January 31, 2013

What Buyers Look For At Food Tradeshows

gourmet storeWhile at the Fancy Food Show last week I had the opportunity to walk the show floor with a buyer from a specialty gourmet store. It was an interesting anthropological experience to watch her as she checked out all the booths as I was looking to see what things caught her attention in the midst of over 2000+ vendor booths.

While I won’t name the buyer I was with or the store she represents, to give you a little more background, this buyer has a one-unit retail store that focuses on specialty food and kitchen items. Here were some takeaways I noticed and some thoughts she shared with me to help small businesses stand out at trade shows:

1. The showcase if your friend. If the trade show you’re attending has a ‘New Products Showcase’ or somewhere else that you can show your goods it can be to your benefit to spend a little extra money and put some products there. In some trade shows this space will actually open every morning prior to the rest of the show which allows buyers some time to walk through it and get a sense of what products they’d like to check out in more detail and the associated booth numbers. Even if the showcase at the trade show doesn’t open in advance, the sheer fact that this is one area where buyers can go to see what’s new makes this a stopping point for almost every buyer at the show. New technology at some shows also now allows the buyers to scan a UPC-like code at the showcase which alerts you as the vendor that someone is interested in your product. On the off-chance those people don’t have the opportunity to stop by your booth in person, you have their contact information and can follow-up with them directly.

2. If you’re trying to break through the clutter then your packaging has to speak volumes. Imagine this, you’re the buyer and you’re trying to walk through two convention halls and take it all in. In order to do this, without losing your mind in the process, you have to quickly scan the booths as you walk by. What’s going to get you to come over is if something – aka, the packaging – catches your eye. This means that your packaging has to not only stand out but also be visible in the 3.2 seconds that someone is breezing past your booth. This can be hard for someone with smaller products (like chocolates, etc) in which case you might want to add large blown-up photos of your product/packaging to your booth to help attract buyers.

3. For the specialty independent buyers, packaging is not only important for catching their eye, but how it’s packaged is also a huge part of the consideration as they determine how they would merchandise it and how the packaging would speak to their customer base. In the case of this retailer I was with, she told me that plain white labels that look like they came off of your laser printer simply don’t work. Nor do cellophane bags without any type of embellishment. Remember that many specialty food store consumers are buying products there to give as gifts to other people so your packaging needs to be gift-ready if that’s the market you’re interested in going after.

4. Get the little scanner do-hicky (technical name I know…). If the trade show you’re attending gives you the opportunity to rent a scanner that will scan buyers nametags (when they give them to you) so that you can capture their information and follow-up with them later, do it! As we were trying to make our way through the trade show and take it all in, I noticed that the buyer would get visibly frustrated with vendors who hadn’t taken advantage of this technology. It’s easier for the buyer to just ‘be scanned’ rather than having to find business cards and give them out.

5. Similarly, make it as easy as possible for the buyer to get the information they want. Have price sheets ready, be prepared to tell ‘your story’, and have professional looking marketing material. Most buyers won’t place an order with you the first time they meet you but they might take your marketing material back with them and review it later. The buyer likely won’t remember down the road how great your products looked in person so your marketing material needs to look as good, if not better, than your products do in real-life.

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