Exhibitors Learn What Attendees Want Learning the Ropes

Exhibitors for The Cooperator's 23rd Annual Co-op & Condo Expo recently gathered for Exhibitor University, a day-long workshop to teach the benefits of exhibiting in trade shows and making their appearances a success.

The standing-room only workshop at the New York Hilton was presented by Yale Robbins Inc., the parent company of The Cooperator, The New Jersey Cooperator, and New England Condominium magazine, each of which hosts annual real estate trade shows for the cooperative, condominium and homeowner association marketplace. The next annual Co-op & Condo Expo will take place Tuesday, April 27, 2010, at the Hilton, 1335 Avenue of the Americas.

Trade show expert Jefferson Davis, owner of the trade show consulting firm Competitive Edge, instructed his audience of more than 100 exhibitors on steps they could take to survive the recessionary downturn the country is now facing. The United States has undergone six recessions since the 1970s and has come roaring back each time. "Make a decision not to live in fear. Ignore the negativity,” he said.

Think Positive

Davis' presentation, along with tips on how to exhibit, are part of a concerted effort to educate Expo vendors on how to better respond to attendees’ needs, said Henry Robbins, executive vice president of The Cooperator. “Most exhibitors have had no training in how to exhibit,” said Robbins. “They do logistics great, they show up, they get their booths running, they have their literature. But they really don’t know how to serve the needs of the attendee,” he said. The purpose of training exhibitors before the show is to “make vendors responsive to people’s needs,” to answer questions in a professional and timely manner, said Robbins.

Turning toward specifics for the upcoming Expo, Davis said exhibitors could benefit from a positive attitude and outlined how trade shows can be a great opportunity to achieve significant company sales and marketing goals. To make that opportunity happen, exhibitors must switch from spending minimal time on pre-show preparation to mapping out an ambitious marketing strategy that starts months before the show. Research, Davis said, shows that 75 percent of trade show attendees arrive with an agenda, deciding in advance who they will talk to and what booths they will stop at. The trick, he explained, is to use pre-show marketing to get attendees to stop at your booth. That’s accomplished by a combination of pre-show direct mail, print advertising, emails, and sending out personalized VIP invitations to top prospects, he said.

Following a plan for pre show marketing, at show behavior and post show follow-up will result in attendee satisfaction and exhibitor success.

A Board with a View

The afternoon led off with a panel session of board and management experts, each of whom spoke about their reasons for attending trade shows, and what they are looking for in return. The panel featured Michael Jay Wolfe, the president of Midboro Management Inc., a Manhattan-based property management firm, Jerry Fox, the board president of East Midtown Plaza, a 746-unit cooperative on the east side of Manhattan, and Bill Ragals, board president of The Strand Condominium, which consists of 311 units on Midtown Manhattan's west side.

Davis asked the panelists how the economy has impacted their day-to-day operations.“Operations are the same, you still have to manage the building,” Fox said about his Mitchell-Lama co-op. Administrators and residents are concerned in this recession about purchasing power and looking to save money wherever they can,

Speaking of trends, “2009 is the year of the bed bug,” said Wolfe, whose company manages a portfolio of about 100 buildings. There has been a definite resurgence in recent years of the pesky insect in all boroughs of New York City.

Another trend, explained Wolfe, is the emergence of green products and services. Board members and homeowners like the environmental value of "green" but the product has to be effective, Wolfe said.

“We’re also concerned about green products. But it has to clean well. Most people want to spend less but are also concerned about the environment. At the end of the day, you need something that works.”

More and Less

Davis asked the panelists what they'd like to see more of and less of at trade shows. The majority indicated that they opposed high pressure sales tactics and said money could be spent more wisely on booth promotional material and less on novelty items or tchotkes.

“Don’t inundate me. To me it’s more important. I’d rather be inundated with information,” replied Fox.

Wolfe said it was important to him to have clearly-identified exhibit space. "It would be nice if your booth said what you do. By photo or graphic or name, exactly what you do.” Wolfe added that his pre-show preparation involves scanning the list of exhibitors and mapping out a strategy of whom to see. “I’ll look at the vendor list. I pretty much know what I want to do when I get there.”

Wolfe said he is looking for exhibitors that stand out. “You may have the greatest supplies in the world or the greatest product but we don’t know that. You have to give us an indication of why you’re different and what you can offer us. ”

The panelists were mixed on the benefits of giveaways. Make sure to spend money on something useful, a flashlight, a tool, not candy, said Wolfe. “I don’t need any more pens or one more paperweight,” he quipped.

Fox agreed.

Ragals said the visual impact of the booth is a crucial selling point for him. “Have knowledgeable, excited people represent you,” said Ragals. "If your booth is not professional, it’s a reflection on you.” For example, he added, don’t have a hand-lettered poster identifying your company or uninterested people at your booth. Make the attendees want to come to you, he said.

Wolfe said he doesn't want to be hassled while at the show so aggressive sales pitches the day of the show may not work with him. "I want to enjoy the show." He said he will review literature, promotional material, and contacts afterwards to follow up with those exhibitors that he and the board intend to do business with.

Make sure, they added, to politely acknowledge everyone that visits your booth and remember to send follow-up emails or marketing materials to them afterwards.The panelists said they generally prefer email to snail mail as point of contact and agreed that the exhibitors have to be concise in getting their message across. They also reminded their audience that boards generally meet at night so be prepared to make presentations after normal working hours.

The 23rd Annual Co-op & Condo Expo will take place on April 27, 2010, at the New York Hilton hotel in Midtown Manhattan. For more details about the event, please visit www.coopexpo.com.

Debra A. Estock is managing editor of The Cooperator.

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