Why are international trade shows important for young people, designers, architects and creative people?
The way I see is that if you are looking for buyers, you have two options: The first is to travel all over the world and to look for the right people, and the second option is to go to a trade show that fits your product segment and business and to promote yourself there. Of course, there will be costs associated with attending a trade show, but it pays back a hundredfold. So, let’s look at what a trade show is in general.
Text by Skander Negasi
You can download Skander Negasi's presentation as a PDF at the end of this article.
Foto: Presentation Skander Negasi
A trade show is an industry-specific exhibition that allows companies to showcase and demonstrate their latest products and services as well as to conduct competitor research and to study recent market trends in order to find and exploit new opportunities. This is the definition of a trade show. In contrast to consumer fairs, only some of the trade fairs are open to the public, while others can be attended by company representatives. There’s a kind of triple typology we’re talking about. It all depends on the catchment area. First, we have international trade fairs such as the ones here in Germany and elsewhere in the world. Then, there are the national trade shows and regional fairs. Finally, we have the multi-branch professional trade fairs, special trade fairs and consumer exhibitions. In terms of consumer typologies, we have the trade visitors and the private visitors.
In order to select the right event for your business, you should start by asking yourself a few questions. The first question should be: Do I really want to sell locally, do I want to sell regionally, or do I want to sell internationally, worldwide even? That is something that you should know for your expertise and products and the services you provide. Also ask yourself if you are export ready and, if so, have you decided your international price policy? And do you also know the quality standards that are required by your target market? We have experienced a lot of problems with this, especially with young companies that have exhibited at international trade shows before they were ready. And buyers are quite discerning. They can also be mean, and they will notice immediately if you are not ready for a trade show. They expect you to have all the price information to hand, they will ask about the logistics, and they will ask you about the container prices and other details. So, if you are not prepared for that, it will reflect badly on your business.
When you attend an international exhibition, you have to come prepared. And then you should see if you have sales partners outside and which are your markets? Is your market only Kenya or Africa or further afield? Or is your market Germany or Europe? Or outside Europe? That is something you have to ask yourself first. What will be your strategy in terms of exporting your products and promoting your products outside your factory? If you know that, then you should research some of the exhibitions that might make sense for your business.
Once you have selected the correct areas, you need to check your budget and project which costs you will have. They can be quite substantial. The biggest cost is usually the stand rental, costs for your booth and then some furnishings as well as some services and communications that you might need. The second biggest cost is the personnel and travel expenses.
You should budget to attend three years in a row. If you exhibit once and then you never exhibit there again, the buyers will come back, and they will realize that you are not there anymore, and this will lead them to think that there is something wrong with your company. Instead, you would fare better not to exhibit at all. So, once you know your region and your exhibition, then you should plan to exhibit at the same event for the next two or three years. Because those buyers will come once, twice and three times. And when they see that you are there all the time, then big and long-term business will come your way. Just going there hoping for one big deal will not work, because the buyers need to build up trust with you as a producer, as an architect or designer, as a creative person or whatever you are.
If you only have a small budget, then you should take a smaller stand. Of course, you should also take into account the significance of the event. If it’s a huge event that is crucial for your business, I would always advise to spend a bit more on marketing so that your stand looks nice. If you lack the budget, then look for some of the donor groups that exist. There’s lots of support available. Some of the donor groups – which all have offices in Nairobi – are the Mastercard Foundation, UNIDO, USAID also called the East Africa Trade Investment Hub. There is also the Trade Mark East Africa and then there are GIZ and JICA, the German and Japanese societies, who are very supportive of East-African creatives. There is the Swiss import promotion programme called SIPPO and Solidaridad from Holland. So, depending on the program of those donors, you might be in luck. Some, like the Mastercard Foundation, are known for funding creative people. USAID is known for funding textiles, garments, cotton, and agriculture among others.
Everybody has their own program of what they fund. And they always look for young people who they can support to exhibit internationally. You should send them a pitch saying, “This is my company, this is what I am doing now, this is where I will be in a few years”. You need to send them a good plan – a strategic plan – and tell them this is the marketing plan that I have, and I would like to exhibit at these events, and for that I will need this kind of a budget.” These organisations also love to help build a company from the roots up and to be there for the first few years so that they can see the success of that company. There is no need to be afraid. Try to get in front of those people and get the funding. If you are already one step ahead and you have started to prepare for the show, then just be ready with all your marketing, PR, papers and documents that you have.
Once you have your brochure, leaflet or flyer, make sure that there is one corporate identity and one corporate design and that this is consistent everywhere. Whether it’s newsletters, whether it’s magazines, or any other material: It has to be online. Make sure to write a press release informing potential clients that you are exhibiting. And ask your international network to support you and to spread your news. Also, if you have a team for the show, ask them to support you as well. When selecting the booth, bear the psychology of exhibitors and visitors in mind: When visitors enter a hall, they tend to turn right, not left. This true for most visitors who enter the exhibition space, so your company’s location within the hall is important. It’s best if you have a stand that is open on two sides.
If that isn’t possible, or you have to opt for a one-side-open booth to save money, then make sure that it is located either in the centre or towards the right side of the hall, which will help a little bit. It is also important to think about the stand design and your prior requirements. It is always good to have a nice stand – even if it’s a small booth – just make sure that it’s made nicely and doesn’t look too busy. Just be creative. Just remember that it’s better to invest a little more in order to reap additional value, and because it influences the buyer’s first impression of you. And the buyer is key. They will consider how your booth looks, how you look, and how everything is set out. Next, I want to explain a bit about the zoning of your booth so that you understand how to set up your stand.
