Hi! My name is Curtis Florence founder of inventorsdaily.com, the place where inventors come to share their lessons on bringing products to market! In this post I want to share with you six critical changes I made based on lessons I learned from my first year of trade shows which helped me generate a surprising 37% increase in sales at last year’s Chicago Golf Show.
After doing my first 3 trade shows in 2011, I was really looking forward to my return to the Chicago Show. For one, it’s in my home town, the great city of Chicago and two, it was by far the most profitable event I attended my first year doing shows. I was really anxious to apply the lessons I learned from the previous year and to re-connect with customers from past year to see if and how my product had helped them. I knew if I was going to have a successful show, I would need to correct some things that I missed the first year.
There were six critical changes that I made this past year which led to a surprising 37% increase over last year’s sales.
The first and most important was securing sponsors. Every year the Chicago Golf Show does a really nice annual prospectus with the previous year’s results. Their attendance has been increasing every year and has most recently surpassed 16,000 attendees. I was able to put together a nice letter using attendance and demographic statistics for prospective sponsors. I also included a detail line item description for the different sponsorship contributions, for example booth sponsor, video sponsor, bag sponsor, and raffle sponsor. Thankfully, I was able to secure two major sponsors (Thanks Forest Security!). And quite honestly, without them, I would have most likely missed the show. The clutch went out on my car a few weeks before the show, dealing me a major unexpected financial blow. With the sponsorship funds, I was still able to secure my booth and purchase enough products to sell for the three day show.
The next thing I did to help increase sales was to make changes to my product. I have to give a lot of credit to the late Steve Jobs and what he strived for with Apple products. After reading his biography, one of the biggest lessons I learned as a product developer is that even if you create a highly sophisticated product it should still be simple & intuitive to use. Hey and I’m not comparing the Putt Pad to an iPad, but after looking at my product, I realized that it lacked basic indicators to show how it worked. The beautiful thing about my product is that if I want to make changes, I can make them graphically. There are no expensive costs to create or modify tooling. So, I ended up adding arrows to point to where the user should square their putter. I also added numbers to the measure marks so that the user would know exactly how many inches their backstroke would need to be in order to roll the ball a certain distance. This second critical change helped tremendously. This year, I looked up several times as I was performing demonstrations, I could see people touching and talking over the product and they knew exactly how it worked. Some customers didn’t even need to try the product, they just bought it!
Last year I thought it would be a great idea to get a corner booth on a major aisle. So, I did it again this year. But, I made one key change. Last year I thought it would be smart to set up directly across from the longest putt contest because I knew this was a major attraction at the show. AND, I thought people passing by would be in a putting mood. As it turned out, the contest ended up being more of a distraction. Some people would stop by the booth due to the long line at the putt contest. There were even a few people that left my booth and sank a long putt in the contest, but most people were more interested in watching to see if the putts were going in for the contest. So this year, I kept my corner booth, off the major aisle, but I moved just one aisle over from the putt contest. With this third critical change, I still got a steady stream of traffic but by the time people got around the corner, they were back to looking for new products and great deals.
Thinking back to last year, the one things that makes me laugh are the homemade signs I had describing the product. Don’t get me wrong, they were beautifully done with poster board and Sharpies, but after walking around the show, I realized that if I wanted to establish my brand, I would definitely need some professional looking signage. So, for my fourth critical change, I had my graphic artist design some signs that could hang down from the top of the booth almost to the floor, right in front of where we were demonstrating the product. This signage transformed the booth and generated a lot more interest as people passed by.
I was lucky this year to have my good friend Eric join me again at this year’s show. He’s a natural salesman and he did a really good job with the customers last year. Along with Eric, I added another good friend of mine, Randy, who worked the main aisle. This fifth critical change turned out to be a difference maker. As people would come down the aisle, Randy would greet them and explain the product. If they were interested, Randy would send them inside the booth to myself or Eric to demo the product. If they really liked the product, they bought it right on the spot. Now here’s the key, a lot of people liked the product, but wanted to shop around the show before spending their hard earned money. I’m happy to say, that most of the customers came back, and when they did, they just made their purchase from Randy, right off the aisle, smooth, easy, and simple. This created maximum efficiency for selling because neither Eric nor I had to stop doing demos to process a sale.
If you are thinking about selling your product at a trade show, you must remember, some buyers are fickle. If they see that you’re busy, even if they want your product, they might just keep walking. So, you must make it as easy as possible for them to make a purchase.
The sixth and final change that I made this year was making sure I could process credit cards. Last year I opted not to spend extra money to run power to my booth, and I knew I would not be able to have a cash register or process credit cards. Thankfully, with the advance of technology and smart phones, this year I could process credit cards right on my cell phone using Square. A technology designed to do just that. They even sent the card reader to me for free. After swiping a customer’s card, I could have them sign, right on the phone and email them the receipt, a simple and paperless process. By the end of day two, my sales had already matched my three day total from the previous year. Over 60% of my increase in sales was processed with credit cards. So, if you are going to sell products at a trade show. Make sure you get or borrow a smart phone so that you can process these transactions. It could make a big difference to your bottom line.
I’m going to end this post with a story from the show which taught me a big lesson. A guy came up with his son, who was just about two years old. So, I quickly grabbed the kid putter that I keep in the booth and began helping his son with holding the putter and trying to show him how to make putts. Usually the parents are good about moving the kids along because they realize that we are trying to show our products to a lot of people and make sales. But, this particular customer remained for several minutes. In my head, my timer started going off and I started thinking, “I hope this guy is going to make a purchase”. And, eventually, when it was all said and done he bought a set of Putt Pads. About 20 minutes goes by and I look up and there he was again. He says “you know, I think I’m gonna to buy another set as a gift”. I said “great, thanks for the support!” About 20 minutes later he’s back again and said “I thought of one other person who could use a pair.”I said, “Great, I’ll give you a discount since you’ve come back twice now.” And, he says “great, thanks!” About 30 minutes later, the guys back again inquiring about the putting greens that we were using and if we had any for sale. It turned out that my putting greens shipped late from California, so I didn’t get them in time for the show. But, luckily I had one left from last year’s show still in the box, which he happily bought for $85. He spent more than any one customer at the show. And, afterwards, I couldn’t help but think how glad I was to keep my cool and remain patient as he and his son were in the booth. It’s important to take your time and be patient with your customers because that person could turn out to be one of your best and loyal supporters.
I want to take the time to thank all the customers that have stopped by my booths at the local trade shows. Especially Tim Bland, who made a point to come back to the booth this year to tell me he had dropped his handicap from a 12 to a 4. In a year’s time he consistently knocked 8 strokes off his score by using the Putt Pad! I’d also like to give an extra special thanks to Damon, Damo, and Troy Watson whose tireless efforts inspire me to keep pace with all the hard work they have invested and will continue to invest in order to reach greatness. I started designing products with the desire to help people not as some scheme to get rich! Stories like Tim’s and the Watson’s are what keep me motivated. And, I hope to develop many more products in the future!
Thank you for visiting inventorsdaily.com. I hope you were able to learn from my experience on bringing products to market. Please let me know if I can provide additional info and I will try to incorporate it into future posts. Make sure to sign up on our email list and follow us on twitter @inventorsdaily or like our Inventorsdaily.com fan page on Facebook.