Many vegan food producers lose valuable opportunities to impress buyers and gain loyal customers when showcasing their wares at specialist events. Make sure you’re not one of them by following Jennifer Pardoe’s tips.
I’m lucky to be able to go to all the London Food Shows, both consumer and trade. I see some amazing products and get so encouraged to think they may influence consumers to choose plant-based food.
But when it comes to service at shows, I’ve witnessed the good, the great and the downright awful.
So here’s the ultimate top 10 checklist to ensure you’ve made a great first impression on your potential stockists, customers, promoters and investors:
1. Deliver outstanding service
You are there to be your brand’s biggest ambassador and you need service to match from the outset. Be professional, friendly and courteous to everyone, including those who may give you negative feedback about your product. If you’re only expecting to be your best for a handful of high-profile buyers and couldn’t care less about anyone else who stops by your stand, then a show is not for you.
Never underestimate who is coming to these shows and who is watching your interactions.
2. Set up in time
Show organisers can have their challenges, so arrive early and be ready to wait to start set up.
Complicated set designs take longer to build, so keep that in mind when designing your backdrop, signage and displays.
Many show visitors, especially at larger shows, arrive at the opening time to avoid crowds, so ensure you don’t disappoint your first customers. This isn’t easy when you only have five minutes to dress an empty stand and there are no tables like the organiser said there would be!
Be ready for things to go wrong. Take a deep breath. It’s a great feeling when you have everything ready and primed to promote your product, but if set up is not ready, still be friendly and find samples and flyers for your early-bird customers.
3. Keep your energy levels high
Take a few short breaks during the day. Refuel with plenty of fruit and rehydrate with water. Ensure your team takes a phone number from enquirers so you can call them when you return. Just telling people you will be back in 15 minutes won’t work – visitors will forget and often only circulate once around the whole show. It can be harder to backtrack against the flow of visitors, with no prompt.
Ensure your team take breaks and provide fruit and water for them too. You and your team need to keep your energy levels up and usually show venues themselves have the worst food available. Don’t let them sap your team energy. Customer service can go downhill when you’re tired and you want to keep energy right up until the show closes.
4. Prepare your sales pitch in advance
You should have a sales pitch and a smile prepped at the very least. Don’t worry about being nervous; nerves are sometimes refreshing, down to earth and charming.
You have the opportunity to repeat over and over your product’s benefits, where to buy it and your company values, so you will gain confidence fairly quickly. An easy introduction to anyone approaching your booth is to say “Hi, have you seen our product before? We made this product because [insert reason/s]. It has great, quality ingredients of X and Y and it’s delicious. Would you like to try some?”
List well ahead of time the top questions your customers may ask you and know the answers. Brief your team on the answers. Do some role play beforehand to practice and gain confidence.
5. Be present, friendly and customer-facing the whole time
The worst scenarios I’ve seen are when the founders of the business or staff (or both) are on their phone or laptop, and it feels like you are inconvenience, interrupting their screen time. This is not the time for screen time! It’s customer-facing, one-on-one time.
Yes, talking all day long is exhausting, but you have invested in this chance to put your product on show. Your potential customers may have spotted your business in the exhibitor list and travelled a long way especially to see you. A warm welcome and a genuine interest in other people’s view of your product is absolutely essential. This is one amazing window of time to gain valuable insight and feedback.
6. Stand out
Put some thought into how your booth will stand out. Using bold block colors can ensure people stop and take in your product. As a visitor it can be quite easy to miss a small booth in what seems like a sea of identical rows.
New brands, even with the tiniest booth space get noticed by being present, happy, talkative, and having a cheerful set design. This can be the most fun for visitors. A big, boring corporate central booth with reps sat with their butts on bar stools attracts no-one.
7. Have plenty of samples
Seriously. Have loads of samples available. The best way for people to get to know your product is to taste it.
Even with one minute to go before the show finishes, it’s not acceptable to run out! Some buyers have made mad dashes to the event from their offices before the show closes and expect your product to still be available to taste.
No samples? You’ve blown it. Or you will have to courier a whole pack to the buyer and beg forgiveness! Worse still, some stubborn founders think giving out samples is too costly. Um, what else is it costing?
Some even put up a sign saying ‘No samples’! Buyers won’t go near something as stupid as that business strategy. So be generous. It will pay off. Chop the product into inch-size pieces or pour into sample cups. Samples must be part of your investment into your product promotion.
8. Be media ready
Social media bloggers, food journalists and food lovers in general adore food shows and sharing their new finds. This is your chance for some free PR for your business and product.
Lay your table with a background that’s easy to photograph. Wood backgrounds can add coolness (white wood) and warmth (yellow, orange and brown wood tones).
Ensure your signage is big and bold so it can be read over the tops of other people’s heads. Emblazon your social media addresses, so content sharers can include you on their shares, and you can in turn share this with your audience. A common mistake is to print a social media logo only. Your stand is not a website where we can click through. Include your full URL or handle.
Finally, have a press release handy, in case a journalist or blogger is wowed by your product launch.
9. Make your brand memorable
A simple, well designed flyer is a must-have. Emptying the big show bags of paraphernalia is a post-event event in itself, so make it fun for people. Again, blocky, bright, bold colorful design stands out. I have a shoebox full of forgettable flyers with wispy fonts and dark backgrounds that I’ve been meaning to recycle!
Business cards can get lost, so ensure all your contact details, including your website and social media addresses are on the flyer. Speaking of business cards: Don’t make yours a ‘special size’ to stand out. It doesn’t fit with other business cards I keep for contacts, so these end up in at the back of a shelf or recycled.
10. Follow up after the show
Your show fatigue has set in and you deserve some time to sit down. No problem. Making contact with all your new customers can be done while sitting down! Have a pre-prepared email written and ready before the show, so you don’t get creative block.
An email is appropriate, demonstrates you care and are organised and it’s an easy call to action for potential customers or stockists to respond to you and purchase your product. Don’t forget to thank your promoters too. Email and ask if they can do a blog or provide some free press on the success you had at the show.
Remember to enjoy yourself in serving customers with samples and information. Customer interaction can be hugely satisfying. People see that you are passionate about your business and are more inclined to believe in you and therefore buy your products. Happy showcasing!
Jennifer Pardoe is the Founder of Zest Plant-Based Food Consulting in the UK. She has over 25 years’ experience operating food businesses. Jennifer delivers plant-based food solutions to help businesses grow sales, profit and company value. She understands the challenges and opportunities of switching out old-for-new ingredients, developing new products from scratch and introducing whole new lines of plant-based product to the menu or range.