Need some immediate exposure? Is your market primarily local? Do you serve a niche market that is tightly focused? Big trade shows – local or otherwise – too expensive?
All good reasons to start your OWN local mini-trade show.
We did this 25 years ago, when launching our engineering consulting business. Like most startups, we did not have much cash and we needed to gain exposure. We needed to make a splash — FAST — to let people know we were in business.
So, we cooked up the First Annual Minnesota EMC Event, realizing there might not be a second one. It made the splash we wanted, and twenty five years later, the show is still going strong. In fact, the show has outlived several much larger trade shows in the Minnesota market.
And, it was easier than you might think.
- First, we checked with a local with a local hotel, and they quoted us $300 for a room for a late afternoon/evening (4-7 PM) meeting. But get this — the room was FREE is we bought $300 worth of food. It was amazing how much food you could get for $300 in 1987!
- Next, we invited five local vendors to join us, which now reduced our share of the hotel cost to only $50. We also leveraged all of our local contacts. We then printed flyers, and mailed them out to members of our local professional organization, adding another $100 or so in costs. (Today you could use email.)
- The result? Over 100 people showed up for our glorified cocktail party. And we now had a bunch of fresh leads, plus several vendors who would recommend us.
- As an aside, we did not provide alcohol. No moral issue — rather it kept costs down and limited our liability against somebody imbibing too much.
We considered the show such a success that we did it again the following year. Only this time we joined forces with a local test lab (one of the original vendors), and turned it into a full day show, complete with speakers and about 20 vendor exhibits. With over 200 people this time, we dubbed it an even bigger success.
By the way, 100 or 200 people at a trade show may not sound like much compared to the big shows, but the attendees were very focused on our engineering niche. The vendors agreed — one even landed a multi-million dollar contract as a result of the second show. Needless to say, they became one of our most ardent supporters.
The show continued over the years. In addition to the local visibility, it also enhanced our national visibility as our vendors recommended us to their larger markets. I should add many vendors became our friends. We always look always look forward to seeing them at our local show, along with larger national symposiums.
We no longer run the show, but we actively support it. Several local firms with administrative staffs now cover the very important detail work to make it a success.
But it all started with about $150 our of our pocket, and a little bit of work!
One final comment – we did not do this to make money, but rather to simply market our practice. Although we charged the vendors a modest amount (attendees were free), our goal was simply to break even. In recent years, a modest attendee fee was added to cover some of the costs. Had we become greedy and tried to “monetize” the show in a big way , I’m not sure it would still be around.
So, if you need a jump start for a local market, consider starting your own local mini-trade show. Keep it simple — keep it inexpensive — and keep it fun.
P.S. Click here for info on the 2012 Minnesota EMC Event.
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