Waiting for customers at your tradeshow is like planning retirement with lotto tickets - SKUFood
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Waiting for customers at your tradeshow is like planning retirement with lotto tickets

It is trade show season and it is great to get out and see new ideas, meet with customers and what is happening in the food and beverage industry. It is a significant investment to attend these shows:

  • You have to pay for the space
  • You need an attractive booth that represents your brand
  • You will need something to attract people to your booth
  • You will have to provide product samples
  • You need to travel to get there (for many shows)
  • You have to invest your time and perhaps other people in your business

It is a significant commitment to do it right. You want to do everything you can to ensure you get a return on your investment. A great booth with samples is no guarantee of success. It is like putting your great product in the store and expecting it to fly off the shelf. It just doesn’t happen.

You need to do the work to prepare and make the most of your trade show investment.

Be strategic

You need to do a lot of work to prepare for a trade show. We are sure you have the booth and logistics figured out. We want to share some ideas to ensure you get to see the right people and deliver a return on your investment.

Once you decide to attend a show you should determine what you want to accomplish. These objectives will help you build the plan. Be realistic. Objectives could be:

Find 3 new customers in a specific market.

Find 4 prospective distributors. 1 in an existing market and 3 in a new market.

You are not sure but you are considering a broker for the new market and you would like to meet a few to get a sense if this is right nor not.

Sustainability is more important than ever so you are looking for some more sustainability options for your packaging

Export is an opportunity you think you should pursue but you do not know a lot about it. Perhaps you could learn something at the trade show.

Cost of goods is receiving a lot of focus. You know some new equipment would make your production more efficient and reduce your costs. You want to see what is out there in your category.

These are all great objectives to consider and there are many more. As we said, be realistic. You only have so much time and you also have to take care of your booth. Prioritize the objectives based on the show and who will be there. We recommend 3 or if you have more resources add a couple more.

Before the show

Once you have established some objectives you need a plan. A lot of work should be done before you get to the show.

Most trade shows will list the participants who have a booth and others attending. Review these lists and find businesses and people who will help you achieve your objectives. Reach out to them in advance and try to arrange a specific time you can meet. Do not hope they make it to your booth. You can also make a list of booths you want to visit.

Exposure at trade shows is important. Most have some form of awards or showcase you can enter. This is a great opportunity to get recognition and perhaps attract someone to your product who is interested in working with you.

Many shows have a formal process where buyers can meet sellers. You have to register for this in advance and meetings will be set up. This can be a great opportunity to have a first discussion with a new customer. Remember the format and it is usually brief. You cannot sell them millions of cases in 15 or 20 minutes. You can develop a rapport where the follow up will be the key decision-making time. Plan your presentation accordingly and respect the time.

Reach out to existing customers and plan to meet. This is much better than hoping they will stop by your booth. Prepare for the conversation and make sure you have a few things you need to and actually do discuss with them.

Spread the word as much as possible that you will be at the show. You can use social media, your email signature and any other means to let people know you will be at the show.

Review the business sessions they are offering. You cannot attend them all but there might be some that are very relevant to you.

Sampling is always a challenge. How much do you take? We like to forecast this based on the following formula:

Hours the show is open x realistic number of samples per hour

Certainly this is impacted by how much you talk to people and the complexity of your sampling. If you have a beverage that is easy to pour into small cups then you will have more people grab it on the way by.

Once you have some meetings set up, business sessions to attend and know when you have to meet prospective buyers, build a schedule. If you have other people attending with you plan for the meetings to ensure you booth has someone there. Remember you and everyone else needs a break once in a while and you need to eat!

During the show

Your planning in advance will reduce some of the stress and make sure you make the best use of your time.

Use the trade show map to plan your booth visits, based on the list you made in advance. When you do walk to these booths keep an eye out for others that are interesting or perhaps some companies you were not aware of.

You are probably doing some form of sampling. It is great to feed people but you want to get the attention of the people who will help you accomplish your objectives. If you are hoping to find new customers or perhaps distributors it can be beneficial to have some special samples or perhaps a small take home package for the real prospects.

If possible, try to walk the show before it opens. It is much less busy and you can get to see things without people trying to sell you something.

