medium-sized customers are less willing to take time off work and travel across the country for a show, so you miss them anyway.
  4. A trade show should be about increasing sales, primarily to new customers. At most trade shows, a company’s booth is full of existing customers and few customers who don’t buy from that company already.

Despite these problems, shows have advantages, if you do them right. And “doing them right” requires you to measure your costs and results, to calculate the ROI. This can take some time. Not too many people will walk up to your trade show booth and sign a contract on the spot, though it has happened that way for us from time to time.

First, the costs. Calculate everything: The show fees, travel, meals, collateral materials, and if you are pulling staff away from other useful work, the time cost (in salaries).

Next, you need to be sure to have a lead tracking system so you can clearly identify whether the lead originated from the show, and then whether it converts to a sale.

The good news is that while this process can take several months, if you have the data, you’ll be equipped to deciding on whether to renew your show booth rental the next year well before you need to sign on. You may find, like us, the shows are a worthy investment. Then again, you may discover otherwise.

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