Home shows can be a wonderful way to show off your products in a more personal and interactive way than print advertising, direct mail and even television advertising. Unlike other forms of promotion, a home show lets you show your customers actual products. They can feel the textures of the fabrics, see the translucency of the materials, and operate the products to see how they work more than with any other form of promotion except a personal sales call.
However, at the same time, a home show can be a big commitment in terms of money and employee resources. Therefore, it's important to evaluate your local home show options wisely, then execute your participation successfully. Here are some tips for successful exhibiting at home shows.
SELECT THE RIGHT HOME SHOW
Just as you have many choices of local publications for your advertising, you probably have several local home shows at which you could exhibit. To select the home show that best meets your needs, it's useful to compare the demographics of anticipated attendees with the demographics of your ideal customer and find the show with the best match.
Ask home show organizers for sales kits that describe typical attendees. Where do anticipated attendees live? Do they own their own homes or do they rent? What is their income level? What is the value of their homes? What are their hobbies and interests? Also ask for a list of exhibitors at previous years' shows, and call them to find out how successfully the show attracted qualified leads for them. Most important, ask whether they are planning to exhibit again.
BE CREATIVE IN YOUR CHOICE
The obvious events to consider are home shows, remodeling expos and house and garden displays. Think "outside the box" and take a look at more unusual shows in your area—shows that do not focus on home fashions. Do the attendees of any of these shows match the profile of your ideal customer? If so, your display can really stand out in a show where no other home fashions retailers exhibit.
For example, I know about a drapery retailer who exhibits at the Los Angeles County Fair—among the prize baked goods and other fair displays. The company receives enough leads from the three-week event to operate a successful business for the entire year.
A Texas home fashions business owner I recently met exhibits at a high-end hunting and gun show in the Hill Country in Texas. As husbands enthusiastically examine guns and talk about hunting, their often-bored wives look at home fashions and make plans to buy.
Another home fashions retailer I know has had great success exhibiting at business expos given by her local Chamber of Commerce. Most of the products and services being exhibited are related to business, so her residential decorating business stands out and gets maximum attention.
BE ENTHUSIASTIC AND KNOWLEDGEABLE
When you talk to new people about your business—whether you're at a home show or not—your frame of mind and attitude are clear. Even when you're talking on the telephone, your customers often can tell whether you're smiling or not. Make sure the employees staffing your booth are enthusiastic about your products, your expertise, and just about being at the show.
Also, make sure they are knowledgeable about your business. Walk them around your exhibit. Explain all the displays and your goal for each display. In other words, why you selected to display that product or type of product. Let them in on the type of customers you are trying to attract and what products you want to sell. Teach them about the advantages of your business over other home fashions stores in your community so they can communicate these benefits to people who drop by the booth. And instruct them on giving a one- or two-minute description of your business for people who are curious about what you do and who you sell to.
SHOW PRODUCTS THAT SOLVE PROBLEMS
You can shine at a home show by showing people what you do that's unique and that other home fashions retailers cannot do to solve their problems. Show them—through photographs or actual products—how you can beautifully cover specialty windows (arches, angle tops and skylights), especially if you live in an area filled with new home construction which tends to include a lot of specialty windows.
If your business is located in an area with a lot of boat owners, show products that look good on boat windows. If you live in an area with extreme weather conditions (intense sun, high or low temperatures, or high humidity) show products that address these challenges.
BRING A PORTFOLIO
No matter how large your display area, you won't be able to show every product you sell or demonstrate the solution to every window covering challenge. In fact, many specialty window treatments may be impossible to show in the format allowed at the show.
Instead, you can show a portfolio of your work. It's a great tool to answer specific questions, "Take a look at this; I can show you exactly how I can addressed that problem," or "Yes, I just redesigned a home with your style windows and look how beautifully they turned out." A portfolio also can demonstrate your design expertise and lend a sense of credibility about the work you've already done in the community.
WORK HARD TO GET GOOD LEADS
Exhibitors often hold a raffle as an opportunity to collect names and addresses, and this is a great way to build a prospect list. However, if you offer a color TV or a trip to Hawaii as a raffle prize, everyone who walks by your booth will drop his or her name in the bowl. After all, who wouldn't want to win a TV or a trip?
To pre-qualify your prospect list, construct your prize carefully. Instead of offering something that almost every consumer would want, offer your own products as a prize (perhaps a gift certificate or a certain type of product). This ensures that only people who are interested in home decorating provide you with their contact information. An added plus is that since you can purchase your prize at wholesale prices and promote it at retail value, your prize will be perceived as a higher value than the cost you incur.
To qualify your prospect list further, carefully design the form that prospects use to write their names and addresses. Ask a couple of key questions such as, "Do you own your own home or rent?" and "Are you planning to remodel or redecorate in the next year?" The answers to these questions will allow you to sort your list when the show is over and follow up the best leads most quickly and with your best resources. Later you can follow up the other leads at a more leisurely pace or with less expensive marketing materials.
QUALIFY LEADS WITH PERSONAL CONTACT
Because a home show allows you to communicate face-to-face with potential customers, it's a perfect opportunity to qualify leads for further action. Make a point to get contact information on the spot for well-qualified leads and even make an effort to set follow-up in-home appointments while you're at the show.
FOLLOW UP FAST
When a prospect sees your ad in a newspaper or reads your direct mail piece, your goal is for that prospect to develop an interest in purchasing your product and to act soon. When prospects see your product and talk to you face-to-face at a home show, they tend to act even sooner if they are truly interested.
Speed is of the essence in following up serious leads. Once your prospects are hot to buy, they may purchase from whomever comes to mind first after the show—and that could be one of your competitors who sends them a direct mail piece or whose newspaper ad they see in the next few days after the show. Follow up serious leads quickly and effectively.
Home shows can be a fantastic way to educate consumers about your product, demonstrate your credibility and expertise, and qualify leads on the spot. Take advantage of this excellent tool to find new customers and increase your sales.
Kay Pegram is founder of Kaymar Communications, a Playa del Ray, CA-based independent marketing services firm for companies in window fashions and other industries. Pegram's previous window coverings industry experience includes serving eight years at LouverDrape and as director of marketing for the Tempo companies.