Trade Well at Trade Fairs

Some of the Seedlab Team travelled to Melbourne last weekend for the first time in over 2 years, to support Seedlab Tasmania Alumni and other Tassie businesses, as well as fledgling Seedlab Australia businesses at the Food Service Australia Trade Fair. This was held at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre and featured new food and beverage products, food and drink hospitality equipment, various chef competitions, seminars and workshops.

There was an impressive display of Tasmanian producers supported by Trade Tasmania on a Brand Tasmania themed stand. Tom Knight from Trade Tasmania was in residence supporting the producers on the stand, which included Artisa Plant-Based Cheese, Meru Miso, Frank’s Cider, The Forager Food Co, and Tasmania’s Westhaven. Other Tasmanian businesses there under their own steam included Tasmanian Bakeries, the Tasmanian Tonic Co, and Johnno’s Home Made.

Julie from Artisa said afterwards: “We are very thankful to State Growth for the opportunity to showcase our plant-based cheeses alongside other great Tasmanian businesses. We had so many valuable conversations, wonderful feedback on our products and heard so much love for Tasmania! We’re excited to follow up leads and really make the most of all the hard work that has gone in to making this event happen”.

A number of Seedlab Australia businesses were also represented, including Bootcampers Dark City Foundry, Simply Lentils and Alg Seaweed, and Cultivators San Elk, Mrs Toddy’s Tonics and East Forged.

We made good use of a three hour window to catch up with most of them and ask what their objective was, as well as taste some new products.

Undertaking a stand at a Trade Fair is an expensive business, which is why the support of Trade Tasmania was so important and appreciated by the Tassie businesses. There are some tricks and traps to making a Trade Fair either work well for you, or a total waste of money. Darren West, one of our Seedlab Team made a presentation on Virtual Trade Fairs last year, when that was the only type of Fair one could attend. Darren put together some best practice guidelines, and I thought I would summarise some of them here for you, in case you are tempted to get out there and sell, sell, sell, now that some COVID limitations have lifted.

There are many reasons to attend a Trade Fair, among them finding and connecting with new customers and distributors, launching new products, learning industry development, monitoring the competition, and raising the company profile. One thing you must be clear on are your objectives for going, and you should set some specific aims, or targets. For example, if it’s to find new distributors, set some goals for how many new stores you want. Once you have set success factors, you will know when you hit them, which is an opportunity to celebrate, or to work harder if it’s not happening.

Sometimes an unexpected outcome is simply realising that you are not alone. Manjula of Simply Lentils said of her experience: “Based in Canberra I have always felt lonely in the food startup zone. This event has connected me with other amazing food entrepreneurs who are hustling just like me and that was so comforting. It made me realise that I am not alone in this journey and that’s the most valuable outcome of this show for me.”

Loredana from San Elk organic stocks also felt the power of community: “One of the highlights of the show for me was meeting you guys in person and meeting other participants of the Seedlab program, it was so lovely to meet with everyone face to face and share our experiences and journey. Building connection and support network with like-minded businesses is absolutely invaluable to me”.

Make sure the “blurb” you write about your company for the Trade Fair brochure or online catalogue has keywords that you know people who will want your products will be looking for. Most Trade Fairs have their exhibitor lists and descriptions online, and some busy attendees will simply search for specific keywords, and visit only those they want.

You also need to research your audience: who is attending, and who is exhibiting at the show. You may find solutions for other needs you have, like new packaging or equipment, or complementary products. You may need to wear different hats and have different types of conversations, and it helps to be prepared for that. If you can, aim to set up meetings with key people in advance; invite them to your stand for a special experience.

Amanda Hinds is our people person, and we had great fun watching different approaches from other companies present, and rating them on their “hook”. Amanda made the point that Trade Fairs were the times you needed your most outgoing and confident people on the stand, to catch people’s eye and quickly engage them in your “hook” to take the conversation further. Sitting in the corner of your stand, not making eye contact, and perhaps even worse, reading the latest Tweets on your phone, is simply a waste of time and money. If it’s time for lunch, eat off-stand, so you can be ready to chat at the drop of a hat, and not with a mouthful of food.

Once in conversation with passers by, make sure you ask what their role is and what their company does, if you are not sure, that way you avoid time wasters and giving the sales patter to your competitors. Make sure you have your offer clear, succinct, and memorised. So that when people approach and say “so… what’s this all about?” You can quickly get to the point and then start asking them about their needs and then see how your solution, your product or service, fits. Remember that as with all sales opportunities, you need to understand what the problem is that your customer has (i.e. your potential new distributor), and how you can solve that problem for them. Then make sure you explain that, clearly.

Tania Stacey from East Forged said of her recent experience: “Telling our story repeatedly over 3 days helped me to simplify the message of East Forged’s position in the market, our point of difference, why that point of difference is important to consumers and reasons to believe in us. People really wanted to know how and why we come up with this idea. I always started with Kym and I are tea specialists with 10 years in the industry and a deep seeded love for tea”. 

Remember to ask for the sale, or the listing, either there on the day, or in your follow up email THAT NIGHT! Yes you read that correctly: don’t wait til the fair is over and everyone has gone home and thrown all their brochures in the bin! Make notes after each conversation, ensure you touch base within 12 if not 24 hours, and set up a follow up activity, whether that’s sending them samples, or setting up a more detailed conversation. I’m still waiting for anyone whose stand I attended at Food Service Australia to email me!

Outcomes from Trade Fairs at the very least should include a number of additions to your EDM (electronic direct mail) list, of people who want to hear from you. Make sure you ask for business cards as well, which are great to write points to help you remember the conversation, on the back. Remember while talking, though, to keep an eye out for other potential targets as they walk past, especially if they are people you have pre-identified you want to speak with.

Have enough stock on the stand so that people can clearly see what you have, and not too much clutter which can confuse the issue. If sampling the food is not possible easily because of the nature of the food, don’t even try. You could simply have recipe, business or post cards people can take away to help them remember you later, like Chris de Bono from Meru Miso did. Sustainability is king, so avoid unnecessary “tat” as I call it, in the form of pull up banners that are unnecessary, pens, keyrings, USB fobs or worse still, lollies and chocolates. These things just entice the magpies who want to collect them, and waste your time and money.

I once took a freestanding bath, bamboo screens, towels and even rubber ducks to a Trade Fair where I was selling bath salts (heck, I even covered the walls of the booth with wallpaper held up with double sided tape). It looked beautiful, but it was very confusing and people thought I was selling a spa experience. A costly learning curve for me! I reckon some of that wallpaper is still stuck to the panels many years later, so difficult was it to remove afterwards.

On the other side, one of the most useful Trade Fairs I exhibited at was the AUSVEG convention some years ago, where all I had was a pull up banner, and some flat builders pencils with my website on it. People had to engage in conversation to understand what I had, and some big contacts and pieces of work emerged from that gig.

Sophie Todd from Mrs Toddy’s Tonics said of her Food Service Australia experience: “We simplified the process and made it as easy as we could, inclusive of the set up. We did not use cards or any paper which forced the end user to scan their barcode and give us their data”.

Make sure you wear your livery with your logos large, colourful and centre stage, and a name tag as well so people can remember it was Julie from Artisa who sampled that delicious plant-based blue cheese that you now want in your restaurant. Keep things at eye level where you can, as many people simply walk the aisles and don’t look up, down or behind your stand. Tania from East Forged said: “I must remember that white cans will not pop against a white wall background!  Next time I will ensure that I have a dark background for the can display”.

So many tips and tricks. What has worked well for you? We’d love to hear.