In mid-July, I packed up the Prius and headed to Tampa for the 2010 Independent Funeral Directors of Florida conference and expo.

This was our fourth year attending the show, so I didn’t know what kind of response we would get.  Here were my major questions:

Would our customers need any more covers? 
Would there be any new customers left for us to sell?
How would our new dressing table skirt systems be received?
Would we sell any dressing table skirt systems?

I left my facility on the morning of the event.  Exhibitors would be allowed to begin loading at noon, with the doors of the hall opening for visitors at 5:00 pm that evening.  The trip to the convention center took about two hours, allowing me to arrive just as they opened the loading dock for exhibitors to begin setting up.

Because I registered late for the show – hadn’t decided by mid-June if we’d attend again – I did not have the best choice of booth space.  In fact, the organizers had sold so many spots that the only space left was in the lobby near the registration area.  I was concerned about this setup, but I convinced myself that we’d still see everyone, even if we had to work extra hard to get them to hang out with us outside of all the main action.  I was beginning to rethink this strategy at the end of the first session.

Basic tenant of trade show booth placement:  don’t be too far away from the main action.  In fact, I would rather have been in the hall on a far wall in the corner than in the lobby.  Why?  Because everyone rushed past the eight booths in the lobby so they could get into the exhibit hall, which, incidentally, was the location of all the food, the bar and their friends.

So the typical attendee spent an hour or two in the exhibit hall, shooting the breeze with his friends, until his wife says, “Let’s go,” and he moves to leave.  By this time, he’s disengaged himself from the trade show, and just as he has closed his mind to looking at any more products, he walks out the door and sees 8 more booths. 

Needless to say, most of these guys were not going to stop to talk to any of us.

Our first day was very slow, with very few people talking with us.  The exhibit hall was rocking, but the exhibitors in the lobby were starting to wonder why they had paid the same amount as the people in the larger room.

We ended the evening with no sales.  First convention I’ve ever done where we sold NOTHING during a session.  As you might imagine, I was concerned and, if I’m truthful, a bit depressed about it.

It’s hard enough to risk hundreds or thousands of dollars and days away from your business to generate sales, but spending money and producing nothing is terribly discouraging.

(NOTE:  This post has been hard to write, since I haven’t been posting here regularly.  Sorry for the crappy writing.  Hopefully it will improve as I “up” my writing frequency.)

Luckily, I didn’t spend lots of money on a hotel room, since my sister and sister-in-law live in Tampa.  After a short drive and a “healthy” double-quarter-pounder meal (supersized, of course), I arrived at my sister’s house and crashed for the night.

The event started again the next morning and our results were better.  First, the organizers, to their credit, moved the desserts for lunch to the lobby, giving the attendees a reason to visit us after they finished their lunch.  Second, the day was less rushed, with visitors having more time to chat with vendors. 

Fortunately, several of my old customers stopped by to see what’s new and we showed off our new dressing table skirt system.  Orders started coming slowly, with our first being to a funeral director who had seen our product but held off because he had questions about durability.

As the day went on, we slowly added orders.  By the close of business and the end of the show, we had written more orders than the previous year.  I breathed a pretty big sigh of relief and started packing up to head home.

Here’s how the show finances ended:

Booth:  $375
Fuel:  $25
Food:  $50
Misc.:  $50

TOTAL EXPENSES:  $500
TOTAL SALES:  $2000 (10 items)

Typically, I budget $50 for trade show marketing from each item I sell.  So, spending $500 to attend the show meant I needed to sell 10 items.  Which we did (barely).

For contrast, the last IFDF show we attended (IFDF 2009 Wrap-Up) cost $242, meaning we’d have to sell 5 covers to meet the budget.  Of course, I received a complimentary booth for that show, which, had I been required to pay the full cost, would have made our expenses more than $600 and meant we needed to sell 12 covers.

We sold 11 items at the 2009 IFDF show and 10 this year.  I think we’re staying on track with IFDF.  And I can’t stop going to this show, since it’s usually in my backyard (next year?  Orlando) and I know the funeral directors so well.

As for the answers to those questions?  Here we go:

Would our customers need any more covers?
More than half of our sales were to customers who had ordered before.

Would there be any new customers left for us to sell?
We did, indeed, meet two new customers who were excited to try our products.

How would our new dressing table skirt systems be received?
Our previous customers loved the skirts and ordered right away.  They even ordered additional covers to match.

Would we sell any dressing table skirt systems?
We sold two systems, with two more orders coming in the next weeks following the event.

In all, it was a good event, despite the near heart-attack the first day’s response gave me.