Blue Eyed Sun

Blue Eyed Sun - gorgeous greetings cards

Are trade shows still worth it?

Are Trade Shows Worth It?Since Blue Eyed Sun began in 2000, I have spent a full year of my life in trade show halls setting up stands and exhibiting our greeting cards to visitors. The costs have risen considerably and are now pushing £400 per square metre for a small shell scheme stand. This can exclude other costs like electrics, flooring, cladding, painting and point of sale materials. Then there are the travel, parking, hotel, substance (thats food and drink to you and me) and staff costs to factor in. On top of this can be show media charges, marketing materials and adverts needed to make sure that your stand isnt missed, having spent all that money to be there.


For retailers, especially those who have cut back on staff though the recession, there are lost hours in the shop or the expense of paying to have it staffed whilst you are at the show. Similarly there are travel, hotel and subsistence costs. Plus, lets face it, its hard work trawling through miles and miles of the NEC to find those hidden gems. Especially when they might just as easily be found in trade magazines and brochures delivered to your door, via the internet or through a sales rep that comes to you. 


Most of the best greeting card companies in the UK have sales agents covering the country, a decent brochure and a transactional website. In the next few years they will also add transactional apps to add to their arsenal of tools that make it easy for retailers to order online. So why do we still bother with trade shows? Are trade shows still worth it? Surely its more efficient for retailers and suppliers to use these other options?


Its even worse when you look at the sales figures for many exhibitors. Take a typical small time supplier who buys a 3x1m stand at trade show for £1,200. Including all other aforementioned costs, the bill for doing the show is £2,000 all in. If they have 50% gross margin on their products they need to take £4,000 at the show to break even. Say they still exhibit and take 5 orders at an average order value of £200 totalling £1,000. On the face of it this looks like a £3,000 loss. Even if they take 25 leads at the show and convert one in five into an average order of £200 they only make an extra £1,000 and are still down by £2,000.


Its a similar situation for an independent retailer who has spent £500 or more in expenses to visit the trade show only to find one new supplier. If they are working to 50% gross margin they need to buy and sell a £1,000 worth of stock at the show o make the visit pay for itself.


So why do I still exhibit at five trade shows a year and why do all the best retailers I know visit a similar number of shows? As with anything the value is in the detail and the amount we can accomplish when we focus on things. 


Lets take another look at our small exhibitor. Out of the orders they have taken as a result of the show at least half of them are from new customers. Their customers typically spend £500 per year with them and stay for an average of 5 years. That means each of the five new customers is actually worth £2,500 (5x£500). Plus, over the following five years, the five new customers are actually worth £12,500 to the supplier. They still also have 20 further sales leads that could convert at a later date. One of which could turn out to be key account with multiple outlets.


The same could be said of our retailer. Although their initial order is small, the new suppliers line turns out to be a great seller. As the retailer is the first in their town to stock it, their customers come to them first in the future knowing that the retailer specialises in finding good new products for them to buy. Brand new suppliers are not actually that easy for retailers to find outside of shows. Often its because they don't yet have agents, brochures or a website and shows are the places where they first launch.


Theres more value to be had though. Our exhibitor also meets sales agents and international distributors who are interested in their products. Meeting them in person is the best way of deciding if they are right to work with going forward. The exhibitor goes ahead with one sales agent and one distributor. If the sales agent sends in only one £200 order per week they are worth £10,400 to the exhibitor per year. The international distributor might place £5,000 worth of orders per year bringing the total value of the show up to £18,900 in the first year.


Theres more value to be had through cost savings found. Key suppliers often visit exhibitors at shows. Couriers, envelope manufacturers, paper mills, display stand suppliers are just a few examples of those that have come so see our stands resulting in substantial savings for our business. Retailers will also often save money at the show through special show offers and carriage free deals.


Weve had feedback from customers and agents at trade shows that have led to us boosting sales. Weve saved customer relationships when we didnt even realise mistakes had been made, all because of a passing comment that was made on our stand at a show. Face to face conversations are the best way of of growing relationships with customers, key accounts, suppliers, press, agents, distributors, brokers and key industry influencers. Trade shows make this process super efficient. If you were to set aside time to drive to and meet with all those people it would take much longer than it takes to do the same thing at a show. 


Catching up with industry friends and industry is another great benefit. The amount of information I pick up at trade shows that has had tangible benefits to Blue Eyed Sun has been staggering. Recent examples include learning about licensing, brokerage and discovering a chain of shops I was not aware of. They have led to thousands in income for us. Many retailers I know swap info on best selling suppliers chatting with other retailers at lunch. There are also fantastic seminars for retailers at the show on everything from ecommerce and social media to building shop window displays. Shows are awesome learning opportunities and can really inspire those who take the trouble to attend. 


We find that the shows provide good lines in the sand for us to work to when creating new products. In a sense they act like a personal trainer whom you pay to make sure that you turn up and exercise. Shows discipline us to develop new products, new press releases and new marketing materials on a regular basis. This all has the effect of positioning Blue Eyed Sun as active in our market. Retailers who attend shows regularly will find it disciplines their buying. Being active in the industry means that they are known and will often find it easier to get credit with new suppliers. 


Its hard to put a financial value on some of these benefits. If you really pay attention at trade shows they can be life changing for your business. Try to take a longer term view when assessing the effects of the show. Even a show that seems like it wasnt worth it, based on orders taken or placed at the event, can turn out to have significant value to your business over the course of the years that follow. In the case of our exhibitor example, a show that initially looked like it was losing money with on site sales of £1,000 turned out to be worth up to £20,000 in income and cost savings to the exhibitor that year. At the very least they will have had the opportunity to learn about how their products do in the marketplace and consider further options to improve things for the future. Which has to be better than staying at home doing nothing.


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