As most of you know, this past IAAPA '13 show was the first time in 15 years as members that we did not exhibit in the show, as pending projects and overlapping deadlines did not allow us to set aside any time to build a booth this year (we change our booth design every year. Check them out here). As all of you know, the IAAPA show is very important to us and so while we could not exhibit, we decided to walk the show, not only as a buyer for a current project, but view it through an attendees eyes. Something that I have always tried to do while exhibiting, but never had the chance as working our booth requires all hands on deck.
My experience as an attendee/buyer was amazing! But I still had the blood of an exhibitor flowing through my veins. So walking down the isles I was so shocked to see a number of things that exhibitors were both doing and not doing, that I thought I would share those findings with our community. I invite you to read and comment on your experiences, as we could all learn from each other.
"Walk your talk".
During our first showing at IAAPA 15yrs ago, I had the pleasure of meeting a VP of special events from Disney. As we talked, I had mentioned to her that this was my very first time at any of the parks and Disney was going to be my very first destination after breakdown at show’s end. She was shocked. “How could you be in this industry and never have visited a park before”? What can I say, my parents never had enough money to pack up the family and experience Disney. So, growing up, I experienced it by watching the Disney specials on TV, knowing that I somehow wanted to be involved in what I saw. With what she now knew about me, she invited me and my then girlfriend, now wife and business partner to be her guest at Epcot under one condition. “What’s that”? I said. “Only if I can tag along with you ALL DAY”!!! “Why would you want to do that”? I said. Her response: “Because I want to see your face as you experience everything from the grounds to the rides! Oh one more thing, you have to wear your Mickey ears the whole time”. A free entry to Epcot, and all I had to do was wear my ears and have someone tag along? PFFFFF. I was going to wear them all day ANYWAY! Needless to say the experience was magical, but for me the day’s purpose was not only to have fun, it was to learn more about our industry. To see how parks like Disney does what it does. As I explained that to our most gracious host, she told me something... “Here at Disney, no matter what level of employee you are, you are required to take a “day off” and “walk the park” enjoy and experience the day as if you were there as a guest on vacation. Why? So that you could fully appreciate your job there at the park. If, for example, your job was to sweep up any litter or debris off the floors, you would take notice of how clean the park is and that the park was so because YOU played an important part in it and that something as small as that has A LOT to do with a great guest experience.”
The moral of this story carries some SERIOUS weight. Weight that I certainly have always tried to carry, as difficult as that may be “all the time”. It was something that I had been taught by both my parents when I was 11 years old and asked my parents if I could get a job. “Doing what” my mom asked. “Washing dishes and sweeping up at the local Italian deli I told her. She looked at me and said: “If that is what you are going to be doing, make sure that you do the best that you can at that job. Make sure that you are proud of the job you do. Don’t put half of yourself into it. Put all of yourself into it, no matter what you do”. That mentality has stuck with me since then and I pass that tip along where ever/whenever I can, as I am about to do here...
So here we go, my findings of WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED AT IAAPA 2013
1. Sitting down in your booth.
1. Sitting down in your booth.
Yes. Sitting down. What ever your job may be back at your office/shop, this is a selling floor. Never sit down. Why would you sit down? Do you realize the vibe you are putting out to potential buyers? No. Of course you don’t. You’re sitting down. You are telling them you are either too tired to be there (Really? The show just opened), or you’re not interested in what you’re doing nor are you interested in greeting anyone, ESPECIALLY a buyer! What the buyer thinks: “If these guys are this dis-interested in why they are here, how dis-interested are they in their product”?
2. Eating in your booth.
2. Eating in your booth.
“Hey! I’ve been sitting in my booth all day. I have to eat”! That’s right you do have to eat. But not in your booth. Take a break, go to the cafeteria where you can “SIT” and eat your lunch. Do you know the vibe you’re putting out to people walking past? Of course you don’t. You’re too busy chomping down. Besides what buyer wants to shake your hand after you’ve been gnawing away on some greasy panini? You’re telling the buyer once again, “I don’t care”. “I’m hungry Damn it, and if I’m expected to be here all day, I’ll eat when I want to”. Wrong move. You’re there to present your product in the best way that you can. Unless you’re selling a food product, don’t do it. I’ve had this conversation with many people. One of my clients who used to exhibit at the show once told me, he never allowed his reps to leave the booth. “You are here to sell. If you get hungry step outside of the booth and have a protein drink, then get back in here”. OK now, where even I think that may be a little harsh, I did see his point. You are there to sell.
3. Reading in your booth
Unbelievable!!! I actually saw a number of exhibitors SITTING and head down READING in their booths! WHAT?!?! Who does this? Never mind, I know who and I’m sure you do too! Once again, the vibe you put off is disinterest in why you are there and your product. I’m sorry, is now the time for you to catch up on 50 Shades of Grey?
