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Trade shows can provide good leads for small businesses

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By Pat Sisneros and Juergen Kneifel
Trade shows, fairs and other special events can be a cost-effective way for small businesses to introduce products to new customers.
Recently, more than 250 businesses participated in the Everett Fall Home and Gift Show at Comcast Arena. Most were local small businesses and entrepreneurs.
The reason these shows are valuable to the entrepreneur is that these businesses rarely have opportunity to showcase their niche products and services to a large audience of prospects.
Some are able to generate six months of work from one show -- a tremendous return for three days of showcasing the business.
Most of the exhibitors at the show utilized samples and promotional brochures to sell their services. Retailers and businesses with tangible goods created dazzling displays to draw in potential customers.
Some of the vendors strategically placed candies and snacks to lure prospects closer. Most provided some means of gathering names and contact information to be able to follow up with customers. Typically this involved a drawing with prizes.
Show organizers also provided an electronic registry that invited guests to enter an electronic drawing at various kiosks. The kiosks generate important feedback for show organizers and also help guests streamline some of their inquiries directed at specific businesses.
The show sponsors included local favorites Judd & Black and Boeing Employees Credit Union. But many of the small businesses are names that few might be familiar with. We visited with a few of the vendors to learn how the event provided leads and new sales for their businesses.
Brent Tangen is the president of Concrete Creations Inc. His company has been doing these shows at Comcast Arena for about eight years.
"We wouldn't miss it," Tangen said. "I expect that early on, we were booking over 50 percent of our business through leads generated at the shows. Now that Concrete Creations is well established in the area and benefits from word-of-mouth through satisfied clients, we can probably point to 80 percent of our business having been influenced by the Home Show opportunity."
In other words, many of the customers from earlier shows are still generating positive leads in addition to the new contacts that are being made.
A newcomer to the show, Anita Infelise, was amazed with how many details go into such an event. A'Nita Creation is a Mukilteo-based ceramics shop that features fine art pieces in addition to classes and special events for kids and adults.
"I wish I had done more to engage visitors with hands-on opportunities and had less of an emphasis on selling finished items," Infelise said.
Going in, she thought perhaps the sales and event bookings would split about 50-50 in terms of business. Infelise wasn't able to sell as much product as she would have liked and chocked that up to a lesson learned.
If you're a small business owner with products or services that need to be showcased to many prospective clients, then perhaps shows, fairs and special events may be your cost-effective marketing solution.
Pat Sisneros is the vice president of College Services at Everett Community College. Juergen Kneifel is a senior associate faculty member teaching business. Please send your comments to
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