We always advocate for getting out to stores. If you have travelled to the show you can learn a lot when you get into some stores. This is very important if this is a market you hope to expand into. It can be a challenge with everything else but you will see ideas and understand your category in a different market.

Make sure you have a process to capture the contact information of the people who will help you achieve the objectives you set. A fist full of business cards is great but it can be a challenge to sort through. Confirm with people how you should follow up. What is the best method of communication and when is the best time to follow up.

Make sure the other people in your booth are engaged with the objectives and watching for the right people if they do visit your booth.

Consider some signage at your booth to communicate why you are at the show. It is great to say you are looking for a retailer or a distributor in Western Canada. You can try to connect with them, assuming you know who they are. These people could be walking the show and you do not know them, or they do not have ‘Distributor ABC’ or ‘retailer DEF’ their badge. If you have a sign that says ‘looking for a distributor in Western Canada’ they will be more likely to stop if they see an opportunity with your product. You might also be elsewhere when they walk by. Regardless this can be effective.

After the show

Follow up is the key. Assuming you had a good process to capture the important people to follow up with, now is the time! Do not let it go too long and use the method of communication and timing you captured at the show. We know you do not always connect on the first call or email. You will have to be persistent and remember it is not just you. Everyone struggles with this.

It is beneficial to do a quick postmortem after a trade show. When things are fresh in your mind as to what worked well and what could have been better. Tracking the amount of product you used for samples is good too so you can keep learning and getting more accurate. You can begin to think about what you might do differently next time.

If you invest in taking people to the show, ask them to do a brief summary of what they learned and what they saw. People see different things.

There is no doubt it is a lot of work to participate in trade shows. The more you plan and make the best use of your time, the better return on your investment you should get. You can fell very busy at your booth, handing out samples and getting feedback about your product, but you might not be getting very close to your objectives. The chances of that ideal visitor coming to your booth can be low, similar to getting the winning 649 ticket. The more you plan, the better your return will be.


SKUFood Recipes for Success Podcast

We are super excited to announce we have launched our SKUFood Recipes for Success podcast. We have been working on this project for a while and it is finally ready to share with all of you. Our intention is to share the stories of food businesses and others in the value chain while also providing insights that are interesting and helpful to people in the food and beverage industry.

In this episode, we're privileged to sit down with Eric, a seasoned leader with four decades of experience in the food and beverage industry.

With thirty-three years on the retail side, Eric has honed his skills in distribution center operations, health and safety, process improvement, and more. His diverse expertise spans from quality assurance to procurement, bringing a wealth of knowledge to the table.

But Eric's journey doesn't stop there. For seven years, he's lent his talents to the supplier side, excelling in sales and marketing roles. His contributions extend beyond individual companies, as he's actively involved in industry organizations like the CPMA and CFIA advisory board, where he's made a lasting impact.

Currently the Director of Sales and Business Development at Algoma Orchards, Canada's largest independent apple grower, Eric continues to shape the future of the produce industry.

Join us as Eric shares his insights, lessons learned, and the secrets to cultivating success in this ever-evolving field. Whether you're a seasoned professional or just starting out, this episode is sure to leave you with a recipe for success.

Listen and subscribe where ever you get your podcasts.

Where is Peter Speaking?

Jam category has a new celebrity competitor

 Meghan, Duchess of Sussex is launching a new consumer brand called Riviera Orchards. She is introducing a line of preserves. We would expect them to be premium priced and probably not compete with Smuckers or product sold at Farmer’s markets. 

It is interesting to note a couple of things. Even with her celebrity status she is using influencers to launch the product. A strategy every other brand can use. The small batch approach is reinforced with numbering the jars xx/50. We have suggested to people, in any market, if you are making small batches figure out how to communicate this. It adds a premium element and is something the big brands cannot do. It sends a very different message than a lot code stamped on the cap.

Even the Duchess if Sussex needs to do the things we all need to do!

FCC Food and beverage report

This week FCC released the food and beverage report. This information is valuable because it is Canadian data and allows you to compare to the broader category and the industry. We would encourage you to look at your results and determine if you are out performing the segment of the market where you compete.