Social media and online marketing may be all the rage, but there are plenty of benefits to getting in front of potential customers up close and personal, writes Katrina Fox.
More than 71,000 people attended the Natural Products Expo West earlier this month – a 7.2 increase from the previous year. Now in its 35th year, the natural, organic and healthy products event took over the entire Anaheim Center in California.
On the other side of the pond, VegFestUK also continues to see higher numbers pass through its vegan lifestyle festivals across the UK each year. After two successful stints at the prestigious Olympia in 2013 and 2014, attracting over 9,000 visitors on each occasion, VegfestUK London is moving into the venue’s largest area, the Central Hall in October this year.
That’s a lot of people to have the opportunity to get your products or services in front of. As well as meeting your existing and potential customers, if you sell a physical product, it’s a chance to allow them to taste, touch or try on your wares.
Collect raving fans
Mike and Andrea Jessop, owners of Moo Free Chocolates, have taken a stall at VegFestUK since the company’s launch in 2010. Since then their business has grown to the point where they are now an event sponsor.
“We attend Vegfest in order to meet some of our customer base and to show them and let them try our new products,” says Andrea Jessop, who advises other business owners to treat these type of shows more as a marketing exercise than a profit-making venture.
“Try and break even and cover costs if you can but remember, the visitors to expos will potentially become long-time customers and fans of your enterprise.”
Grant Campbell, co-owner of Addiction Food in Sydney, Australia, agrees.
“When you’re first starting out, doing events and festivals is a brilliant way to build your brand awareness. With Addiction Food, people can literally taste our wares and get to know us. Over time we’ve become known in the vegan community so having a stall at, for example, the Sydney Vegan Expo, allows us to maintain our brand presence and continue to connect with our customers.”
Whether you’re at a specifically vegan or vegetarian event or not, taking a stall is an opportunity to make sales on the day to cover your costs or even turn a profit.
This may not be the case for service providers such as healthcare practitioners, for example, where the focus is more likely to be on meet and greet and getting interested parties to sign up to receive information from you after the event.
Festivals and expos tend to favour small goods, particularly food, clothing and bric-a-brac in terms of numbers of sales made on the day.
“When we first started to attend VegFest we found that doing things like moving a few items around on our stall or changing a price slightly could have a large impact on sales,” says Moo Free Chocolates’ Mike Jessop.
Of course you’ll only make a decent amount of sales or collect high numbers of quality leads if enough people attend the event to warrant your outlay costs.
This is where marketing comes in. “We can spend up to 40 per cent of our budget on marketing – that’s why we get 10,000 people to Olympia because we really market our shows very wide and so we charge for stall hire accordingly,” says Tim Barford, co-founder and organiser of VegFestUK.
“We understand that with stall hire, staff, travel, accommodation costs, small business owners may have to spend up to around £500 or £600 in total, but if you’re getting back £1,000 just with sales for the day and lots of flyers are out, you’re meeting your customers and getting your brand right in front of thousands of people, that’s a good-value show.
“One or two people would prefer things to be cheaper but then we wouldn’t be able to spend so much on marketing and we wouldn’t have so many people there.”
So dedicated are they to spreading the word about their events, the VegFestUK team hires several PR firms to land local and national media coverage. A recent coup was a mention in a front page article of the London Evening Standard newspaper titled Green is the New Black: How Veganism Became Sexy in London.
At the other end of the scale, smaller events such as the Sydney Vegan Expo, which is organised by the New South Wales Vegan Society, offer a more intimate experience. This is reflected in the lower cost of hiring a stall, which in turn keeps the entry costs down for the public to attend.
“We’ve kept our stall prices down as it’s our mission to educate the general public, so we want to introduce top products to the mainstream as well as to the vegan community,” says organiser and society president Loren Lembke. “And since our entry fee is only $10 to the public, they are cashed up and ready to shop.”
In addition to meeting your existing and potential customers, taking a stall at a festival, expo or other event is a great way to connect with other business owners, particularly socially conscious ones.
“We enjoy meeting other stallholders at Sydney Vegan Expo to discuss current challenges, solutions and new innovations happening within the vegan movement and industry,” says Addiction Foods’ Campbell.
Tips for exhibiting
1. Make a list of events where you know your target market are likely to attend.
2. If the event has been held before, talk to previous stallholders and find out what their experience was like (most events list past exhibitors on their website and if they don’t, ask them for a list).
3. Have a clear aim of what you want to achieve by exhibiting at each event.
4. Work out your costings in detail to determine the viability of exhibiting – remember to include things like fuel, parking, permits, insurance, signage, promotional material etc.
5. Depending on your budget and where you’re at in your business, decide whether sponsoring an event may be worth your while. Being associated with a well regarded and well promoted event can boost your brand’s reputation as well as your profile.
6. Have fun, while learning a lot!
Images: Top: VegFestUK; Middle: Sydney Vegan Expo, photo courtesy of Robert Varkevisser