Tuesday, 25 January 2011

How To Exhibit Successfully At Trade Shows - Part Three

Creating A Brilliant Exhibition Stand.

Welcome back to my blog mini-series looking at how to make trade shows work for you. This is part three, where I'm going to give you my tips for creating stands that stop visitors in their tracks and get you noticed.

(If you haven't seen Part One or Part Two, click here for tips on whether exhibiting is right for you and how to get started).

Most trade exhibitions are very busy places (if they're not, why would you want to exhibit there?), so the biggest challenge is how to get yourself noticed. Now if you're rich enough to be using contractors and booking a large stand, you'll probably have people all over you with ideas for how your stand should look, but if you're on your own, or part of a small team, you'll have to be your own creative genius. This post is for you, I hope it helps. Feel free to get in touch if there's anything specific I might be able to help you with.

So off we go...

Designing the stand.
Over the years I've seen a huge number of exhibition stands, form the massive to the minute, and I have to tell you, whatever they say, size isn't everything. If you've booked a 2m x 2m cupboard, there are still things you can do to stand out.

A 2 x 4m stand making good use of graphics to sell three different product groups.

The number one tip is to get your whole stand planned in detail way in advance, this way you have time to source everything you'll need and come up with alternatives or improvements as they suggest themselves.

I always sit down with some blank sheets of paper and draw roughly to scale the space I've got and mark the direction of travel visitors will be coming from (you can make a good guess at this by looking closely at the hall plan if you're not already sure about it).

Now list all the products you'll want to show - and I mean all - it's no good trying to add a load more stuff on after you've come up with your plans. If you're selling a service, or a product too big to have on the stand, think about how you will demonstrate visually what you do. My advice here is not to get too creative. You'd be amazed at how many companies, often the very big ones, assume that visitors know them already and what they do. But the whole point for most exhibitors is to be found by new customers, people who just might not know you yet. So I beg you, don't over-estimate your fame and make it obvious what you do and who you are.

Try and find a simple graphic way to show what you're selling. Don't believe me? One of the most common conversations I hear, starts with a visitor saying to an exhibitor " so what it it you do?" The danger is, that for every visitor brave enough to ask you, you can guarantee there will be more who just walked straight past, too embarrassed or too uninspired to speak to you.

Once you know what you want to show, decide how you're going to do it. If it's product small enough to put on shelves, think about the type of shelves that would look good. If it's got to be graphics, think about the wall space or free-standing graphic displays.
This company supplies garden centres, so the display echoed garden centre merchandising, with lots of plants too.
If you're using shelves, keep them shallow - it's hard for visitors to see into deep shelves, and don't put anything too low down that might be obscured by higher shelves. Put yourself in the mindset of someone walking past  - they're not going to bend down to see the things you're hiding lower down.

If you've got a special message to get across, e.g. We're special because..., be confident and have graphics that say so. Exhibitions are all about getting your message over very quickly and you can't guarantee to stop and speak to everyone - have graphics to say the main messages for you.

A word of warning - work out roughly the eye-line for passers by and don't put your graphics too high or too low. I've seen too many stands where the punch line or key point was hidden behind a table or display unit - the solution to this, is to plan it carefully in advance.

Furniture & Props
Many organisers will supply you with lists of furniture and display equipment you can hire for the event. On the whole, if budgets are tight, I'd advise you not to use these for small stands. The rental costs tend to be astronomic and too often the stuff only arrives on your stand an hour before the hall closes on build up day - not much use if you're planning a hefty stand dressing.

Instead, get creative at your local IKEA, Argos or Homebase. These - and others - sell all kinds of shelving, tables, chairs and all kinds of items that you can use to give your stand structure. Always try and use the height of the stand to give you maximum impact. This isn't a market stall, people will be looking up, not down as they wander past, so build in height, for instance, if you're selling plates - stand them up, don't display them flat.

I've used fold up chairs from IKEA which are brilliant. They're cheap, easy to transport, take up very little space, and can be folded away if not needed. IKEA is also a great place to source pot plants. Not for every stand I know, but they're a great way to soften the look of some displays. Oh and while we're on the subject of chairs - don't use them unless you absolutely have to. I'll talk about this more in the next post, but for most small businesses, you don't need to seat visitors, or at least not for long. That's why fold up chairs can help.

If you're using tables, make sure you've got table cloths that reach the floor - it not only looks better, it gives you somewhere to stash the inevitable bits and pieces that you don't want 'on show'.

Stand Dressing
Once you've worked out the essential structure of your stand, i.e. what's going to go where and how it will be accommodated, it's time to think about how to make it look wonderful.

Now again, I have to reiterate, plan this well in advance and if you're doing it yourself for the first time, have a dummy run. If you need inspiration, have a walk round some big retail department stores or large garden centres. They are experts at window dressing and this is the art you have to master.

Have a critical look at their window displays. You'll see that in addition to the products, there will be props. Now props can be absolutely anything, and you'll need to think creatively here, but this will make all the difference. It doesn't have to cost the earth. Create background colour with crepe paper, use trails of ivy, scour your local junk shops.
Giant ants walk across this stand!

Fabric is very useful for stand dressing, especially if you want to add depth. One small tip; if you want to display items on shelves at various heights, put different sized cardboard boxes on the shelf, then cover it with a large piece of fabric - voilĂ , instant variable height display.

Stock up with sticky tape, glue, sticky pads, blue tack, a glue gun (for the more adventurous), velcro and any other tools of the trade. You'll need lots to put things just where you want them - take them with you because you won't want to be popping out once you get started. If you want to hang things, try fishing line - it's very strong and practically invisible. Oh and a staple gun and scissors are pretty useful to have too!

Seeing the light.
Lighting is important, so plan out what you'll need and make sure you order them from the organisers - lights aren't something you can normally take in yourself. Dull stands don't make a good impression, so go for more rather than less lighting.

Hiding the mess and keeping everything secure.
However well you prepare, you'll have some things you'll need on the stand that you don't want to display e.g. your handbag or briefcase. Sometimes clients will cheekily ask to leave theirs with you too, so try and have a space where you can hide a few things. With small stands, it's better not to leave valuables on the stand - certainly not overnight - keep them with you.

When you've built your masterpiece, take photos. You'll be glad you did.

In the next post, 'All Present And Correct', I'll talk about the things to do and not to do while you're at the show. It's all about being professional and approachable.
See Part Five - 'Tell Them You're There' for ideas for getting people to see you
Part Six - Home & Dry evaluation & follow-up


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