Ever wonder what it’s like to exhibit at a trade show? Here are excerpts from an interview with Gina Palko, VP at Technifold USA. Vivienne Edwards, Internation Business Development Manger for Tech-ni-fold Ltd asks Gina a few questions to give new distributors a behind-the-scenes idea of the challenges and rewards of being a vendor a printing trade show.
What's it like exhibiting at a printing trade show?
Our very first trade show in Charlotte in 2003 is an example of what it’s like, not to mention of what it’s like to age ten years in three days! We were just starting out and had no money to invest. But in the preceding few months we had a pretty good response to our initial sales efforts and customers were pleased with our brand new product, the Tri-Creaser.
So we decided to order…on credit…about 40 of the devices to bring to the show. I was also attending college and this single financial commitment was more than our household earned in a year!
We set off for Charlotte with 40 tools. I remember I also bought lots of little shopping bags for our customers to carry their Tri-Creaser around the show. As we set up for the show, our booth neighbors gently mocked us for how “simple” our stand looked next to their fancy, colorful booth. They were right. We had two posters hanging on black curtains and a little demo unit to show how our tools worked. There was nothing fancy, colorful, or dramatic.
On the first morning of the show, I sold my first device within 10 minutes of opening. I remember saying, “Hey, this is like shooting fish in a barrel.” Well three days later we drove home with 39 tools in the car. It was a long, quiet trip home.
I told Andre we absolutely had to send those tools back. There was no way we could pay for them in 30 days. He responded that it would cost a couple thousand dollars to ship them back so we couldn’t afford that either. I found out later he grossly exaggerated the shipping costs. It turns out he was confident we’d sell the tools and he was right.
I recall that our booth was a lot busier than our colorful neighbors and we had plenty of leads to take home from the show. Thankfully our exhibitor neighbors toned down their friendly mockery after seeing a constant crowd at our stand. We followed up with our leads and within a few weeks we sold the remaining 39 tools and then some.
Did that experience help you with your first time at Graph Expo?
Yes. After Charlotte we had more confidence, but no less anxiety. Trade shows are notoriously expensive. When you see the money flowing out in the months leading up to a show, you can’t help but worry, especially when there isn’t any money to burn.
But years ago, with better overall trade show attendance, it was a little easier to cover such big expenses. After a couple more shows, we learned not to worry so much. The tremendous logistics of doing even a small trade show simply means there are always little glitches.
This year, for instance, our trucker was scheduled to pick up the shipment between 12-4 p.m. on a Tuesday. At 11:55 a.m. a local department of public works truck and trailer pulled up outside our warehouse, completely blocking our lot. They immediately closed off the street to start painting crosswalk lines. Panic sets in. The one, time-critical 4-hour window out of the entire year where we absolutely had to have no access problems and these guys close down our street. Of course we imagined our trucker driving past the closed street and not bothering to call to ask for an alternate way in.
In an hour, the DPW trucks finished their lunch, the job, and went on their way, re-opening the street. At 3:55 p.m., just as we were getting ready to call the freight company to locate our driver, he pulls up to our door. All’s well. Another mini trade show crisis averted.
Last year, about 36 hours before the show opened, we get a call from the display installer saying that our graphics were no good. The fabric was inexplicably stained. “Don’t worry,” they said. “We’ll get our graphics department to re-print it. We’ll have it there before the show opens.” Hah! Don’t worry…are they kidding? Thankfully they made it with time to spare.
Oh, I almost forgot. Last year we almost had our flights cancelled. We were lucky to be on the last two flights that day out of the New York area for Chicago due to an air traffic control problem. Subsequent flights were cancelled. But we made it.
In the end, the worst outcome we ever had at a trade show was that we covered our expenses. Usually, however we manage to make a profit.
So, that’s what it’s like to prepare for a trade show!
Are there any pleasant surprises for you?
Oh yes. The pleasant surprises far outweigh any anxieties we might have.
For instance, it’s gratifying to see the amount of people that came to the stand simply to meet Andre and to thank him for our Bindery Success™ newsletters. Some love the cartoons. Others tell us they love that we care enough about them and their business to provide them with this free valuable resource. Although it’s no surprise that the newsletters are effective throughout the year, at each show it’s pleasantly surprising that so many people come to the stand because of the newsletters.
Of course, in coming by to meet him they naturally want to see our products. And it’s not just customers who visit, but prospects who soon became customers.
Another wonderful surprise is hearing first-hand how we touch lives daily. We get to hear about the positive changes our products and newsletters help to create in someone’s business. Representing this unique brand of bindery solutions is about much more than money.
It’s about turning our customers into friends and including them as part of the Technifold “family”. We do this by providing individual attention, by responding quickly and kindly to their needs; by revealing our company culture in our newsletters and making them feel a part of our unique Technifold club. We simply treat them as people first and not just an account. Not only is it good business, it also delivers blessings far exceeding anything that can be measured on a ledger sheet.
What else have you learned from doing Graph Expo?
I’ve learned to never take a customer for granted. There’s no guarantee they’ll continue to be our customer without tending to them. Graph Expo and other trade shows are one important way to tend to those folks who rely on the interaction of a trade show.
I learned not to take any colleagues for granted. Each year there are some who don’t return to the show because they’ve passed away. It’s encouraged me to work harder at maintaining important business relationships.
How do you feel about Graph Expo moving to different locations in the coming years?
Next year Graph Expo will be in Orlando. We're looking forward to seeing a lot more of our Technifold friends from the southeast who don't have the chance to travel to Chicago. For Print 17 we're back to Chicago. After that we’ll see. Wherever it is will be an adventure and a chance to meet folks we talk to but might not otherwise get a chance to meet.
Anything fun you’d like to share?
Yes. The restaurants in Chicago are world class. We have loads of fun in the evening laughing and eating too much. Never too much laughter, but maybe too much food. We also see plenty of our customers out doing the same thing. It’s all part of the experience.
If you plan to come to Chicago, you can still get tickets by clicking the button below. You’re too late for the free ones but you can save time by registering for all your seminars and/or exhibit hall passes in advance.