In my last blog( Building Global Exports is Easier Than You Think) I tried to hammer home the point that selling your product outside dear old Canada should be part of your business strategy. The question then becomes just how do you do this. One of the best ways I can think of is to exhibit at a Trade Show that you know your target market will be attending. In my experience having both attended and worked at dozens of these shows over the years, its always been worth the time or money and sometimes the results have been unexpected. For example, I remember many instances where I found new sales reps and distributors for vacant territories who just walked into our booth. They became valuable additions to our global sales team. Other times we located complimentary lines of equipment that we didn’t know existed or saw new technology we could incorporate in our products. In one case, we were looking for a reliable vacuum generator and found a company who built them for taking lint out of the air in textile factories. In another case, we literally stumbled on a robotic picking device that could pick up porous fabric materials off of a stack where conventional vacuum picking units failed.
In addition to generating new leads for your products,(the most obvious reason for attending) there were many instances where we were able to help our sales force find the right people to talk to at companies where they were encountering roadblocks. I remember a time at the Atlanta Bobbin Show when we happened to meet two engineers from a large car mat company who were staying at the same hotel. We had been trying unsuccessfully to make headway at this company for several years until this chance encounter. We got to know each other at the show and they invited us to visit their plant where they were in the midst of a large lean manufacturing project that would require alot of our type of equipment. Applying our “Canadian” technology to their project helped our customer implement his project successfully and won us a large amount of business over the next several years; all much to the chagrin of our U.S. competitors. It was a classic case of being at the right place at the right time.
As well, a trade show is a great place to begin to forge relationships with other suppliers who sell complimentary products to your customers. These suppliers can become valuable sources of recommendations and references that can lead to new account generation. As an example, I remember walking into the 3M booth at a show where they were exhibiting their Thinsulate acoustical product for automotive applications. After chatting with one of their development engineers about their Thinsulate and how our cutting equipment could effectively process this structural nonwoven, we developed a good working relationship that continued for years.
Perhaps most importantly, attending a trade show, especially for a few years consecutively, will help to validate your stature in the industry to your target market, existing customers and your competitors. So often in the weeks prior to a major show, my customers would ask me if we were going to be exhibiting at a particular show; The Screenprint Show, The Converting Materials Show, The Gasket Fabricating Show etc. Saying yes and giving them a brief overview of what we would be exhibiting not only benefited the sales relationship but conveyed to the customer that we were plugged into their industry. As well, remember that if you don’t exhibit, your competitors have a golden opportunity to attract new business uncontested.
While costs to exhibit are always a factor these can be minimized in several ways including renting smaller booth spaces, sharing rooms, and not sending too many people(remember a Trade Show is not an excuse for a sales meeting). As well, some foreign trade show opportunities can be partially funded through government programs. In addition, the provincial and federal governments sometimes offer trade missions or inexpensive booth space at large foreign shows where they have prebooked space. The bottom line is that I was rarely disappointed with the results of attending a Trade Show. All it takes is one good lead and you will pay for the cost of show and more. I don’t know if it was Groucho Marx or Woody Allen who said it, but when it comes to attending a Trade Show they were right that “90% of success is showing up.”