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Everything contractors need to succeed at tradeshows

Creative visual using calendar & person icons to represent construction events | How to succeed at tradeshows | Knowify

Trade shows and conferences are exceptional opportunities for contractors to capture more leads, acquire feedback, and improve brand awareness. Whether you have just opened up shop or are well established, you should always seize the opportunity to surround yourself with like-minded professionals and potential customers. As avid attendees and believers in these events, we have seen what it takes to stand out. We’ve put together a few trade show tips to give you everything you need to know to find, prepare, and run an effective booth for any conference or tradeshow.

How to find the right show 

13,000 tradeshows take place every year in the United States. With so many options to choose from, the question is—which one is right for you as a contractor? Start by determining what you want to accomplish at a show. Run through the following checklist to assess your needs:

After assessing your needs, look for tradeshows that give you the best opportunity to meet those needs. Moreover, not all tradeshows will be a good fit, so look for ones that will solve your particular needs.

If you’re looking to gather customer feedback, community events and chamber of commerce shows will be best. Assuming you want to demonstrate your services, look for trade-specific shows or home remodeling shows for residential contractors. If you want to capture leads find a show that will bring in large crowds of your ideal customer.

Sites like constructiondive and constructionblog usually list the top shows for each year. These lists will give you a good starting point for finding relevant shows. Below is a list of some more famous national shows:

  • ConExpo (CONEXPO-CON/AGG) – Great for just about anyone in the construction industry. However, it’s mainly geared toward civil and construction professionals, equipment managers, and specialty contractors.
  • World of Concrete – Best for those in the concrete and masonry construction industries. This show brings in a wide range of professionals, from designers and builders to suppliers, vendors, and specialty contractors.
  • Design-build conference & expo – Brings in mostly design-build professionals and owners. It aims to provide a great networking opportunity for contractors of any level.
  • NECA – Attracts electrical designers, electrical contractors, and project owners.
  • Construction Management Association of America – Great for most construction and contracting professionals.
  • The Construction Management Association of America – A solid show for all construction professionals.
  • WEFTEC – Great for professionals in the water and wastewater industries.

To find local shows, start by checking your city’s event calendar to see if there are any upcoming events. Check the sites of local stadiums, event centers, and venues. Don’t forget to ask around amongst your professional circle. See what shows people in your trade have been to and ask how their experience was.

If you have your eye on a particular show, take the time to see if it will help you meet the needs you identified. If your primary need is to capture more leads, determine who your ideal customer is and what they value most. Form as many details around them as you can. Once you have that dialed in, reach out to the event organizers and ask if their show brings in such a crowd. Often times shows will offer a prospectus that has this information. So ask for one and get as much information as you can.

If you’re still struggling to find the right show, try attending one without exhibiting. Walk the floor, talk to exhibitors, and ask questions. Take the opportunity to talk with other contractors that have booths to get a gauge of their experience.

How to prepare for a trade show or conference 

Set goals 

Based on your identified needs, create realistic and achievable goals. You’d be surprised at how big of a difference this can make. 76% of exhibitors go into a tradeshow without set objectives or goals. You’ll be ahead of most of the competition just by setting goals; you’ll be efficient, focused, and intentional. Out of all our trade show tips this one should not be overlooked.

Your objective might be to “capture 30 qualified leads by the end of the conference”. From there, you can break it down into smaller goals, such as “capture ten qualified leads for every day of the event.”

Create an action plan detailing your strategy for accomplishing each goal. If your goal is to capture more leads, you’ll need to communicate your value proposition. Can you handle certain types of jobs that others can’t? Can you show people that you consistently hit schedules? Are you using technology that other contractors haven’t adopted yet? Have a plan in place for communicating these selling points.

Prepare your staff

Plan out the logistics for each day of the event and assign responsibilities.

  • Who from your crew will run the booth? 
  • How many crew members in total will attend? 
  • Out of those working the booth, who is responsible for:
    • Securing leads?
    • Running demonstrations?
    • Handling tough questions?
    • Discussing specifics of your business operations?
    • Discussing past jobs?
    • Handing out merch/promotional materials?

Being this granular might seem over the top, but it ensures an efficient operation on the day of the event.

In the weeks leading up to the show, conduct a meeting with everyone working the booth. Covering the following in that meeting:

  • Run through your goals
  • Go over the action plan
  • Fill everyone in on their roles and responsibilities
  • Get everyone on the same page with the massaging and strategies you want to use to achieve your goals

We will stick with the example of capturing more leads. Assign a crew member who will take on the majority of lead collecting duties and give them a solid process for doing so. Try to avoid relying solely on business cards and handwritten forms. Instead, consider investing in a lead-capturing device. Many shows will provide one at an added cost, but it’s worth getting your own if they don’t. Lead-capturing devices can be as simple as an app on a smartphone or tablet. It’s a convenient way to capture important information from leads.

If you’re attending a local show, try to book estimate appointments on-site. Move leads as far down the pipeline as possible. Use the face time to get project specifics and timelines upfront.  Capture as many project details as possible and reference those when getting follow-up meetings in place. You’re here to capture leads, so seize the opportunity with a well-executed plan.

Plan your booth 

For our next couple of trade show tips starts with checking the event guidelines to ensure you comply with booth design regulations. The standard size of displays for most events is 10′ x 10′, but some events allow for much larger spaces. Know how much space you have to work with to maximize your area. Some shows will even require you to request the size you need during the application process. Put a good amount of thought into this. You don’t want to limit yourself or buy more space than you need.

