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Trade Show Budgeting, Part 1

By Rick Hendershot, M.A.
Posted Sunday, October 24, 2004

Setting up a display at a trade show is expensive business. You have to rent the space, create a display, promote it, stock it, and "man" (or better, "woman") it. Before you decide to get involved, take a serious look at the costs of all of these components to determine if the ROI (return on investment) is sufficient.

Start planning well ahead. You already know this, right? Keep yourself as organized as possible right from the beginning — even before you book your space. You know how carefully today's brides plan their weddings. Months, even years ahead, they start thinking about the church, the reception, the dresses, the flowers, the cake. And of course, the cost. Well, you're the bride. Grab your planning book and start writing down everything you must do to get yourself ready for a successful trade show season — next year's.

Even before you decide to go into a show or two you should have a hard look at the costs and expected returns. This is why you create a trade show budget. Whether you admit it or not, everything has a cost, and trade shows are not an exception. Remember that your objective is to make sales, or at least generate opportunities to make sales. So you have to view your costs in that light. Everything should be done with an eye on its potential return.

The Trade Show Budget Preamble

As I've said, the normal starting point for your campaign the trade show BUDGET. If you work from a budget you have an outside chance of keeping your costs under control. Of course there is a certain amount of hocus pocus involved in budgeting for things like trade show marketing — especially if you've never serioulsy done it before and have no track record to go on. Still, you should give it your best shot. This is not rocket science, and any research or analysis you do will be better than just "winging it" Try using a "brainstorming" process like what follows.

First, ask yourself some BIG questions:

Q1. If I honestly summarize all the costs involved in going to just one show, do I really believe I can recover these costs within a short enough period of time to make it "profitable" (make me more than it costs me)?

A1. Like most promotion and advertising, until you've done it , you have no idea how successful it will be. First you will have to summarize all the costs, and then try to figure out how many sales you're likely to get from this sort of exposure. We'll take a stab at running some numbers in the next section, after we've asked a few more questions.

Q2. Do I have any idea which trade shows are more likely to be "profitable".

A2. There are trade show directories and reports that can tell you about industry-specific shows. Usually they will tell you the number of attendees, and hopefully something about their buying habits. Find the relevant directories, and figure out some method of choosing between shows. (see below)

Q3. Are there obvious ways to enhance my "Conversion Rate" — the number of attendees who buy from me?

A3. Yes, of course. Having an attractive, eye-catching display is a good start. Getting a good location on the floor will help. Setting up your booth properly will help you "process" the attendees more efficiently. Having a lead-gathering system will help you do more profitable follow up. Giving out memorable hand-outs will enhance your chances of being recognized later on. Training your booth staff could make an important difference.

Ask yourself a few more questions like this to get yourself in the right frame of mind. Then you'll be ready to start preparing your trade show budget.

Charting your costs — the first side of the Trade Show Budget

Begin by assembling the following information (and anything else that seems relevant as you go along):

Find a trade show directory for your industry (online is the best source), or check out the major trade show venues or exhibition companies. They will put you on the right track very quickly. Select the 10 most promising looking shows — based on your "gut feeling" about their potential for your campaign. Make a chart and list the five or six most relevant bits of information for each of your most promising venues:

— Location,
— Date
— Booth space cost
— Number of attendees
— Geographic area served
— Other space-related costs

Add some columns to your chart where you can list other costs that are location-dependent:

— Travel costs to and from the show
— Additional things to rent or buy at the show (tables, power, etc.)
— Accommodation costs for booth staff
— Shipping costs for booth display(s) and materials
— Vehicle rentals required
etc.
Think about the actual "sales process" and what you will need to have a successful one. Think of these as"one-time" costs, with your objective being to nail things down (or at least project the costs) for your entire show campaign.

— Display booth design and production
— Product literature
— Hand outs
— Staff training
— Show promotion (free passes to clients, etc.)
Estimating Your Sales — the other side of the Trade Show Budget

Now take your best stab at guessing what your Conversion Rate might be. By this I mean the number of buyers per 1000 attendees. If you're a wedding photographer, take a guess at how many bookings you might get. If you're selling widgets ask yourself how many you're likely to sell as a direct result of the campaign.

I know it is next to impossible to get this number right. But you might surprise yourself. And in any event, you need a "target" to justify entering into the campaign in the first place. Don't let yourself fall into the "I'm doing this for long term exposure" trap. This is a very expensive, and quite inefficient way to get long term exposure. Go for short term exposure, immediate sales, or at least the opportunity to make immediate follow ups. Focus on what you have to do to get sales NOW. And if you don't think you can pull that off, then don't start a trade show campaign!

