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Architects: A Guide to Attending Trade Shows

Trade shows and exhibits can be an excellent vehicle for landing new clients. Here, you can showcase the type of work you do and potential clients can chat with you face-to-face and get their questions answered. You can also collect contact details and follow up with leads later, and at many trade shows there are great networking opportunities, too.

If you’ve never done a trade show or exhibition before, it can seem a little daunting. Don’t worry - we’re here to take to guesswork out of it! Here is everything you need to know about attending trade shows as an architect.

1. Define Your Goals and Your Target Client


For each show you want to attend, think about what you want to get out of it. Obviously, you are looking for new business, but there’s a huge difference in the way you market to multi-complex commercial construction, high-end residential, business refurbishment and residential development.

Here’s how to figure out if a show is right for you, and to start thinking about your strategy:

  • Who is the show targeting? For example, in my city, we have a “Home” show, which is for higher-end products and services. We have a “Sustainable Home Show”, which is for eco-friendly products and services. And we also have a variety of industry trade shows. All these shows have different markets, which will impact what you display at your stall and your marketing strategy.

  • How much is the show charging? How many clients would you need to book in order to make back your investment (break even)? How many to turn a profit? Is this likely at the show you’re applying for, based on the numbers and demographic?

  • If possible, attend the show before you sign up - check out the layout, the programme, and the types of businesses exhibiting. Talk to vendors about what works and doesn’t work at the show. Get the lay of the land and figure out if it’s right for you before you spend a ton of money on exhibitor fees.

  • Attending the show also gives you a chance to scope out which booths are the most popular. How are other architects and construction companies presenting themselves? What seems to be working? Collect ideas for your own display.

  • Figure out who you are targeting, and if you’re a good fit for the show before you apply - this could save you thousands in vendor fees by ensuring you only choose the shows aimed at your target market.

2. Get as Much out of Your Fee as Possible


Many trade shows make requests for exhibitors who might want to join a panel, offer a prize, or participate in other promotional efforts for the show. Often, these extras won’t cost you any more. You might have the option to:

  • Run a workshop for the public or for other exhibitors.

  • Participate in promotional video, print or online media to promote the show.

  • Include ads or website links in the show’s catalogue.

  • Speak about a topical subject on a panel with a number of other exhibitors.

  • Participate in a prize-draw.

  • Participate in a charity event / auction.

My suggestion is - go for it! Sure, it can be daunting appearing on a panel or running a workshop, but you’ve paid a lot of money to attend the show, so take advantage of these additional opportunities to demonstrate your expertise.

3. Present Yourself and Your Company Professionally


You’re at the trade show to put your company in front of hundreds of new eyes, so it is vital you represent yourselves in the best possible light. This includes all features of your display, from the graphics you use, to the message you portray, to the way your staff are dressed and act. Here are some tips:

  • Use every surface of the space allocated to promote your firm. Pin images of your award-winning buildings to the walls, place a sign out front, and cover surfaces in promo material.

  • Include bright colours and lots of images - these automatically draw the eye in.

  • Create specific promo material - vouchers, cards, pens, etc - for the show, targeting the types of people you’re going to be in front of.

  • Consider creating t-shirts or hiring matching uniforms for your staff - this instantly gives a professional look.

  • Hire a professional graphic designer to create your marketing collateral and signage. Trust me, people can tell.

  • Giveaways are a great way to collect leads to target future marketing. Choose a prize, such as $5,000 of free services, and advertise this prominently at the front of your stall. I’ve seen trade stalls where vendors have used tablets to display their sign-up forms - a great way to look sharp and professional while collecting an email list which can be quickly imported into lead manager. At the end of the day, draw out a prize winner, and email everyone else who entered offering them a small percentage off their cost, or a free initial consultation - some incentive to get them through the door.

  • Use multimedia, such as video and touch-screens to draw attention to your stall.

  • Stand at your stall - don’t sit. This makes you look more engaged with potential clients.

  • Don’t read, eat, text on your phone, or do anything other than look friendly and engage with potential clients.

4. Spread the Word


Promote the show on your own social media, and send an email out to all your current and prospective clients, inviting them to come along. If the show allows, you may even be able to offer them a discount - for instance, ½ price off entry. This helps position you as someone on top of the local architecture industry, and could be a great way of providing value for your current clients by giving them a great resource for finding other suppliers for their building project.

5. Do something different


You might be attending a trade show where several other architects are displaying their portfolios - so what can you do to stand out?

Many exhibitors will come up with clever ideas to draw attention to their stalls and make their businesses even more memorable. There’s no reason why you can’t, too!

  • Here’s a clever tutorial on how you can use Oculus Rift to create a unique trade show experience. Now, I’m not saying you have to do something like that, but it would be pretty unique!

  • You could create LEGO models of the homes you’ve built to display (with some spare blocks at your desk for potential clients to design their own buildings) - a great way to create an interactive, attention-grabbing stall.

  • Everyone offers pens and mugs as promo items - why not do something different? Offer little handmade “jenga” sets, or miniature set squares, or something else that will make visitors remember you.

6. Track Your ROI


If you are thinking of making trade shows a regular part of your marketing, it is important for you to measure how successful each one is. This way, you know which shows to return to, and which to avoid for next year.

After each trade show, tally up:
  • How much your stall fee cost.

  • How much extra money you spent on prizes, promotional materials, hirage, printing, parking, etc.

  • The number of new clients you obtained.

  • The total profit from the projects these clients have brought to the company.

  • The number of warm leads obtained.

  • The number of valuable industry contacts you obtained.

Did you come out on top?

When you look at ROI, it can also be good to factor in what you might be able to do next year in order to get a better result. For example, if you noticed another architect doing something cool, you might be able to factor that idea into your plan for next year.

Trade shows can be a vital part of an architect’s marketing calendar. They offer the chance to get your firm in front of a new audience - and often, that audience is highly engaged and looking for the specific services you offer. With a bit of hard work and some creativity, your next trade show could see your firm booked up with work for the next year!

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Have you ever ran a stall at a trade show? Share your top tips with us!

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