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The three-dimensional sales tool: trade shows target a market and show products in motion.

The Three-dimensional Sales Tool

Trade shows target a market and show products in motion.

Hoosier business people may think that trade shows are a waste of time and money. Most of them are in destination cities such as New York, Las Vegas and Atlanta, they think, making them too expensive and too remote from the Indiana marketplace to fool with. They think wrong.

True, some of the megashows are sited in the aforementioned locations, but a lot more of them, in terms of overall attendance, are held right here in the Midwest, according to the Trade Show Bureau, a Denver-based organization that tracks the industry.

Five on the bureau's list of the top 15, for example, are booked into McCormick Place in Chicago, and three into the Kentucky Fairgrounds and Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky. Thirteenth on that list is the Midwest Mobile Modular RV Show that's held every August at the University of Notre Dame's Joyce Athletic and Convocation Center near South Bend. So that shoots down distance as a major argument against trade-show participation.

The arguments in favor of renting booth space and setting up a display on the exhibit floor go beyond accessibility, however. Estimates place the impact of trade shows on the U.S. economy at $21 billion a year. Almost one-third of trade-show visitors are in top management and have the power to make purchasing decisions. More than half of that number plan a purchase within 12 months after a show. That's action you can hardly afford to miss out on.

Going to trade shows affects the bottom line as well. The bureau found in a recent study that 54 percent of convention sales leads are closed with a phone call or a letter after the show. This compares to the four and a half personal calls per lead that it takes to close a sale generated in the field.

"Exhibiting at a trade show is the most cost-effective way of selling," says Larry Minnick, a 30-year veteran in the exhibit design business and president of The Exhibit House Inc. in Indianapolis. It's a chance for a company to target a market and to show its product in motion. "It is a three-dimensional sales tool."

Contrary to popular opinion, trade shows aren't just fun and games anymore, driven by the old-home-week dynamic and a desire to spy on the competition. It is anticipated that trade-show attendance will fall from 39 million people in 1990 to 38 million in 1991, according to figures compiled by the bible of the industry, Tradeshow Week magazine. But, says Darel J. Hamilton, director of marketing for the Trade Show Bureau, the quality of the attendees is improving. "What we're finding is that they are much more serious," he says, "because they're learning that trade shows are second only to the business press in terms of marketing effectiveness."

Although attendance at trade shows may be down, the number of shows is up, observes Walt Bagot, who is executive vice president of the Jackson Group in Indianapolis and a marketing consultant for Hamilton Displays, an Indianapolis exhibit supplier that dates from 1947. "This segment of the communications industry is growing tremendously," he says.

What accounts for that growing number is the increase in the number of regional shows in second-tier cities such as Fort Wayne, Indianapolis and South Bend, believes Karl Richter, president of Exhibiteam, a 3-year-old exhibit-supply firm in South Bend. Richter thinks the reason that exhibitors today are shying away from the big halls in Detroit, New York and Chicago and attending more regional shows is the high cost as well as the hassle they can get from the labor unions in first-tier cities.

Without question, the trade show is a fact of life. The question then becomes, "How can a business exhibit the most effectively?"

A primary consideration should be prudent use of space, says Irving Sachs, director of the International Association for Modular Exhibitry, which is headquartered in Wakefield, Mass. "And remember--you're selling services, not the exhibit. The graphic presentation should not be obtrusive," he says.

It's also vital for you to get the word out that you will be exhibiting at an upcoming show. According to the Trade Show Bureau, 33 percent of attendees at your booth are there because of preshow promotion, which includes placing ads in trade journals, sending out newsletters and distributing brochures prior to the show.

"Preshow promotion is incredibly important," agrees Hamilton Display's Bagot, whose Indiana clients include Eli Lilly and Co., DowElanco, Hurco Cos. and Kimball International Inc., among others, as well as Worthington, Ohio-based Chemlawn Services Corp. and Valvoline Oil Co. of Lexington, Ky. "People are more sophisticated than they were 20 years ago," he thinks. Before going to a show, today's attendees make lists of the exhibits they want to see, Bagot says. "The days of |walking the show' are gone forever."

The industry has what it terms its "rule of three," according to Sachs: three seconds for an attendee to make up his mind whether he wants to stop at a booth, 30 seconds for the exhibitor to make his pitch, and 30 more minutes to close the sale. The first three seconds, therefore, are crucial. To ensure that you will capture your audience's attention, do you use special effects such as laser lights or dancing girls?

"The use of gimmickry totally depends on your objectives," says Bagot. Live entertainment, holograms and waterfall signage generate traffic, he says, because motion attracts the eye. But he warns against theatrics that overshadow the basic message the exhibit is trying to convey.

Sherry B. Beck makes a more guarded assessment. Beck is president and owner of Display Center Showroom, a 7-year-old distributorship in Indianapolis. As she puts it, trade shows are "a timed arena." These attention-grabbers, including films and slide shows, are ineffective, she thinks, because they are too time-consuming.

But Exhibiteam's Richter takes the opposite view. "They're expensive," he admits, "but they're effective." His responsibility to his client, he says, "is drawing people." Alternatives to such costly eye-catchers as strobe lights and live entertainment are the effective use of color, design, audiovisuals and back-lighted displays. "An exhibit has to be something you remember, something different, something outstanding."

