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Going With the Show

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Exhibiting at a local home show—if done correctly—can boost your brand as well as your business.

Over the last four years, Accurate Mechanical, Inc., has grown from 30 employees and one office in Chillicothe, OH, to 70 employees and seven locations. To boost its presence within its expanded service area—which now includes 18 counties in Ohio and four in Kentucky—the firm began exhibiting at four home and garden shows annually.

“Branding is the primary benefit of home shows, especially in new markets. I view them as a marketing investment,” says Michael Linton, principal of Accurate Mechanical, whose business is 50 percent residential. “But we’ve not had one show that didn’t pay for itself many times over, with leads or equipment sold.”

The ability to recoup your investment, however, is not always a sure thing. For starters, you have to pay for booth space, electricity, carpet rental, displays, promotional items, sales literature, and pre- and post-marketing campaigns. Plus, you’ll have to pay employees to work the shows, which typically run from Friday night through Sunday.

“It all adds up to thousands of dollars, depending on the show. If you capture contact information for a couple hundred people and later sell two or three jobs, that may be well worth the effort,” observes Sam Kelly, president of New Balance A/C, Inc., in Houston, TX. His firm exhibits occasionally at the city’s large spring show, usually when it has a new product or service to promote on the residential side.

History Lessons
In contrast, Magic Touch Mechanical, Inc., has been a frequent exhibitor for the last 15 years. The firm, based in Mesa, AZ, used to do four to six years per year. Now, it focuses on one big show—the Maricopa County Home and Garden Show at the Arizona Fairgrounds.

“Home shows are not only a good marketing media for immediate call-to-action sales but also have proven to create excellent top-of-mind awareness,” says Rich Morgan, president of Magic Touch. “We often receive calls from people who remember seeing us at a home show and are reminded of us when they find us through another marketing media when looking for services.

“We get better results from the shows every year as we learn best practices based on experience,” he continues. “Booth size, location, time of year, promotions, and even who is working in the booth play a role in the results.” In recent years, for example, Magic Touch has moved away from several booths arranged in an L-shape toward an “island” configuration, surrounded by three or four aisles, to increase foot traffic.

Here are additional lessons learned by HVAC contractors:

Survey the field. Before signing up for a home show, Linton looks at the previous year’s attendance and the current year’s list of confirmed exhibitors. “I’m not afraid of exhibiting with competitors,” he explains. “But I do want to make sure the show has a breadth of exhibitors that, historically, has drawn a wide range of people—both men and women—particularly in our target range of 40- to 60-year-olds.”

Accurate Mechanical’s strategy has been to stay out of large metropolitan markets and focus on smaller shows where it can have a larger presence. Yet Linton always looks at the numbers and doesn’t feel compelled to continue exhibiting at the same shows. If a show doesn’t perform well for Accurate Mechanical one year, he may take it off the marketing schedule for a year or two.

Take the time to plan. “The devil is in the details, and without proper planning there can’t be proper execution,” believes Morgan, who typically begins planning the next year’s exhibit even before the current show has concluded.

He speaks from personal experience. “One year, we were so busy in the months and weeks leading up to the show that I practically ‘phoned it in.’ As a result, our booth was mediocre, our promotional materials were mediocre, and the results of the show were subpar,” Morgan recalls. “I committed to never doing that again and went ‘all in’ the following year—and the results were spectacular.”

Starting months in advance gives you time to order giveaways, develop and market home show specials, and promote your participation in the show. It also provides enough lead time to request your distributor’s assistance, as Kelly does. He notes, “They usually lend us equipment for display purposes, like a mini-split or a condensing unit, which attracts people into the booth. Last year, our salesman even offered to work the show one of the three days, which was very helpful.”

Have a hook. What will engage someone walking by? Michael Linton likes handing out inflated balloons—carrying Accurate Mechanical’s logo—and other branded items such as magnetic clips and T-shirts. But the biggest draw has proven to be having equipment on display. “We have a standby generator at every show, opened up for people to look it, and we often use an infrared gun to demonstrate different temperature readings and talk about the impact of properly insulating a house,” says Linton.

Similarly, Magic Touch’s booth features thermostats, air cleaners, fireplace inserts, multiple TVs showing product demonstrations, and game systems to keep children occupied while parents look around. For this year’s show, says Morgan, “We had four dozen samples of different colored fire glass, burner pans, and fireplace remotes so people could actually touch and feel the products.”

Reinforce your image. Ensure your personnel really want to participate in the home show, recommends Linton. “The objective is to engage people in conversation, which not all employees enjoy doing for a whole weekend,” he says. On the other hand, several of Accurate’s office staff request to work the home shows because they appreciate the customer interaction.

“It’s best to have at least two people in the booth at all times, so one can be the greeter and the other can ‘go deep’ and focus on closing deals,” Linton adds. All booth personnel wear khaki pants plus dress shirts bearing the Accurate logo.

“Consider the image you want to project,” emphasizes Rich Morgan. “Your booth needs to be inviting, people need to identify with what you do in a matter of seconds, and you want them to have a reason to stop and talk to you. So, have a clean booth, great signage, and uniformed, clean-cut people.”

Follow up quickly. Most attendees will happily supply their contact information in exchange for the opportunity to win a home energy assessment, gift card, or smart thermostat. But don’t let those leads languish after you’ve pulled the winning entry.

As Sam Kelly points out, “People will quickly forget who they talked to, especially when there are hundreds of booths at a show, so don’t wait too long to follow up on the impression you made.” When New Balance A/C obtains contact information during a weekend home show, Kelly’s goal is to call those people by Tuesday or Wednesday.

Make it comfortable. Morgan designs Magic Touch’s spacious booth to encourage people to browse and ask questions of salespeople. “We want it to feel like an Apple Store, where you can come touch the products. This atmosphere makes people much more comfortable than standing in a crowded aisle,” he notes—or having salespeople stationed at the edge of the booth looking ready to pounce.

And don’t forgot your own comfort, says Kelly, who cautions that working at a home show means spending an entire weekend on your feet. In other words: Wear comfortable shoes.

Sandra Sabo
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Posted In: ACCA Now, Sales & Marketing

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