Don’t put your chair somewhere in the front. Put your chair in the back. Make the environment friendly and welcoming. And you should take the following points into account:
The orientation zone should not have too many products. Place those a little bit further in to entice people to come into your booth. It looks better, and it will get people into your stand. Behind the presentation space, you should have a discussion area with a table. Behind those should be the private zone. This can function as a kind of locker room or an area, where you can have a special meeting room for VIP guests.
Now, when it’s showtime, please make sure that you present and communicate right. Just be active, not passive. We see exhibitors all the time, who just sit around and look at their smartphones. No buyer will approach these exhibitors if they are just sitting there as they don’t appear interested in selling their products. This is my advice to everyone: be active, not passive. Don’t just drink and smoke or talk on the phone. You do not relax in front of customers. Make notes when you talk to anyone and always have brochures and plenty of business cards with you. And when there’s a break, someone should always be present at the booth. Everything needs to be professional.
The buyer remembers how you act and how you say something. They will start to hear and see what is on the ground. And another tip for presenting yourself and the product is to present with enthusiasm. Do not have too many staff members at the booth. Do not give too much information, because it’s going to be too tiring for the buyer. And at the same time keep your hands and body language open, maintain eye contact and try to elicit useful information from the buyer. Bear in mind that 55% is being communicated by body language and 38% by the way you speak. Over 90% of all communication is non-verbal. That is why it is so important to communicate professionally at all levels, and to pay attention to more than just the words you say. Appearance is also an important part of this. The right clothing and the name tag, open body language and eye contact are important as are your hand gestures and your handshake and your voice. Personal hygiene is crucial as well.
In international business there are also differences in etiquette. It is important to look at the handshake, business card and punctuality. When you have a B2B meeting on your stand, always be on time. Do not have wine or do not offer wine or champagne at your booth. Consider the content of your small talk and the level of familiarity, with which you address people. Be aware and in control of all of your different types of communication. That is especially important when you meet buyers from a different region. For instance, the French and the Russian are a bit less direct. Let’s start with very direct people. Like if you talk to Germans and Americans, you can talk to them very directly, e.g., you can tell them: This is what it looks like, this is what I like, this is what I don’t like. And whatever they reply is what they mean. There is not this kind of a polite way of expressing something. The French and the Russians are a bit less direct, and then we have less indirect people like the Southern Europeans, the British, the Africans and Mexicans or people from the Caribbean states. They can be very polite and do not express their feelings directly, so you have to read between the lines.
Africans are very friendly, and they don’t like to say no to something, or they don’t like to express directly that they don’t like something. They are always very friendly, very polite. And therefore, sometimes you end a meeting thinking that it went very well because many African clients don’t say no directly. Some of them do, of course, but a lot of Africans are just too polite to criticize your product or to criticize the business. So, instead of that they will tend to stay positive, and they will leave, and after that you will hear less from them. Later, they might tell you: We like your products, we like your service, but for this year we won’t take it up. But maybe next year. You need to understand that this means that you’re out.
And then we have the very indirect people. Most of the time these will be your Asian buyers. So, if they tell you, that something is nice or they say “yes” to your deal, it does not mean that you have the deal just because they said yes. It’s just a polite way of saying “okay”.
Knowing these things is what we call intercultural competence, and it is so important to have an idea about the culture of the regions where you are going to exhibit, so that you fully understand what it means and how to talk with these people.
Always use the last day of any event, which is usually a bit slower than the others, to review your competitors and to benchmark yourself. Go around and research the other companies. Especially the competitors in the same hall. How do they present themselves? What communication materials do they provide? Just take some of their materials. Also pay attention to how their teams are set up. This can help you plan how to present your company next time.
Will fairs will be as important after the pandemic? Do you think things will return to how they were before?
People are fed up with doing business online because you don’t really do business online. You have to see people, you have to touch the products, you have to smell the products, whatever it is. And you need to have a kind of exhibition. You have to meet the people in person. You can do conferences online, you can do awards online, everything. But when it comes to selling products, promoting products or services, you need to have a B2B session, and you have to know if you can trust the exhibitor, the person who is behind those products. Therefore, exhibitions continue to be a must. But what will change in the future is that there will be kind of a hybrid system. There will always be a few people who will still be afraid of going to a mass meeting.
Any advice for beginners, young businesses or start-ups?
You should attend an event that is relevant to what you do. If you are an architect, go to an event for buildings, where other professional architects are. At those regular exhibitions, they always have a program for young people. They have a kind of a special show area where you might not even need to pay. There is a home-tech section in January every year in Frankfurt, for example, and there’s the Ambiente fair for consumer goods and home decor every February also in Frankfurt. Alongside the usual exhibitors, there is also an area for young and creative people from the same sector as well as a special show area where those young people are selected and they don’t need to pay, but they will be selected. And nobody is stopping you from applying for such a special show area.
This is great for three reasons: First, that way you don’t need to pay. Second, you will also receive assistance with setting up your products. And third, this exhibition area will also be highlighted by the press, because the press always goes to those special show areas by young people. But one thing is clear, you should exhibit at events that represent what you do. What you also can do is you can come together as a group, share the cost, take one area and promote the entire group. This is another way to save costs.
Skander Negasi is the CEO of Trade and Fairs Consulting. He worked for Messe Frankfurt from 2001 to 2010 before opening his company “Trade and Fairs Consulting” in 2011. Now TFC represents various large trade fair companies in diverse African countries. Since 2013, TFC organizes its own trade fairs in East Africa via its Kenyan company “Trade and Fairs East Africa Ltd”. *