How to Work a Local Home Show

Detailed advice on how to set up and operate your booth in a local home show in order to sell enough work to make the investment worth it (and then some). October 18, 2011

We are trying to decide whether to get a booth at the local remodeling and home shows this spring. Any thoughts? The booth is 10x10 and $800. We would build a small mockup kitchen and island with some upgrades to point out.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor M:
Our company has had a varying degree of sales success at the home show in Harrisburg, PA. My boss jumpstarted the business thanks to the home show, but after 3-4 years, we got very few good leads. It is always good to keep your name out there, but only trying it will confirm its usefulness for you. I might add that you should try to distinguish yourself somehow. That's tough since other great cabinet shops will be there also.

From contributor B:
What contributor M said. I did it about 6 years ago. Built an entertainment center just for the show. Still have it. I got one good client out of it... whole house of cabinetry, plus extras. But a lot of tire kickers and people with no money for custom work. Plus, it was 19 hours on my feet with no other work going on. But you have to do it to see if it works. I do go to the shows since then, just to see the foot traffic. It has been getting smaller each year.

From contributor S:
There are other kinds of shows that can provide better leads as well. Architectural and industry oriented shows can be great for a good custom shop. These shows are not open to the public, so it is only developers, architects, designers, and the like. If you enter a show like this, you need to have a different approach. They will not be easily impressed with a mockup kitchen in your booth. They will expect a complete and flexible catalog and a cohesive pricing system. Think about companies like Conestoga and DBS. These guys sell a lot of cabinetry to non-cabinetmakers. Their pricing is standardized and predictable, which designers love.

The lower end home and garden type shows have always disappointed me. The vast majority of the people I spoke with are middle-class homeowners with unrefined tastes. Trying to sell them custom cabinetry is like trying to explain why a $120 bottle of wine is better than a $40 bottle. In the end they are sticker shocked. The guys who do well in those shows are the cabinet refacing, floor refinishing, vinyl siding, roofing and window replacement companies. Selling custom cabinetry at these shows can feel like you are selling diamonds at a local arts and crafts show.

As others said, you can likely get some work out of these shows, but is it a long term client source? No. Try focusing on producing a nice brochure and catalog. It takes a lot of time to develop but does not cost much to print. PDF versions can be mailed for free.

From contributor H:
I don't do well at traditional building business trade shows. I used to. Attendance is down, and the people that still go are the ones unable to look stuff up on the web. I do well at a trade show that is also an arts festival. People who have stuff to do have a reason to go there. Have you been to a trade show recently?

From contributor K:
Our experience at home shows is different than others... We've even done the local street fair shows (believe it or not, same demographic) that cost $75-$100 to get into (also a great way to get your name into the immediate and surrounding communities).

We don't attend these shows to just sit there and hand out information. We are there to schedule appointments, or worse case, get detailed information. Most other companies are there to show them the cabinets, brochures, etc. We are there to solve their problems. Most other companies are there to sell them one part of the project (i.e. - cabinets); we are there to do the whole job. We talk to people to qualify them, and then schedule an appointment or have a way to follow up with them.

Yes, we have handouts, but you will find that the brochure collectors end up dumping the info anyway. Have it available, but don't give it to them. They will see it (or point it out to them), and if it is important to them, they will take it themselves. If they don't, you just saved yourself time and money.

When it comes to home shows, the one way to look at it is this... Would you give someone $800 if they gave you a lead that turned into a sale? If so, it's a no-brainer. I would submit to you if you attended this show, and you could not close one deal, you have more to worry about than the $800.

If you are going there to hand out brochures and shake hands, it is a waste of time and money, but if you are there with specific goals in mind, like qualifying prospects and scheduling appointments right there and then, you are working the show.

We don't walk away from a one-day show without an average of 15-20 appointments, with at least half of them scheduled there at the show. Multi-day expos are even better. We also do a drawing for a free laminate countertop (which has a set max value, and can be applied towards higher end tops), and on the entry slip, we get information regarding the project (i.e. age of home, when they would like us to contact them, services they are looking for, etc.). The info is loaded into a contact management program to follow up on.

Follow up is key - a letter thanking them for stopping by the booth, a little mention that you will call them when they asked (which turns a cold-call into a warm-call as they are expecting your call at some point), and if they need anything in the interim, you provide them with contact info. We include a little brochure about whatever services they are interested in (cabinetry, remodeling, etc.), along with quotes from Consumer Reports and similar industry resources. The indirect message is - "these guys wouldn't talk about this if they didn't do it right." (Note - the farther out the call from the show, the lower the chance of an appointment.)

Once you've serviced them, be sure to farm their warm market.

