Are Trade Shows Worthwhile?

I took a break from blogging but now I’m back. How funny that my last post featured a photo from Interbike, the now-defunct bike industry trade show. There’s a lot of explanations swirling around about why Interbike is no more (or, at least, taking a break), but I think a big reason is because it didn’t represent a scene that a lot of people wanted to be a part of. I know that’s largely why I stopped attending.

Bonus content: Listen to me talking about building a women’s focused bike brand with Arleigh Greenwald on the Shift Up Podcast

The lapse of Interbike brings me to a question I get asked a lot – do I do trade shows, and do I think they’re worthwhile? I’ve decided that they’re not the best use of Po Campo’s money, so we’re not doing any this year, but depending on your product and industry, they might be right for you.

One of Po Campo’s first trade show booths. We designed these stands to ship inexpensively through FedEx, but they showed up totally damaged. Live and learn!

Here’s more detail on how I reached this decision for Po Campo. First, I looked at the return on investment. Trade shows are expensive, roughly $8,000 a pop once you factor in all the costs (booth, travel, shipping, staffing, etc). My goal was to get 3x return on investment, which would cover the expense, the cost of goods, and still give me profit. Few shows produced that for me, but some did, so I continued to do those every year.

In planning 2019, I decided to take a fresh look at our trade show strategy and discovered something interesting. While our “good” trade shows produced new accounts for us and hit our sales goals, most of those new accounts only ordered the minimum of product and only ordered once. Those aren’t the kind of wholesale accounts you need to grow your business. It occurred to me that we were spending the majority of our wholesale marketing dollars on these trade shows, but they weren’t introducing us to the accounts that will take us to the next level. So I decided to cut the trade shows from the budget to free up money to try different things.

Another booth design, where everything fit inside of a single crate, which broke apart to become the walls of the booth. I was pretty proud of this one.

But trade shows are not just about sales. In fact, I think they’re less and less about sales and more about the gathering of industry folk. So while not exhibiting at trade shows may make sense from a budgetary standpoint, I also need to consider the intangible benefits I may lose by not having a presence there. How many conversations and connections will I miss by not being there, and how can Po Campo be present without exhibiting?

Would trade shows be good for your business? Potentially. The retail environment is changing, and I suspect that many industry trade shows are losing their relevancy, but they certainly still have their place. Depending on how niche your product is, how much you rely on wholesale sales, and what kind of networking events you can attend should all factor in to your decision.

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