Bruce Timmerman, a principal in Design Direction Inc., a design firm in Indianapolis, stresses originality and creativity. "A fresh, new look will set an exhibit above and apart from its competitors," he maintains.

Beck lists some of the elements she thinks an effective exhibit must have. "It must be simple and direct," she says. "It should be upscale, and should project a sophisticated image and deliver clear messages."

Bagot's definition is a bit more involved. An effective exhibit, he says, should provide an environment that focuses visitor attention on products or services in a way that is supportive of a company's goals and is coordinated with other marketing programs. And he makes this point: "There needs to be a consistency between all visual elements that reach the customer."

To achieve that consistency, Bagot suggests an initial meeting with the client's marketing, sales and product managers, who should bring promotional material and new-product samples. "We ask for as much direction as we can possibly get," he says. At that initial meeting, there should be an effort to determine whether the company's exhibit objective is to generate sales leads, to reposition its image or to react to a competitive intrusion.

Design Direction's Timmerman also emphasizes the client-input factor. "Client ideas must be translated into design ideas," is how he puts it.

Developing that blockbuster exhibit requires input from the client, Beck says, because it is the client who has built his business and who best knows his industry's profile. And she has never encountered a client who wasn't willing to listen to professional advice. "They don't want to embarrass themselves in front of the industry," she says.

"If the client knew what he wanted, he wouldn't need the services of a quality exhibit designer," says Minnick. "Exhibit design is a specialty field." Most people, for example, are not familiar with the types of fastenings required or how to build an exhibit that can be dismantled and packaged for transport.

Don Hall, vice president of Customcraft, a 45-year-old exhibit design firm in Fort Wayne, says that installation, dismantling and transportation are what ultimately determine the cost of an exhibit. "The total cost is not what you initially pay," he explains. While a cheaper display may seem attractive up-front, often it is more complicated to set up and may incur greater labor costs on the exhibit floor, which can add up over the long haul. "Weight also should be kept to a minimum to hold down drayage costs," he notes.

Some clients, Richter says, have preconceived notions that Exhibiteam enlarges upon. But more important than the exhibit itself is what the client does with it, he says. He urges clients to view trade shows from the dollars-and-cents standpoint, to follow up on their leads, to be aggressive, particularly during a recession. "My job is to help my client with his marketing."

Basically, exhibitry falls into two classifications: custom and portable. Portables are defined as carry-in, no-tool, off-the-shelf units that can be folded up, trundled off in a suitcase-sized carrier, stashed in the trunk of a car, air-freighted or sent via a parcel service. Customs are one-of-a-kind, site-built booths that must be shipped by a moving van and require mallets, wrenches and screwdrivers for installation and dismantling. You can apply the term "modular" to both types. "Even a custom-built exhibit has to be broken down and packed into plywood shipping crates," points out Minnick.

"A custom-built booth might be a good option for someone who wants a two-story exhibit," says Beck, "or for someone who wants to incorporate exotic materials and architectural elements such as pillars and arches into a display."

"But there is a place for each," maintains Hamilton Display's Bagot. The choice depends upon a client's goals. Custom displays offer the ultimate in design. They also might represent the ultimate in cost, as much as $1.5 million, Bagot says. Clients that exhibit at a single national show may opt for custom-built, while those who make several regional shows may prefer the transportation and setup economies of the portables, he says.

It was the escalating cost of transportation and setup, in fact, that gave rise to the portables. They came into their own in the late '70s, says the IAME's Sachs, with the oil embargo, a recession, double-digit inflation and rising interest rates. Custom exhibitry began to cost more; weight was a factor. "It was a market that was just waiting to be fulfilled," Sachs says. Now, after 12 years, they account for about 38 percent of the market.

"The market is growing dramatically," affirms Hall of Customcraft, one of the state's largest suppliers of portables. "Ten years ago, they were pretty plain Jane, but some of them now look like custom-built," he says. He cites another advantage: Most exhibit halls will waive labor charges if you can set up your display in half an hour, without tools, and do it alone.

"Portables used to be just plain doggy," says the Display Center Showroom's Beck. "But now they are starting to have enough to offer to be challenging." The increasing number of women who are exhibiting and manning booths at trade shows is one of the reasons portables have become so popular, she says. Their light weight and ease of setup makes them easier for women to handle.

How much mileage can a client expect to get out of an exhibit-booth purchase? "That depends upon his desire to show a different face," says Bagot. If it is built properly, it will hold up indefinitely.

Minnick concurs. "An exhibit often outlasts a client's marketing needs," he says. A large part of his firm's work consists of updating and refurbishing the displays he has previously designed and built, he says.

To protect a client's investment, an exhibit designer likes to have a representative from his company supervise the installation and dismantling of a custom-built display. "That's part of the service," says Exhibiteam's Richter. "If we don't dismantle it, it comes back a jumbled-up mess."

Sums up Richter: "In this business, there's no tomorrow. If an 18-wheeler pulls up at the curb, and a display's not ready, we could have a lawsuit on our hands. That's why we have to be careful about how busy we get. We don't want to lose control and personal contact with the client. Right now, we have faith we can give him 100 percent."

PHOTO : Design Direction of Indianapolis utilizes color to convey the Allison Gas Turbine message at Heli-Expo '91 in the Anaheim, Calif., convention center.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Curtis Magazine Group, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Hughes, Ann
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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