Anyone who has attended one of the large trade shows knows the scene well: A long aisle of carpet covering a concrete floor; booths flooded with distributors and suffering a drought of people to answer questions; and little hand carts, blocking every turn and tripping attendees. The “beeping” sound of scanners creates a strange techno-music soundtrack on the show floor as distributors are scanned at each booth for catalogs to be mailed later. These are the trials and tribulations of trade shows in the promotional products industry.
In a recent e-mail newsletter, the editors of Promotional Marketing addressed a concern voiced by some suppliers. Many felt aggravated. The feeling stemmed from having to pay a great deal of money for booths, as well as shipping, travel and staffing costs, only to incur additional mailing costs days after the show’s conclusion. In general, suppliers felt slighted.
The suppliers’ sentiments generated many responses from distributors as well as other suppliers. These comments ranged in tone from understanding to outrage. Many distributors defended the reasons they ask for catalogs to be mailed. Many suppliers expressed annoyance with the distributors for requesting catalogs be mailed when they stood in front of stacks of them.
A few themes became apparent after reading the plethora of messages. The clearest concept is that distributors do not rank catalogs as a priority at trade shows; usually it is the last item on their agendas.
“My purpose for attending a show is not to collect catalogs but to collect ideas and product knowledge which I do take home with me.”
“I go to the show first to meet my suppliers; second to see what’s hot, new and different; and lastly to get catalogs. I can request my catalogs by phone, fax or e-mail. But I can’t ‘meet’ or ‘see’ that way.”
“[I do] not go to shows to lug back hundreds of catalogs or samples, but rather to see new products, talk to suppliers about how their particular products can benefit my clients and become familiar with new suppliers in the industry.”
Some points on trade show practices also came to light. About half the respondents expressed frustration with the hectic nature of trade shows, pointing out better business could be done with more in-depth meetings and supplier sales representatives spending more time creating bonds with the potential distributor customer.
“Maybe suppliers need to slow down the process and gather more info and develop relationships.”
It seems suppliers need to look a little further down the road. The promotional products industry is largely concerned with generating new business or supporting existing business through giveaway items. Just as the distributor’s customer will have to give away many items to turn one end-user into a new client, so must the distributor give away much time and many samples to these customers in order to make the sale. In the same way, suppliers must be prepared to give away many catalogs for just one order. The added catalog shipping costs should be expected and factored into the show budget.
Still, distributors need to be more mindful in their catalog requests. As suppliers continue to spend more to ship catalogs, distributors will feel the pinch in increased product costs. When distributors request catalogs they do not need or want, they are increasing printing and manufacturing costs for everyone. This doesn’t mean distributors should stop asking for catalogs, but it does mean they should take a moment to consider if the products of a company are suited to their clients’ needs. If a distributor is not willing to take the time to sell a product, then why ask for the catalog?
The more technologically savvy respondents pointed out that catalogs can easily be put onto CDs, which would dramatically reduce mailing costs and would make it easier to hand out catalogs at the shows since they weigh very little and are small. Indeed, many of the problems for both the distributor and supplier could be fixed through digital catalog technologies.
For suppliers who do not have the resources to create digital catalogs, there are Web-based tools, such as Catalog Courier (www.catalogcourier.com), which create and store supplier catalogs, then allow distributors to search these catalogs and request hard copies from companies that do not have digital editions.
There are many industry product searches, but suppliers do need to lead the charge. Internet business practices are not optional anymore: They are necessary to remain competitive. Promotional Marketing’s research shows, nearly 75 percent of distributors use high speed Internet connections, such as cable modems or DSL. Each supplier must supply information about products on the Internet, support their online offerings and keep the Web-based features up to date. This kind of investment now will reduce costs and generate new business in the future. Not to mention, it will eliminate all those carts, making trade shows much more enjoyable for everyone.