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Which trade fairs should I be attending?

How to find the right trade fairs and get the most out of them

I’m in the process of starting a small food production business and have visited quite a few trade fairs and exhibitions in search of ideas, contacts and inspiration. However, I often find it’s hard to decide which ones will offer the most value. As some are at opposite ends of the country, how can I appropriately choose which ones to attend, and are there any ways of maximising my chances of getting tangible value out of them?

William Berry writes:

Exhibitions and trade fairs can offer a superb opportunity to make contacts and get a view of where your industry is going, but it is important to do a little research and planning to ensure you attend the rights ones, and make the most of your time while you’re there. 

First, have a look at the website; it should look professional and credible. Next, put the name of the exhibition into a search engine. A well-established event should have an equally well-established web presence. Now, take a look at the list of exhibitors; do any of them grab your fancy?

You might want to try drawing up a simple cross table to help you decide which to attend. For each exhibition or trade fair, mark ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for the following questions: Is it near to you? Does it have some interesting exhibitors? Does it look credible? Is it big? Will it have useful contacts for my business? Will it have competitors there that I can talk to and ‘borrow’ ideas from? With these questions answered for each one, you should be able to see clearly which are really worth attending.

Getting value from exhibitions is all about planning. As soon as you arrive, get a copy of the exhibition magazine, grab a coffee and look through it. It will contain a floor plan of the exhibition as well as listings for all the exhibitors. Underline all the people that you really want to see and go straight to them first before visiting any other stands.

When talking to the exhibitors, try to get to the point quickly or you won’t see everyone you want to. Avoid the promotional staff and go straight for the person who looks like they are in charge with direct questions about the product/service.

If you are looking to set up a business relationship then this is a great opportunity to meet the main people. Be friendly, explain who you are. Get their business card and make sure you follow up the next day with a ‘thank you for your time’ email.

Finally, if you are looking to buy the product or service then don’t be afraid to go for a discounted deal there and then. Say something like, ‘I have the money available right now, but I don’t usually make on the spot purchases. If you put a great deal in front of me, perhaps you can tempt me…’.

William Berry is managing director of international venue finding agency ConferenceVenues.com

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