Smaller businesses returning to trade shows

With economic recovery still spotty amid concerns that it won’t take much for a second dip, conventional wisdom would indicate that exhibiting at trade shows isn’t on the smaller business radar.

Conventional wisdom could be wrong:

Ÿ The Midwest Furniture Show, a 5-year-old self-created expo put together by the Midwest Furniture Club, Northbrook, expects to draw 800 retailers to its late June show at the Schaumburg Convention Center.

Independent reps for furniture manufacturers are the exhibitors; about 75 of them are expected to show their manufacturers’ wares to independent furniture retailers from throughout the Midwest.

Ÿ Activity at Tradetec Skyline, a Lombard trade show exhibit and support company, plummeted “40 percent off the top line, which is 60 percent off the bottom line” as the trade show sector shriveled in 2009, according to CEO Ken Buckman.

However, business roared back by 50 percent last year and is on pace to do the same this year as exhibitors return to the trade show floor, Buckman says. Interestingly, he adds, “The people investing in trade shows (at Tradetec Skyline) are not the giants but companies with sales between $20 million and $75 million.”

It’s not all that unusual for Buckman to see companies with annual sales in the $4 million-$6 million range exhibiting.

There is no debating that trade shows can cost real money: You have to rent booth space; buy or, preferably, rent a booth; send at least two and probably three people to staff the exhibit and talk to trade show delegates; and do some pre- and post-show marketing.

Yet, there are economies even for smaller exhibitors, and carefully planned pre- and post-show marketing can help maximize results.

Geoff Weed, who serves as the coordinator for the Midwest Furniture Show, says trade shows “can be successful for exhibitors who put in some effort, who have a plan.”

For the furniture show, which is intended to appeal to smaller retailers who don’t attend the big furniture shows in Las Vegas and High Point, N.C., just putting a recliner in a booth doesn’t cut it.

Successful exhibitors, Weed says, will make it a point to invite their retail customers to the show — and follow-up afterward.

While it still is easy to spend $25,000 or more to buy a booth, Buckman says many exhibitors “are renting small booths.” A typical 10x10 rental booth “is a banner stand setup with a nice back wall. There are fewer pieces. The whole thing is easier to set up and take down.”

Renting rather than buying a booth can be key. Even such a savvy exhibitor as Skokie’s Portland Cement Association, which represents its members at important construction shows each year, rents its larger booths, says Vice President Bruce McIntosh.

Ÿ Contact Jim Kendall at

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