Here's a rough and ready forumla for determining your expected sales:

Sales = TA (Total Attendance) x CR (Conversion Rate)

There is nothing magical about this equation. But if you look at it this way, "CR", what we call the "conversion rate" is where the action is. We've already mentioned some of the things you have to do to enhance your CR (conversion Rate): get more people to your booth, present your product in the best light possible, have an attractive display, have persuasive product literature, have noteworthy handouts, have trained and motivated staff, etc., etc.

But here, for budgeting purposes, we simply want to take a wild guess at what your CR might be when all is said and done, or, as they say, "all other things being equal". For argument's sake, Let's say it's 1%. That means that if 1000 people attend the show, you're going
to get 10 sales:

1000 x .01 = 10 Sales

In some cases this would be phenomenal (the wedding photographer). In others, it would be miserable (the widget guy). If nothing else, this should allow you to create a "Target Conversion Rate" (TCR). Once you know what your costs for a specific show are, you simply have to take those costs and figure out how many sales you need in order to recover them.

So let's say you calculate your costs for Show A are $5,000 (including a pro-rated amount for the one-time costs such as the booth). And let's say you can relatively easily calculate your "gross profit" on each sale (gross sale amount minus out-of-pocket). Let's say in the case of the wedding photographer the gross profit margin is 50%, and the average sale is $2500.

(whirrr, buzzzz, click, kaching)

In order to recover his $5000 he will have to get 4 sales:

Breakeven number of sales (BS) = show costs (SC) / Price (P) x Gross Margin (GM)

or BS = SC / P x GM (I chose "BS" for a good reason)

or, in this case:

BS = $5000 / $2500 x .5 = 4

Stated in terms of sales per 1000 attendees, your CR in this case would be .004 or .4%.

Is it reasonable to expect a CR this high. Will you make 4 sales for every 1000 attendees at your typical show? Well that depends, n'est-ce pas? If you have 1000 warm and willing blushing-brides-to-be battering down the doors of the show, then perhaps 4 is a conservative estimate. If you have only 200 attendees, would this make your average CR go up or down. That also depends. A smaller show may have fewer exhibitors (less competition), will have a more intimate feel about it, will give you more time with each prospective client. And, of course it will cost considerably less than a bigger show -- but probably not all that much less, when all is said and done.

And then the other factors having a bearing on the conversion factor start becoming clear too: the price of your service, the attractiveness of your presentation, the quality of your samples and handouts, etc., etc.

You really need more feedback on this CR thing don't you. It certainly wouldn't hurt to talk to friends and acquaintances who have trade show experience. Ask them about their success rates. Ask them how many actual sales they get from a good show. Ask them if they've ever calculated their CR -- the number of sales per 1000 attendees. And check the online literature for articles about typical conversion rates at trade shows. This is a very important part of creating a trade show budget. I will be compiling some of this information, eventually, and you may find it helpful.

Putting it together...

For argument's sake, let's say that your the wedding photographer. Your product is competitively priced, your presentation is well put together, and your product is as attractive as the next guy's. Is it reasonable to think you will get 4 sales from a show with 1000 attendees?

One would hope so. In fact, let's be a bit more aggressive. Let's target 6 sales. Let's pretend this is the point at which you will consider going through all the hassle of doing the show. Anything less is just too much bother.

That means your TCR (Target Conversion Rate) is 6 / 1000 = .006 (or .6%).

This gives you a rough and ready tool for calculating the profitably-potential of various shows. If Show B will cost you $3000 to enter, and it has only 400 attendees, then the formula works this way:

No. of sales expected: .006 x 400 = 2.4 (round down to 2) x $2500 x .5 = $2500 gross profit.

"EEEEHHHHHHH" (Buzzer sound). No good. You need at least $3000.

To hit that number you will need a TCR of .75% (or 7.5 sales per 1000 attendees). Sounds pretty high, doesn't it. Well, you'll never know until you try. The quality of the attendees to this show might be higher. There may be other factors too that make you want to weight one show higher than another.

The only way you can know for sure is by trying. That will allow you to establish a track record. If you think the numbers almost add up, then take a stab. Go to a show or two, and when it is over do a careful analysis of your costs and returns. Then you can establish a reliable TCR -- a number you can seriously shoot for and expect to reach -- and then you're in business. Preparing a trade show budget for next year will be a piece of cake.

And of course, once you do commit to a show or two, your focus has to immediately shift to hitting (and smashing through) that Target Conversion Rate. Design a better display, have more impressive samples and portfolio books, fine tune your product, get some memorable handouts, memorize your sales pitch, take voice lessons, get a hair cut...

When copying or reproducing this article, or parts of this article, please give appropriate credits to Richard Hendershot, :(http://www.tradeshow-display-experts.com)

Trade Show Tips: Creating your Trade Show Budget
About the Author
Rick Hendershot is marketing manager for (http://www.tradeshow-display-experts.com) The parent company, Canada Display Graphics, has facilities in Mississauga and Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, and ships trade show displays and custom vinyl banners across North America.