From contributor Y:
This is exactly how we look at home and garden shows. If we don't leave a home and garden show with at least 15 scheduled appointments and 5-10 leads, we look at how we were presenting and change it up.

Our particular niche service is easy to sell, though, to the home and garden types, because it's a high volume, low cost type of service.

A few lessons about home and garden shows.

1. Don't just sit in your booth. At a maximum, have a tall stool that you put almost in the aisle and sit on as necessary when the aisle is slow.

2. Only hand out marketing materials to people who come into your booth asking questions.

3. Don't waste your money on freebies. You'll eat up your entire marketing budget handing out freebies such as pens, bags, etc. Plus, everyone is doing it.

4. Try out different sales pitches on different folks... See which one or two works. You will have to have a sales pitch for each type of personality that comes into your booth.

5. Try to limit yourself to 10 minutes per person that comes into your booth.

6. Track the literature that you do hand out.

7. Keep your booth as simple as possible. Don't overload a booth.

8. Don't waste your time on having displays, TVs, computer screens playing a video. No one will stop and watch your video. Plus you have that much less room to include a sales person or actual product and it's a lot more stuff you have to carry in and out of the building.

9. Learn from the big boys. Go to a few home and garden shows and find the companies that obviously have the marketing budget to attend shows. Learn how they do it and try to replicate, albeit at a lower cost.

From the original questioner:
Thanks all for the input! We are going to try it. We have been in business for a little over a year and have remained extremely steady in this down economy, while other shops are closing. I hope we can get some decent name recognition out of the show. I believe that a lot of the cabinet shops that usually attend aren't willing to gamble on the risk versus reward factor based on the exhibitor list. We plan to focus on our complete custom approach, we make all of our moldings, spice racks, trash pullouts, etc. I figure it to cost around $5,000 for the display. The granite is being donated by a local vendor. The finish and glazing is being donated as well.

I hope to get our name out there and hopefully recoup as much of the upfront costs as possible with the leads generated.

From contributor C:

If you get a booth, make sure you aren't next to the Miracle Mop, Shamwow or Ginzu Knife booths. They draw all the crowds, and will leave your booth empty and forlorn. In my market the home shows are at the fairgrounds and the same people go to them that go to the state fair and monster truck rallies. Love those elephant ears! Vinyl windows, plastic decks, power washers and monstrous gas grilles dominate. It is no place for custom cabinetmakers.

From contributor G:
We have been doing 3 or 4 home shows a year and have been doing so for 6 or 7 years. We even do a few local county fairs a year. We are an eight man shop, so production goes on during the events. Our experience is that it takes 2-3 years at the same show to get results. People want to know you are here to stay and not gone tomorrow.

We do not give out freebies unless the person is serious. Even then it's a simple alligator clip fridge magnet with our card or brochure in it.

Our experience is also that people are drawn to pictures way more than actual display cabinets. Because of that we now dedicate most of our booth to photos of finished jobs and only a couple of cabinets that double as our podium and a quality of construction aid.

We are in the rural Midwest, so maybe what works for us will not work for you.

From contributor R:
I have been going to home shows now for 4 years and usually do 3 or 4 per year. I have had great luck with them up here in Ontario. Out of the 16+ shows I have been to, there was only one show I didn't get any work directly out of.

On average I spend anywhere from $800 to $1500 per show and the least I have gotten from any one show was one kitchen. Some shows I am able to book six months worth of work from. Two years ago at the larger, more expensive show, I walked away with 4 kitchen jobs, and one was a huge kitchen/laundry room (second kitchen in the house) and six vanities, which was over 100k worth of work alone. Definitely worth it for me.

I have changed my booth a number of times, from being very simple to having multiple large pieces (kitchen display and a bar display). I am about to change my cabinetry this year (cherry cabinets, custom applied mld doors, soapstone countertops) to just scream high end. I am actually going to keep using the soapstone top because it's in 3 pieces and although it's really heavy, it is quite easy to set up and transport and fix if I chip a corner or something. I am going to build a set of rustic maple cabinets for the actual base and upper cabinets and then I am going to build a painted shaker style island with a walnut butcher block top.

The biggest thing that I find gets people's attention on my booth is my 37" flat screen mounted above the sink with a nonstop slide show of all my work (takes a few hours to run through all the pictures, so no one ever sees the same picture unless someone wants me to manually go back a few slides). I also usually have two photo albums that people can flip through on their own. Here's my display from last year.

Click here for higher quality, full size image

From contributor N:
I got a sale from the last Green Home and Garden show. They had seen a product there, liked the idea, but not the quality and price. Then they got on the internet and found us. Turns out ours is better product, so they ordered one (we didn't do the show). From what I hear, they often work out fairly well.