Are Home Shows Worth It?

Cabinetmakers discuss whether a presence at local home shows is a worthwhile part of a marketing program. August 7, 2008

My business partner and I have a small cabinet shop. Last year we decided to focus on the entertainment center sector and it's been fairly lucrative. Advertising has been the key. We have a Home Show coming up in May in our area and we were thinking of making a couple of entertainment centers to display as another form of advertising. Have any of you guys done this and if so with what success?

Forum Responses
(Business Forum)
From contributor A:
I went to a Home Show a few years back to sell cabinets and received no business at the show. I did however make a blanket chest that I gave away. Anyone interested had to fill out name, address, phone etc to be eligible for the drawing. People at the home show were there for a reason, so the leads were pretty good. I put out a mailer, and continue to do so to this day. When business slows down, I send something out to them. When the well dries up, maybe I'll head to another show.

From contributor B:
Shows are a great way to meet with your demographic. I've never been to a show, whether it was a large one or a street show, where we didn't get some business. Think about it - the shows usually require a fee for the homeowner to get in, so the ones coming in are usually there because they have an immediate or upcoming need. If you "work" the show, as opposed to just standing there and smiling, your results will increase. Sell the sizzle and get them emotionally involved in your product and its features and how it is different from everyone else's. Get them touching and using it to cement their stop at your booth in their mind. They will forget ones they just looked at as opposed to ones they got involved with. Try to schedule an appointment, if you can. You'll never know until you ask, and if you ask as a logical progression of the conversation, it comes off in a non-pushy manner.

In addition, when we do shows, it's primarily for kitchens, and we also do a drawing for 1st, 2nd and 3rd prize that relates to the kitchen. It can be most anything - free Formica countertop for 1st (which value can be applied to an upgraded top), a microhood for 2nd, and a free custom design (including drawings) - a $300 value. On the drawing slip included Name, Address, Phone, services they were interested in (we do more than just kitchens), what the time frame is (i.e. - when would YOU like us to contact you - Immediately, 1-3 months, 3-6 months, etc.), do they own or rent (pre-qualify), age of home, etc. We also put on the slip that their info is protected and not sold in any way to third parties.

After the show, the three winners would be called immediately along with those who asked to be called immediately, and appointments scheduled. All others were sent a Thank You with a mention in the letter of when to expect a call from us based on their response to the question on the slip. Also include "However, if your time frame for your project has moved up or we can help you at any step of the way, please feel free to call us toll-free at..."

Interestingly, we schedule roughly the same amount of appointments from the local town street shows (average investment of $25-$100), as we do the large shows (average investment of $1000/booth and $150/electric).

From contributor C:
In my last business we did several trade shows, perhaps one or two per year, mainly NYC shows. We had fairly sophisticated lead tracking practices at the time but at the end of the day (or show) it was always hard to quantify the results. You just never know when someone who stopped by your booth 6-12 months ago will approach you for a bid and possible sale. That person says they forgot where they found out about you and conveniently mentions that they think they saw an ad of yours (when in reality it was at the show where they first learned about you). You then mark the lead origin (if you are tracking this kind of stuff) as an ad you ran in the newspaper. Some ways to help with this grey area could be all fliers you pass out at the show have a special phone number that you use for the show. This way anyone calling that number obviously heard about you from the show.

I think it still a best practice to have overlapping advertising vehicles i.e. newspaper ads, internet site, direct mail, trade shows, to get the best marketing results. Having said that if you participate in the show, try to make sure your target market will be attending that show and perhaps you can offset the cost by trying to sell your display units to someone by the end of the show - unless of course you have a showroom that is in need of new display that could drive sales.

At the very least, if you do decide to do the show, make sure you have thought about a system to track and handle the leads that come in. Show costs divided by lead count would give you a cost to acquire that lead and give you a comparison to other forms of marketing for future decisions.

Have enough fliers/brochures to last you through the show. You don't want to run out. It doesn't look professional. Pay attention to the details of your booth, sign-age, display, accessorizing etc. Always try to create positive emotions with your target.

From contributor D:
Now that you have some good responses, I'll tell you that our local home show (Midwest) is a terrible place for a high end woodworking operation. It is always during the coldest and most boring time of year and it is held at the fairgrounds, so the State Fair types all show up - lots of cotton candy or chewing tobacco. But where else can you get a Ginzu knife and a Miracle mop and cotton candy all in one stop?

From contributor E:
We've done the Home Show now for the past 4 years. Our experience is high visibility with low results. We've gotten a few orders and had a few other people call us, but I see more from the internet than anything else. I think people are extremely overwhelmed by what they see there and then go home with all these brochures and flyers that they throw away.We are stopping doing any Home Shows from here on out.

From contributor F:
I'm in Missouri, the Show Me state. Last year I set up a booth sponsored by the local radio station. The air time sent 3 folks from other area cabinet shops to my booth to seek work at my shop. I received several jobs from this show that kept me busy for 10 months.
Location at the show is critical. Stay away from the entry and bathroom zones. Have a banner that can be read from several booths away. Have four-color flyers printed on both sides with sample pictures of your work. Get extra business cards to hand out. A clear bowl set at toddler's height with free candy. I also set up a laptop with a slideshow presentation running in the front corner of the booth. This is what worked for me last year.

From contributor G:
I have been at my present location for about 5 years (25 years total experience) now and my business has slowly but surely gotten better. Last year, we had a banner year up until about late November when the bottom apparently fell out. Since then, we have only booked two rather small jobs. Our work and service is not the problem. The overall economy is.

People have apparently closed their wallets because of all of the negative publicity printed or said on the airwaves about how bad it is out there and that it will only get worse. According to these pundits, the sky is falling! I have survived all of the past recessions and I will survive this one. I will be exhibiting at my local Home and Garden Show next month and I will be going into this with a positive attitude that I will book jobs (both big and small) that will carry me throughout the year. Besides booking jobs at the show, my company will receive the exposure from potential clients for future jobs. I am going to be investing approximately $2000 for this show including the booth, demo pieces, flyers and business cards, etc. Besides the show, I will also be investing in print advertising in all of my local papers that will run indefinitely. I am also going to be optimizing my website to attract potential clients (pay per click).

My point is this - you have to spend money to make money. Is the economy bad? Yes it is. But there are still people out there who will spend their money on the services that I offer. You just have to find them, and the best way is to meet with them in person, show them what you have to offer and sell yourself and the work will come. Show a positive attitude.

From the original questioner:
I want to thank you all for this great advice. I think we are definitely going to do the home show but we will also apply all the good advice here.