By Trevor Brown
It’s trade show season! The excitement of the first day of a big trade show coupled with the exhaustion of the last few hours on the last day is the very definition of the “love/hate” relationship most of us in the business have with these events. And speaking of relationships, that’s exactly what it is. No matter the size of the trade show, both the exhibitor and the attendee are looking to meet people, ask questions, give information, and possibly start a business relationship that mutually benefits both parties.
A trade show can be small like the yearly spring or fall home show in your community or your local Home Builders Association meeting where vendors set up a booth to meet builders. They can also be huge, like World of Concrete and International Builders Show. Though the scale of the booth may change, the concept stays the same. And more importantly, the object of the game is the same. Both the exhibitor and the attendee want to leave feeling like they got a good return on the investment of time and money to be there, and that the knowledge and information you took home exceeds the efforts.
Let me start with the exhibitors. This is the side where I have spent the last 20 plus years. I recently did a podcast about the return to in-person trade shows and how I feel like some people lost the ability to interact with REAL people, face to face. You could tell that some of the sales people would have rather been at their computer in a collared shirt and sweatpants. Well, they better get their pants on and get those people skills honed in again! The National Association of Home Builders reported a record year for the 2023 International Builders Show and are already seeing bigger numbers for 2024. Steven Pomerantz, Senior Marketing Manager with World of Concrete says, “World of Concrete 2024 is positioned to be a great event. We are seeing strong exhibitor participation levels from both domestic and international companies and expect attendance to be strong as well. This is our 50th anniversary of the show and WOC is getting back to pre-pandemic levels. WOC ’24 will be our largest event since 2019.” As with most things, the pendulum swings back and forth and we are seeing the shift back to in person across the board. This is where trade shows flourish — people want to see, touch, and ask questions. It’s up to you as the exhibitor to be prepared to present your product as clearly and concisely as possible. Remember, you are speed dating!
When that attendee walks toward your booth a lot of times they are making the decision to stop and talk to you before you see them. Unfortunately, like dating, there is definitely a visual aspect to the engagement. Shallow I know, but it’s fact. I have worked in booths where the company tried to get “creative” with their marketing and you see error real quick at the show. What you will notice is people standing 20 to 30 feet from your booth with a confused look on their face followed by one of two things. The shoulder shrug followed by the walk by, or if you are very lucky, they slowly walk up and lean toward the booth and ask “What do you guys do?” which is the absolute worst thing to hear at a trade show.
If you hear this more than once you should fire your marketing team that put together the booth. When this happens you are immediately behind in the game. Now as a great sales person you can rally and start from scratch with your whole pitch and explain what you do from the very basics of what you do to the final reason why you are better. Now imagine your marketing team did their job and set you up for success by creating a booth that is a “silent salesman” for your company — meaning those same people come down your aisle and look up and smile, point, and walk straight up to you and say something like, “Oh, I’ve seen this around” or “I’ve always wanted to look into this” or “My friend used this product.” All of these are a big ol’ softball teed up for you as a salesperson. Now all you have to do is reaffirm their knowledge and dial in the details of what makes your product the best!
In the Booth
They are in the booth, now what? You need to give them an experience that they can not get on your website or YouTube channel. If possible, have your product in the booth. Even better, have it available for the customer to touch, feel, or use. This gives the customer a sense of comfort with your product and your company when they leave. This is why we go to trade shows, to see real products and meet real people. Lastly, don’t forget to capture their information, since this is why we are here. This goes for the attendee as well. People get weird about sharing their contact info, but how else does this relationship continue? This is like meeting a pretty girl and not asking for her number. If you don’t have a way to follow up then you have just wasted a good opportunity.
Another underestimated value of trade shows is the networking opportunity between exhibitors. Matt Boese, Business Development Manager for SuperForm ICF says, “World of Concrete is a fantastic place to meet with people in our industry to see what is new and happening in their markets. In turn this helps us as a manufacturer to react and make changes to better service our customers.” Get out of your booth every once in a while and walk around. Maybe even take your customer with you. You may learn something about your competition or you may find a new partner product you didn’t know about. Randy Daniels, Commercial Business Development Advisor, Western U.S. Sustainable Construction Products Division of Airlite Plastics Co. says he sees huge value in this. “World of Concrete is becoming an excellent place to network concrete floor systems with ICF concrete walls. Had many strolls taking folks to concrete floor system booths from our booth so they could get a complete package for their next hotel/dorm/multi-family/mixed-use multi-story projects. I think a future trend may be joint booths with ICF folks partnering with composite concrete deck companies to offer developers a one-stop-shop package. Our company’s footprint across the country is growing exponentially with these types of joint pursuits and awards. Especially with the support of our industry association NRMCA and Build With Strength. I see large-scale projects going up with ICF walls married to fast concrete deck systems such as iSpan, EcoSpan, Hambro, and the like. Win-win for all involved, especially the owners.” Who knows, maybe your love connection is in the booth right next to you.
As for the attendees out there, how can you maximize your time and money investment? Be engaged, ask questions. I understand that you may have been bitten by an aggressive, cheesy salesperson so now you stand across the aisle and whisper to your friend about a product in the booth. We’re not all bad . . . for the most part we are there to educate you about our product. This is your chance to get one on one time with an expert . . . for free. Make sure to get their information, even if they take yours. I will say that more times than I like to admit, information gets lost or sent to the wrong person, so if you take their info don’t be afraid to reach out after the show.
We all participate in trade shows to make our businesses and lives better. I can say I have learned a lot from my interactions with attendees at trade shows. When you get to talk to people from all over the world, you will hear questions about your product that you have never thought about. As an attendee, don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions, and as the exhibitor you need to listen. You know the old saying, “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason!”
Trade shows are full of opportunity. Maybe you are there to launch a new product or sell an old product to a new customer. Well, that next person who walks into your booth may have a problem that your product will fix. Maybe you are a regional manufacturer ready to go national and the young lady who just wandered in is the buyer for a major company looking for new products. Maybe that next question someone asks you will prompt your latest innovation. It’s time to get ready. Love is in the air. It’s Trade Show Season!
Trevor Brown is the owner and operator of Innovative Building Products, a multiline ICF and ICF accessories distribution company. He has been in the ICF industry for over 20 years starting as an installer and distributor. He has managed the Western U.S. for an industry-leading ICF company and is now an independent consultant for ICF builders and homeowners across the country. He is also the co-host of the Build With ICF Podcast, which can be found from the website,