A Day at the Fair

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When I was a kid, I loved going to the Kansas State Fair. But not for the same reason that many of my friends went – while they were riding rides and eating cotton candy and other stereotypical Fair foods, I was hanging out in the exhibit building. (My Mom laughs that it was an early indication of my life in the world of trade shows.)

If you’ve never been to a State Fair (or it’s smaller counterpart, the County Fair), you may not realize how similar it is to a trade show. Actually, it’s a trade show, consumer show, and educational conference all rolled into one! Plus it appeals to a wide variety of audiences: farmers, foodies, children, thrill-seekers, and more.

First of all, the Fair is an agricultural showcase. Farmers of all kinds gather to see what’s new and what works best now in equipment and technology, as well as networking with other farmers and suppliers. (Sound familiar?) It’s a great way to build relationships. I can remember my Dad checking out all the farm implements and schmoozing with people he knew.

Next there are the commercial exhibits. These span a wide range, including gardening supplies, consumer safety, state parks and historic sites, furniture/home decor, vehicles, and of course all kinds of food and food-related vendors. There are also exhibits from associations that appeal to farmers, foodies, outdoor enthusiasts, and more. Many of these also produce educational sessions throughout the run of the Fair. Just in the food category alone, there are cooking demonstrations, food safety presentations, and sessions on how to grow your vegetable garden. Other presentations include craft demonstrations, wildlife exploration talks, and environmental issues.

But the exhibits aren’t limited to the companies who pay for commercial space. There are also numerous competitions, both for children and teens (through the 4-H program) and adults, in agriculture, horticulture, cooking, art, photography, etc. And on top of all this, there are plenty of opportunities for entertainment, like tractor pulls, a rodeo, and celebrity concerts.

So what can industry trade shows learn from State Fairs?

  • Include options that appeal to both industry professionals and consumers (the Fair markets to not only the farmers, but also their entire families)
  • Work with multiple associations who appeal to your same market
  • Offer lots of multisensory educational opportunities (including hands-on demos)
  • Focus on the youth who will be tomorrow’s industry members (4-H plays a large role at the Fair, and school field trips are welcome)
  • Let them have some fun along with education and commerce

And by the way … the State Fair formula appears to be working. Even with the rough economy of the past few years, most State Fairs average between 200,000 and a million attendees over their week-long (or longer) run. The State Fair of Texas brings in more than 2.5 million people during the three-week event.


© 2012 Marlys K. Arnold  (from the July 2012 TradeShowTips Online. To receive tips like this in your inbox every month, please take a moment to fill out this request.)

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About the Author:

With experiences as both an exhibitor and a show organizer, Marlys Arnold has a unique perspective on trade show exhibiting. She travels the country consulting and training both exhibitors and show managers, and is the author of Build a Better Trade Show Image (2002), host of the Trade Show Insights blog-cast and creator of the ExhibitorEd Success System. To request access to her free video series, “7 Mistakes Exhibitors Make (and how to avoid them),” go to www.exhibitmarketerscafe.com/7mistakes.

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