Lessons for Exhibitors from a Small Town

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I grew up on a farm outside a small-ish town (less than 20,000), and I can remember thinking my dad knew everyone.

But that’s how it is in small towns – people take the time to get to know their neighbors and pay attention to what happens in their community and how they can support each other.

And so it should be in the trade show community. No matter how small or large the show, you’re all there with common interests and goals. So it makes sense to pay attention to some lessons you can learn from a small town.

  1. Be friendly to everyone (yes, this even goes for your competitors). It’s a small world, and word travels fast if you’re not a team player. In a small town, people nod and wave when they pass each other (or as my husband calls it, “the farmer wave” of lifting your fingers off the steering wheel when you meet another car). Now while you may not wave at everyone who passes your booth, you can definitely look them in the eye and greet them with a smile.
  2. Take time to get to know people. My dad taught me that lesson at an early age. Whenever we were out and about, he took time to chat with people and know what was going on with them. In a small town, people not only know their neighbor’s kids’ names, but also the names of their pets. In the trade show community, making the effort to not only get to know things about the attendees, but also the other exhibitors, and even show management, will make a difference in your level of success.
  3. Reputation matters. Small towns may be famous for their gossip, but the fact is that in any community, the actions you take (or don’t) will be evidence to others of your attitude and motives. Let’s face it – news spreads, whether around town or on the show floor. If you’re doing questionable things, people will find out and it will hurt both your reputation and that of your company. Because here’s the deal – at a trade show, you’re an ambassador for your company, plain and simple. Whatever you do reflects on the company. (So keep that wild, after-hours behavior in check!)
  4. Make due with what you have available. Small towns are limited in their options for a lot of things, such as dining, entertainment, and shopping. But folks there have learned ways to make the best of it – sometimes limited options just mean you have to be more creative. That means instead of complaining about (or blaming) your booth location, low budget, or slow traffic flow, you get creative and find a way to turn the negative into a positive. I’ve seen exhibitors at the back of the hall who had steady traffic, and small booths that were busier than their much-larger neighbors (I’ve actually been one of those). There is always a way.
  5. Figure out your unique role in the community and find a way to pitch in as needed. In a small town, everyone works together and takes responsibility for the success of the overall community. Understand the distinct needs of your audience and how you can help fulfill those needs. I remember when my dad was sick one year at harvest time, a group of farmers from around the area came together to get all of his grain harvested before it was too late. The same is true at a trade show – often there are things you can do to help out other exhibitors. I’ve loaned out tools like safety pins and Velcro® when a neighboring booth had a “wardrobe malfunction.” I’ve also worked booths by myself where several of us would take turns watching each other’s exhibit to allow for quick breaks.

One final thought: When I was a child on the farm, I used to stare up at the sky to watch clouds and planes drift by, or study the stars at night. (Okay, so I still like to do those things.) My final tip for you is to remember to look up! Take a breather every once in a while, both before the show as you’re planning, but especially on the show floor, to really take in the moment and realize that all is good.

© 2018 Marlys K. Arnold (reprinted from the October 2018 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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