17 Tips for a Successful Fancy Food Show

You’ve decided to exhibit at the Fancy Food Show, it is a major expense for your small food business and you want to do everything possible to make it successful.

Here are 17 tips we gathered from exhibitors, consultants, the Specialty Food Association, and our own experience in several industries, on how to maximize your presence at the show:

  • Tip 1: Have a clear goal for the show. We discussed it in our previous post (Should I Exhibit at the Fancy Food Show? 6 Must-Haves). Are you looking to expand the number of independent retailers you have? To get distributors? Private label business? To export? To get news coverage in magazines and food blogs? Have a clear goal will allow you to have a clear message for your staff, for the design of your booth and printed material, and to have focus in your reach-out activities before the show.
  • Tip 2: Consider the Specialty Food Association Mentorship Program. The association will match you up with a seasoned exhibitor who can answer a lot of your questions.
  • Tip 3: Have a booth which stands out. It doesn’t mean spending a lot of money. But the show is overwhelming in its size and number of exhibitors, and buyers cannot stop and sample at every booth. You must stand out, with your branding, your samples and/or your staff. See the 2 examples of booths that grabbed my attention at the Summer Fancy Food Show 2016 (this article and my other article). They reflect a strong and consistent branding in every detail.
  • Tip 4: Reach out to prospects before the show. Again buyers and journalists are going to be prepared and decide ahead of time which booths they are going to stop by. Your show will always be more successful if you let your customers, prospects and the media know ahead of time that you are exhibiting. Let them know your booth number and try to set up meetings with them. Don’t forget to add it to your website and to your email signature (including your booth number).
  • Tip 5: Get the “What’s New” Promotion package. It will help you get noticed among the thousands of products present at the show.
  • Tip 6: Save on shipping. At any show, shipping and storage services offered by the convention center are expensive. But you can usually ship to the hotel (if you only have a few cases) and use a foldable dolly to roll everything to your booth. Just ask the hotel ahead of time.
  • Tip 7: Have a well-designed booth. There are a few essential elements to a well-designed booth. Make sure you have space to hide away boxes, get high chairs so that your staff can rest their legs but be at the right height to always be in eye contact with attendees as they approach, have the counter with samples close to the aisle. Consider that “less is more” and save a little space so you can invite a hot prospect into the booth to sit down for a discussion.
  • Tip 8: Have a show special. This will help to generate orders, and consequently help the immediate ROI for the show. Don’t be afraid to ask for the business.
  • Tip 9: Sign up for “Business Builders” one-on-one meetings. These are 10-minute pre-selected meetings with buyers. We had several feedbacks indicating that they are very valuable. Undoubtedly, one key meeting can make the whole show worthwhile.
  • Tip 10: Rent a lead retrieval machine and take notes. It is crucial that you have as much information as possible on all the leads you collect. Trust us. If you don’t have ample notes, you’ll be back in your hotel room at the end of the day, and already you won’t remember why you have some of those business cards. Have a notebook to take notes on key meetings. Collect business cards, and scan badges with the lead retrieval machine. Get the machine that allows you to print the lead information so you can add a note to it (who they are, retailer – distributor, broker, press – what you promised to send after the show, what the key point of the discussion was). Write similar notes on the back of business cards. Later you can import the leads to your CRM and your email list.
  • Tip 11: Train your staff well. You won’t be able to be part of every discussion. Your staff must be as knowledgeable about your products as you are. They must have clear respective roles. They must know your show goals and which information you want to gather from attendees. Have pre-show meetings with them. Develop a FAQ on your products and test them on it.
  • Tip 12: Make sure your staff is comfortable. Exhibitors usually consider that you need 2 or 3 people for a 10 x 10 booth, so they can take breaks. It also allows each one to have a specific role: serving samples, talking to buyers. If possible have padded flooring (it makes a difference!) and make sure they wear comfortable shoes. Have ample water for the duration of the show. If you don’t have enough people to staff the booth, think about getting local NY people who will enjoy getting a free ticket to the show in exchange for their help.
  • Tip 13: Sample judiciously. This is a tough one. Of course you want people to taste and notice your products, and it is often difficult to know at first glance who the person in front of you is. But sampling everyone walking down the aisle is not your goal. If you can slow down the sampling to start the conversation with the person waiting for a sample, you will do better. Exhibitors mention that they usually need 500 to 1,000 samples.
  • Tip 14: Make true connections. Have meaningful conversations. You want prospects to remember you after the show, so that they will answer your email or your phone call. Again “less is more”. So learn first who you are talking to, what they are looking for at the show, what interest them in your products. Understand who has the authority to make a buying decision. Don’t sell. Probe and listen first. Then ask for the business and close the sale or understand what the “next step” is. And make sure you don’t run out of business cards!
  • Tip 15: Deflect non-prospects. You don’t want to spend time with people who have no interest in buying your product. Decide in advance how you will handle them, e.g. ask for their business card.
  • Tip 16: Follow-up thoroughly. The follow-up is 90% of the success of the show. You MUST make sure that you send a thank you note to EVERY person you connected with, with a price list, a brochure, a list of distributors, the sample you promised – whatever is appropriate based on the discussion you had. Remind them of your show special.
  • Tip 17: Have a debriefing of the show. Make sure to take some time to do it right after the show, while it is fresh. Celebrate your accomplishments. Understand how you did versus your stated goal. And take notes on what to improve for the next show.

In Conclusion

Your success at the Fancy Food Show will come from 3 major elements: be well prepared, be fully engaged at the show and have a thorough follow-up. Remind yourself what the show is like for attendees: it’s overwhelming and attendees must be very selective in the products they sample and the booths they visit!

For more information, you can also read:

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