4. Talking: The Do’s and Don'ts
A) Talking away on your cell or each other
Both a No No. Unless you are a designated person covering calls from the office, “Don’t be on your cell, be there to sell (see what I did there?) Once again disinterest in the show’s purpose. I spotted so many exhibitors guilty of this. If you need to take a call, walk out of the booth and finish your call. Don’t do it in the booth. And WHY are you all standing around talking to each other as if this is an overdue family reunion? Again, I attended the show as a buyer; I walked into a booth, and everyone was so involved in their conversation that I was neglected. Not even seen! Guess what? I walked out of that booth and found another vendor. There is too much to do and see and not enough time, so don’t waste mine!
B) Jumping down the buyer’s throat.
Don’t interrupt what the buyer is trying to explain to you, or what they need. Hear them out before you push your “knowledge” of what you think is best for them. As a buyer in this year’s show, I experienced this first hand. It made me want to leave that booth. If you stop to LISTEN for a moment, you will be able to better help me with the right product.
C) SHUT UP! You talk too much!
I’ll admit, I’m guilty of this one, but I have been good at curbing my enthusiasm these past couple of years. This is a particularly hard task, when you are passionate about what you do as I am and my clients know me for REALLY being passionate. Again, as a buyer in this year’s show, I spoke to a couple of passionate sellers and I was consumed by an overwhelming feeling to punch them in the throat! Harsh I know, but that made me think “How many people have wanted to do that to me??? I do warn my client’s that I talk too much and fast, and if I do get out of line, please tell me, I’ll stop. That’s when I get that “yeah right” laugh. There is nothing wrong with being passionate about your work. It shows how dedicated you are about what you do, but you do need to work on your “Elevator Pitch”. You want to be able to explain what you do or your product in 30 seconds or less. If the buyer is truly interested they will then stay for the full story.
5. Your product should sell it’s self.
If your product sells it’s self, there is no need to do any hard sell (per se). This is a hard thing to do, I know. For me, I tend to think that my niche market does so. I am a Theming company and offer a number of services revolving around the theming industry. You either need me or you don’t. So my booths are designed to show off our creativity, style and theming abilities, which is why we exhibit with a different booth every year (Oh, did I mention that we didn’t exhibit this year because our pending deadlines didn’t allow us time to create a new booth this year? Yes? Ok, just making sure).
Your booth should follow the same direction. Make your services quickly understandable.
Clearly there were some great examples out there, but I did see some that made me say “HUH”?
6) The Early Breakdown.
This is where the exhibitor simply can’t wait to start packing up their booth and go home! It usually occurs within the last 3 hours of the last day of the show, but I have witnessed instances where exhibitors start breaking down at noon time. SERIOUSLY??? First of all it’s against IAAPA rules and for a good reason. It makes the show look sloppy and dirty. It’s also dangerous, as buyers are still walking the show floor and your “thrown to the side” bubble wrap could case someone to trip and hurt themselves.
As exhibitors, we all know (too well) how expensive these shows are for us to participate in. It’s been a long week standing on our feet (some of us sitting), I know, but WHY would you not want to get every dime’s worth of your exhibit time on the floor? This is the time when buyers are racing through the show trying to get all of their last minute info packs before the show finally closes. Why are they racing through? For some it’s because their time was wasted in some of the above mentioned observations. Packing up early causes missed opportunities. I have never been guilty of the “Early Breakdown” and I can tell you for fact that if I had, I would have missed out on a number of last minute contacts which have turned into sales.
7) Be available for any questions.
HOLY COW! I can not believe this, but it is true! If you walk up to a buyer in your booth and ask if you could answer any questions for them, DON’T walk away to take care of something else while the buyer is then trying to ask you something! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? This very thing happened to Dena, my wife and company VP who was ALSO on a buying expedition with me. Would you be surprised to learn that she just walked out of the booth and moved on to the next supplier of that very same item?
Yes smile. But not a fake Beauty Pageant smile. A genuine, caring smile. Buyers can spot a fake smile a mile away. “But I’m tired and you won’t let me sit down OR eat my lunch, how can you expect me to smile”? Well then you simply are not passionate about what you are doing, because if you were, the rest wouldn’t matter.
Test yourself here: Can you spot a Real Smile or Fake Smile?
Test yourself here: Can you spot a Real Smile or Fake Smile?
9) Know your product
As mentioned in the intro above, Disney has their employees walk their park in order to learn about their park. Follow examples from successful industry leaders. Take notes.
This past year, both IAAPA Chairman Will Morey and his brother Jack of the world famous Morey’s Piers, Wildwood NJ, took on a tour of 9 North Eastern parks. They Flew from park to park, learning about each location’s individual nuances and what made them successful. Read an excerpt here:
That’s it for now. I hope that you all had a great showing and that my observations will serve you well in your next trade show. Please feel free to contact me and let me know your thoughts, as I love sharing war stories.
About the author: Giovanni Calabrese is the owner of Themendous. A Theming company based out of Northern NJ. With 21 years in the industry, Themendous has installations across the U.S. and growing overseas locations such as Germany, England and The Caribbean. Disclosure: Morey’s Pier’s and The New England Parks are Themendous clientele.