Try to include a demonstration of your work as part of your booth. Think of an engaging way to create a field-based example of your services. You could show them how to use a product, how your way of doing a particular aspect of a job is superior, or create a short video showing your team’s capabilities.

Make it informative yet engaging. Tangible examples can go a long way in making a lasting impression. However, you must ensure that it meets your target market’s needs. It needs to be intentional. Don’t devise an experiment that shows the durability of different types of shingles just for the sake of it. Only do it if you think it will strongly impact potential customers.

If you find it challenging to think of demonstrations or examples due to your trade or budgetary constraints, don’t worry. You can still create an effective booth through imagery and compelling messaging. Your booth should be an all-encompassing snapshot of your company as a whole. It should answer the following questions through messaging and signage:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • What makes you different from others in your trade?
  • Why should people care?

Bring before and after photos, pictures of successful projects, or specs on past jobs that people may find impressive. Give people a visual representation of the quality of work you provide. This is your opportunity to show and not tell.

In terms of your actual booth setup, you have many options available. If you’re on a limited budget, consider using a portable display. In addition, look to include banner stands, hanging banners, table covers, collapsable displays, or even a kiosk. There are many display solutions, so be sure to shop around and find a service that works for you.

What to bring 

Whether you are doing a demonstration or not, bring as many of the materials below as you can: 

Marketing materials:

  • Brochures
  • Business cards
  • Infographics/signage
  • Merchandise giveaways
  • One-sheeters
  • Before and after photos
  • Pictures of completed projects
  • Signage highlighting career accomplishments

One-sheeters and brochures should give a quick run-down of the details, benefits, and services you provide; don’t forget to include contact details. Keep all brochures and signage on brand and consistent with your overall messaging. Your selling points and value proposition should be immediately apparent.

If you decide to bring branded giveaway items, consider items that apply to your trade. This could include company-branded tape measures, carpenter pencils, or architectural scale rulers. Think of commonly used items in your trade. Almost anything is fair game, but you should go for value over anything else. Don’t give it away unless you would use it yourself.

Outside of marketing materials, look to bring various office supplies. You never know when you’ll need them, so it’s better to be safe than sorry:

Office supplies:

  • Tape
  • Sharpies
  • Pens/pencils
  • Scissors
  • Note pads
  • Paper clips
  • Staplers
  • Carpet pad

Electronics:

  • Laptops
  • Tablets or phones for lead capture
  • Video display if incorporating video elements
  • Chargers and extra cords
  • Extension cords

Items for your crew:

  • Water
  • Snacks
  • Name tags
  • First aid kit

How to handle the day of the event

For general best practices follow the guidelines below:

Your goal is to get people to slow down and interact with your display. Your messaging is your most potent draw for attendees. When someone does approach your booth, look to ask qualifying questions such as “Hey, do you work at/with (a specific industry I try to sell to)?” or “Hi, do you have problems with (thing my service fixes)?” Ask thoughtful questions about their needs. You will be surrounded by like-minded professionals, so treat each person as an opportunity to learn.

Prepare to answer tough questions about your services. Use these situations as an opportunity to spin it in your favor. Always bring the conversation back to the key benefits and services you can provide. When someone seems interested, kindly direct them to the team member responsible for collecting leads and thank them for their time.

Working a booth is a marathon, not a sprint, so be sure to take breaks and stay hydrated. It will be long, intense hours; refer to your action plan often to keep you focused on hitting your goals. 

What to do after the show 

After all the preparation and execution, it’s time to bring it all together. Immediately follow up with all inquiries, leads, or connections you made. It’s crucial to strike while the iron is hot. Keep leads moving through the pipeline while your conversations are fresh in their memories. Get estimate appointments locked in, schedule follow-up meetings, and keep the conversation going. Stay urgent on these leads. If leads were your primary goal, it’s the entire reason you went in the first place, so it’s crucial to stay diligent here.

After following up with leads, take some time to evaluate your goals. Did you hit them? If so, did you just make it or far exceed them? Figure out where you landed at a high level before you dig deeper into how it impacted your bottom line.

If your goal were to capture leads, tracking ROI would be more straightforward. How many of those leads turned into jobs? And of those jobs, how much did they cost you? And how much did you make?

You can use the following formula to get more granular:

Number of Leads X % close rate (i.e., the percentage of leads that became an active job) X Average value of each job = Estimated revenue

If your goal was more abstract, such as increasing brand visibility, you can still use metrics to measure how successful you were.

  • How many booth visitors did you have?
  • Did you give away all of your marketing materials?
  • Did you notice an increase in website traffic after the show?
  • How many impressions did you have?

To find the number of impressions (how many people saw and interacted with your brand), you should keep track of the total number of people who came to your booth, saw your booth but didn’t interact, or saw your signage. For some of these numbers, you should contact the event organizers to get the total number of people who attended the event. From there, you can estimate how many people saw your booth.

Whether you hit your goals or not, take some time to evaluate what went well and what didn’t. List three things you learned, three things that went well, and three things you could improve on. Use what you write as the foundation for planning your next event.

Conclusion 

We hope these trade show tips give you the advantage you need to stand out at your next event. If you can go in with a plan, establish goals, and put your best foot forward, you’ll deliver a rewarding experience for you and your customers.