Successful Selling At Sportshows

Written By: Dave Hutchinson
All-Canada Shows
Originally Published from April-June 1988
in The Outfitter Magazine as a 3 part article.


Part One

Participating in sports shows is a good investment; you can’t beat selling your facility face to face with a prospective client.

Participating in sports shows is also a BIG investment; so if you’re going to spend a big chunk of your marketing budget on shows, why not go all out and do it right?

Below are a few areas that are crucial if you are going to be successful at sports shows.

Booth Design. It always baffles me that an exhibitor is willing to spend thousands of dollars on booth space as well as thousands of dollars on travel to the shows and set up a booth with a shabby backdrop designed in 1957 at a cost $125.

The Backdrop is the most important ingredient in the design of your booth. Make it impressive, either with large photos, artwork or combination of the three. And then don’t clutter it with homemade signs etc… at the show. Why not consider investing in two outstanding backdrops and alternating them for a few years? If you do this, make sure your logo is prominently displayed and IT DOES NOT CHANGE.

Backdrops should be designed for a 10’ booth, but don’t make them exactly 10’. They should measure somewhere between 9’ to 9.5’ so that just in case you get into a hall where the booths don’t quite extend to 10’, it will fit. Even if you have 10’ of booth space, it is good to have a little space to stretch the backdrop tight.

Lighting is very important. Most exhibitors are investing in video equipment so the cost of electricity to the booth is already part of the package. Exhibition halls generally have excellent lighting but a few have dark areas. And there’s not much a show producer can do except try to move your both the following year. But guess what? A dark hall could be an ADVANTAGE TO YOU, if you have lights! I am always happy to see aisles that have several booths with their own lighting. The individual booth pops out but it also helps everyone else in that row.

Other key areas of the booth include the display on the high table, use of video and use of easels.

Everybody likes pictures. I’ve noticed that a lot of exhibitors are saving a lot of time and effort by making permanent displays of their candid photos in some type of frame that can be displayed on an angle on the high table versus laying the photos, maps, brochures, etc…, on the table and then covering them with plastic stapled to the table. The advantage is that it may look more professional, be easier to setup and take down. The big disadvantage is that it is harder, if not impossible, to target your photos toward a given market. And what could be more exciting than for one of your show guests, along with a group of his friends, to stop at the booth and see HIS photo - even if he is “showing off” with a stringer of 3 lb. walleyes?

More about pictures…make sure they are not out-dated. Hopefully most of them will be from last summer (and be sure to indicate it if they are). They shouldn’t all be of giant fish- unless that’s all you catch. But let’s face it, in most cases Americans are looking for the “big ones” in Canada. So why not take some snapshots of your bigger fish and enlarge them to either 5x7” or 8x10” and mix them in with the others?

Don’t forget the use of your brochure and maps, Americans are very unfamiliar with the geography of Canada and a simple, well designed map will be very helpful.

The use of video can be a help or hindrance. Like anything else, it can be done professionally or amateurishly. Having it done professionally is a must!

The key to a good video includes using the right equipment (to provide network quality reproduction), a good, creative camera person (to capture the essence of your facility), a narrator, who has a good voice and knows what he or she is talking about, and perhaps, the most important part, having the proper editing equipment and personnel to convert the raw material into a concise, creative and truthful sales tool for you to sell your facility.

Videos should be adapted to the viewing audience. In other words, if you are looking for corporate business (not to be used at sports shows), put together at least a 10 minute video emphasizing your meeting rooms, accessibility and other features, such as nearby golf courses, tennis courts, etc.

If I were producing a video for sport show purposes, I would do it in short segments with a lot of information “superimposed” on the screen. Example: the forest 30 seconds, music and voice clearly pointing out the highlights of the lodge including such things as close-ups of equipment (in particular boats and motors), facilities, food, guides, and give them a touch of the scenery (remember almost everyone shows tons of natural beauty on video)…it’s something that’s taken for granted so don’t overkill, especially in the first 30 seconds.

After the first 30 seconds, how about the two or three minutes of video (a lot of scenic stuff here) without any narration, only soft music for audio. It’s nice to have time to talk to the show guests when you don’t have to continually turn down the volume on your video.

After the two or three minute segment, repeat the 30 second segment and keep following that sequence.

If possible, buy a small self-contained video player, you should be able to pick one up for $750 U.S. They’re a lot easier to lug around and also more professional on the table. Be courteous to your neighbour but try to keep the volume high enough so that those passing by can understand it.

Easels work well to display mounts. Make sure they don’t interfere with your backdrops. Also, it is important that your mounts do not look like they were caught in 1957. They should look like they were from last summer and preferably that should be the case, with a sign informing the public to that feat.

