I have used an African proverb in the title because there are good and adverse comments by many experts about the outcome of trade shows but what I think about it is clear albeit the fact that I am not an expert but surely exposed. A business trade show is essentially an exhibition of goods and related services belonging to a set of specific industry. It could be on a region or state, national or international centric. Either as a participant or attendee or as an exhibitor, exposure to such trade shows is definitely one of the keys to boosting own opportunities to find prospective and potential customers, clients, business partners as the case be, in any stage of business.
When the company in Qatar where I was working as CEO, wanted to expand and diversify our activities from the core construction industry when we were reasonably established, I started looking for such opportunities. It was late 1990s while Qatar was poised to make a giant leap of overall development of the country. I don't remember how I ran to such a decision of attending international trade shows but I remember vividly about my visit to Frankfurt, Germany to attend ACHEMA, World Forum for the Process Industries.... albeit I had started earlier visiting such exhibitions in neighboring countries for our core activity.
I didn't know then that I would be able to make innumerable such visits world wide in later years, even changing the status from a simple attendee to a professional exhibitor. I would like to share what I have observed in this field.... could give a clue or two to those young entrepreneurs or those who have commenced a start up, but at an intersection or a seasoned business executive in the national level but want to make it international....
How it all started..
When our firm Al Balagh which was basically in construction could reach a 'A' grade classification in late 1990s, the highest grade in the country, my dream of making it into a known corporate business firm budded in my mind from no where. When Henry D Souza, our Finance Manager tipped me with an information that a small shop with petty construction goods and hand tools was available for sale in distress, we visited the place the same day. We could make a hurried study on the data available to make a feasibility study which was apparently not bad for us. The same day I discussed the matter with our Chairman who was at London over phone to get a go ahead signal. That was our first step to diversify our activities. After a year or so only we could learn the truth that it was not possible to make profits without our own exclusive agencies of good brands but all good international brands are already represented in the country! That's how I started looking elsewhere to get new products, new brands and ended up to visit international trade exhibitions.
A little bit of history....
Almost all ancient towns in the world had market days-mostly once in a week- during which all the traders and local buyers and sellers throng traditional markets with all produces. In ancient civilizations like India other than this, from time immemorial there existed such markets and entertainment carnivals linked to festivals of temples and churches which exist to this day. I would say that concept of professional trade exhibitions start with that.
But the first international business trade fair ever conducted can be zeroed to Champagne Fairs which has been taking place every year in northern France to this day from 13th century. Unlike the name denotes the fair was not restricted to wines but in textiles ,leather ,fur, spices etc. attracting many from other European countries. It is so named because it is taking place in the province of Champagne with the name-The Foires De Champagne from day one. In US such a fair was organized in 1810 for the first time by the renowned American traveler and agriculturist named Elkanah Watson who successfully introduced the breed of 'Merino' sheep in the country which was eventually a great success. But it was more at national level.
But the first major and professional international fairs ever conducted were three- The Great Exhibition of 1851 at London in the Crystal Palace, Hyde Park, The First International Trade Fair at New York in 1889 and the Great Paris Exposition in the same year along with the inauguration of Eiffel tower.
Why one should attend such trade shows...
Aims of attending such industry -specific trade shows of your field is extensive but depends on your role to attend the same. You could be a simple consumer or a distributor or supplier. You could be a manufacturer or a professional buyer or a person who wants to get into relevant business field or any other but there are quite a number of benefits for attending such trade shows. I shall list what are such benefits at random but depending on your specific role , one should strategize and prioritize.
*Direct purchases/sales of your products.
*Collecting leads/data for the sales.
*Renew faith in existing customers.
*Exposure to new trends.
*Opportunities for distributorship or representation as the case be.
*Testing ground for new products.
*Analysis of competitors of your product.
*Gather feedback/market intelligence.
*Convert discussions in related workshops to your advantage.
*Opportunity to meet genuine and prospective business partners of future.
*Marketing/Advertisement opportunity of your company/products.
*A place for direct interface or interaction with professionals of the same fields.
Preparations required prior, during and after the trade shows....
Again how to prepare and attend the tradeshows depend on your role. Due to paucity of space here, I am limiting to the role of a distributer/agent looking for good makes for representations.
*Plan the trip in advance. Book the air tickets and accommodation early as possible since as the dates near it is likely that rates go up esp in case of internationally known trade fairs. Some countries take a lot of time to process your visas as as well especially if you are from a third world country.
*Browse the web site of the trade show to find out the details of exhibitors. If a company/product is identified, go further to find out more like whether they are already represented in your area/country etc. If at all represented, see whether that is exclusive or there is room for one more distributor.
*Make a short list of the products/ manufacturers of your choice and note down their booth details. You can even start a correspondence with them or make an appointment.
*Arm yourself with plenty of visiting cards and company literature in swipe form of yours with QR Code etc since there could be heavy rush to have a detailed meeting.
*Collect such details from all the booths of your interest. Twenty years back, it was all in print forms and difficult to carry. Many executives used to bring foldable trolleys into the hall. And I remember that there were post offices near the exit with adequate envelops or card board boxes where one can send home the bundle of literature so collected. These days this is not required as we have gone digital.
*Make sure that you are one of the early birds to visit such fairs. It has its own advantages.
*Don't ignore small time exhibitors or those who have just launched a new product. One never knows the outcome.
*Don't waste too much time at the food stalls which can be crowded at lunch hours. Instead have your bites when you notice the stalls empty. It is important that you make good time while you are in the hall.
*At the end of your visit-may be after 2 or 3 days in the hall, if time permits, you can renew your interest in any particular product/company visiting them once again.
*On the last day 3 or 4 hours before closing time, generally the crowd will be thin and all are busy to wind up and leave. Please do not try to do serious business/talk at that time.
*Once you are back to your office after the trade show, on the first day only shoot positive mails to parties in which you are interested to do business further.
When I used to travel around the world long back, it was common to be asked by a taxi driver or someone who doesn't have much idea about India with very embarrassing questions like Is Indira Gandhi daughter of Mahatma Gandhi? Or just relate to utter poverty he has witnessed in his last trip to Mumbai!
It was a Frankfurt taxi driver who shot me a different question which I felt proud to hear for the first time. As soon as I got into his Mercedes Benz taxi and told my destination to be dropped which was Messe Frankfurt (Exhibition Hall at Frankfurt),he started his car and started moving. Once he was on the road, looking at his rear view mirror and asked me "Indian?" I told him yes. Then he asked me :"A computer engineer?" .....The inevitable change had taken place...
Courtesy: Image Google.