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benefits of trade shows

Consultants, firms weigh
benefits of trade shows

But are trade shows worth the time and expense for the small-business owner or consultant who operates on a tight budget and a tight margin, and is probably wondering how many phone calls are being missed at home?
The answer seems to be a qualified “yes.”
“I keep asking myself whether it’s worth the $500 to go,” says Charles Zettek Jr., who offers professional purchasing and management services to a geographically diverse clientele. “But I find even on occasions when there are no leads, I make good non-business contacts” with other vendors.
Robert Lurz echoes that finding, citing the time his Total Quality Assistance/Telecom Consulting Group took a booth at the Small Business Council of Rochester’s Small Business Showcase.
“Maybe it’s exhibitor incest,” he says, “but I marketed more to other exhibitors than to prospective clients.”
He has reservations about the payback of trade shows: “Just a couple of leads aren’t likely to offset the cost of exhibiting.”
Zettek as a rule goes to two shows a year: the School Business Officials and Government Finance Officers of New York State events. Last year he added the local Small Business Council show, which he found attractive for its compact time span and proximity.
“You have to do your homework,” cautions Sara Kash, president of Write Woman Computer Supplies Inc., which exhibits at some five shows per year. “You have to target your market.”
Fran Pullano, president of Marketing Associates Ltd. Cos. Inc. in Pittsford and former chairwoman of the SBC Showcase, says: “Trade shows can provide very directed marketing, an opportunity to sell one’s wares to an audience that’s buying.” Businesses selling computer services and other tangible goods are among those who benefit, she says.
Having something tangible to display –or to have guests play with–is important, Kash says. Presentation Source, a division of Write Woman, went to last fall’s Rochester Computer & Business Show with Cyclops, a long wand that can be pointed at the computer screen and used as a mouse.
“People were doing double takes,” she says. That sort of thing “definitely works,” Kash says. “Boxes of software don’t.”
Given those limitations, however, many consultants still choose trade shows for the networking opportunity.
What do you exhibit at a trade show when your product is a service?
“Client work examples can be a little bit proprietary,” Zettek says. That caution aside, he uses a three-panel tabletop display booth with graphics that show “what needs my service can fill, how that service can help cut costs and who my clients are.”
He continually updates his display graphics as his client base enlarges. Someone might come along, he explains, and say, “Southern Westchester BOCES? Oh, I come from that area.”
Among his strategies are stepping just out of sight of the booth, where he can still monitor activity but allow people to study materials leisurely. And rather than buy a display booth, he rents one, which he finds cost-effective for occasional use.
Exhibit Alternatives Inc. of Rochester constructs just such portable display units for sale or rental to both large and small trade-show exhibitors, representing all types of businesses.
“They must be successful, or they wouldn’t keep coming back,” owner Jeff Medler says of his customers. “They seem to find it useful to make themselves look a little more attractive.”
He notes a recent trend toward larger space: “Many who bought 10-by-10-foot units three to five years ago are graduating to 10-by-20-foot units now.”
New business has come from the corporate makeover of Frontier Communications of Rochester Inc., requiring all new display graphics, and adding a national clientele for Frontier’s prepaid calling card–“a smaller business,” Medler says, “within a larger one.” A new 10-by-20-foot corporate display for the calling card already has traveled to eight trade shows in 1995.
Mary Anne Brugnoni, owner of Brugnoni Graphic Design in Pittsford, notes yet another benefit of exhibiting at a trade show: exposure to supporting services. As part of a recent SBC show, she attended a seminar on presenting oneself at such events.
Among the basic tips Brugnoni learned: “Stand, don’t sit at your booth; welcome people; don’t eat at the booth; why a giveaway is a good idea.”
What should an exhibitor bring to offer show visitors? Brochures and business cards, of course, but how about “freebies”? The large companies can better afford elaborate giveaways, Zettek says, but “even candy or a pen makes people stop at least.”
The appeal of something tangible also applies to trade-show raffles and give-aways, Kash says. Winning a free one-hour consultation, she has seen, is not nearly as enticing as winning a gift certificate that someone can go right out and spend. One more help is sponsor participation. As an established business with ongoing vendor relationships, she says, “we’re able to have vendors help sponsor our booth through co-op dollars.”
(Bruce Beardsley is a Rochester-area free-lance writer.)

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