What should be the lifespan of your booth design? I think five years may be too long. Remember, you are trying to create a positive impression with both old guests and potential guests and both often go to the show year after year. If your back drop goes back to 1957, they could also assume that you haven’t updated your facility or equipment since then.

Part Two

This series is taking a look at successful selling at sport shows. Last month we discussed booth design and content, this month we will be taking a look at sales brochures. And next month we will conclude with “The person in the booth”.

Although many operators place way too much emphasis on the importance of a good brochure, nevertheless a good brochure is important.

Too many sport show exhibitors feel all they have to do is print up a fancy brochure and go to the sports shows and hand them out like candy. In reality, the brochure should only compliment the efforts of a good sales person in the booth.

In other words, after the exhibitor has established that the show guest is interested in his or her facility and the two have completed their conversation, a brochure changes hands. An exhibitor should be especially stingy at a general sport show where oceans of people walk by the booth and only a very minute percentage are interested in going to Canada.

I’ve seen many smart exhibitors who have two different brochures printed…a fancy, process colour brochure for those who are truly interested which are hidden behind the table and a nice, attractive, very inexpensive black and white brochure set out on the table for the general public.

Your brochure is a reflection of your facility. And again, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right…even if it costs a bit more. When you’re at sports shows, take a look at what your competitors are doing. Check out where the better ones are being printed or if you might have to consider a good graphics house.

Don’t forget to take lots of pictures during the summer with using them in your brochure in mind. Either hire someone who is good in photography or invest in a good 35mm camera and take them yourself. Be sure to check with your printer to see if they prefer slides or prints.

Like everything else, change is inevitable and vital. Don’t use the same brochure year after year! You might get away with using the same one 2 years in a row, but that should be maximum.

The success at a sports show should never be judged by the number of brochures handed out, but rather by the number of bookings at the end of the season attributed to that sports show.

The number of bookings will be increased with the use of good sales techniques complimented by a good brochure.

Part Three

This series on successful selling at sport shows discussed booth content and brochures and concludes with this issue featuring: “The person in the booth.”

The most important part of this marketing approach-exhibiting at a sports show - is saved for last!

You can have the best designed booth, greatest video and the most expensive, elegant brochure, but if you don’t have the right representative in the booth you are guaranteed to have mediocre results.

Everyone has their own philosophy and many are very successful despite their unorthodox sales techniques. But if I were an exhibitor at sport shows, here’s how I would attempt to market my place:

It goes without saying that I would want to be equipped with an attractive, well lit booth, along with a new video, exciting brochures and new photos on the table top.

Because I would be looking for both the professional person as well as the blue collar worker who has a spouse earning as much or more than him, I would dress accordingly. And that would probably include khaki pants, a denim sports shirt and a sweater vest or suede vest with comfortable walking boots.

Most of the time I would stand in the booth or at least sit up straight in the stool and study the passing crowd with a welcome expression.

“Hi, how’s it going?” would be a very common phrase. A few other common questions that I would use to start the conversation would be: “What kind of fish do you go after?” “Ever been to Canada?” “Nice day out there today.” Use anything it takes to get the conversation started.

Once it’s started get the prospect(s) into your arena… start talking about the location of your place…the scenery…your guides…boats…food, etc.

Be sure to ask a lot of questions.

Remember, most people like to be sold. They want you to take an active interest them. And they like to be invited and yes, even coaxed a little.

Don’t be bashful about hauling out your reservation book and implying that you’re doing them a favour (which you very well may be doing) by getting them into the only slot you have open in June. And just to absolutely guarantee it for him, don’t forget to ask him to get out the cheque book and put some money down.

There’s nothing like a booking to make other show guests also interested in your facility. Hey, if he walks around the whole show, maybe there won’t be an opening at your place for the week he requires when he returns.

The way you present yourself and facility will be the way you are perceived by the public. In other words, if you drink in the booth, you are inviting boozers to your place.

It all boils down to ATTITUDE. Maintaining a strong positive attitude is not easy. But, why would anyone ever want to travel 500 to 1000 miles to visit someone who is a grump?

And although you may not think you are projecting that image, what is the show guest’s impression of someone leaning back on his stool with his arms folded and a frown on his face. Or what about someone reading a book? Or, dozing off? If you are that tired, take a hike. Get out of your booth and get recharged.

In one of our shows, we had a row that for some reason didn’t seem to attract show guests as well as others. And yet, one of my exhibitors, who had the worst position in that row always had a crowd around his booth.

What was his secret? He was excited about his facility and he was excited about talking to the show guests. These people didn’t have to stop. But their curiosity got the best of them. What is this guy talking about? It must be good if he is so enthusiastic!

And that is the essence of being successful at sport shows - an enthusiastic attitude. 


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