Exhibitor Planning Pt. 2: How to sell out booth spaces at your event...and keep them coming back
Updated: Feb 4
You’ve set up a process for registering exhibitors for booth spaces for your event, but you aren’t getting any bites? Or not enough? Or not the right type of exhibitor? The act of opening up booth sales at your event is not enough to sell out your spaces alone. As a transactionary relationship, you need to know 1) How to sell/pitch/market to your target exhibitor and 2) How to care for that relationship throughout the process to ensure high retention/return for future events.
Like most things, email marketing is an amazing tool for marketing your booth spaces. However, this does assume you have a database of emails of local exhibitors. If you are starting from square one, your best course of action is to strap on your sneakers and hit the streets of other local similar events. Stop by all vendors you want to solicit for your event and hand them a paper application or a business card with your contact information (and maybe even a link to your online registration portal). Be extra friendly, and make sure to take their business card or write down their contact information so you can start to grow your database.
Now that you have a database of emails and phone numbers, put together a sleak eblast encouraging vendors to register. Include a description of the event that explains why this event is a good opportunity for the exhibitor. Include photos, graphics and brand language that effectively tell the story. Be sure to include a clear outline of what an exhibitor will get with their booth space and what they need to pay or provide.
Emails aren’t for everyone and with average open rates of 15-25%, you can’t rely on this method alone. Your going to have to make calls…yes, this is still a thing. Chatting with your potential exhibitors gives you an opportunity to show your personality and build a relationship. It’s easy for an exhibitor to ignore an email. It’s much harder to ignore a friendly, charismatic event organizer that cares about this event and making it a success for your vendor business.
In the management of exhibitors, it is crucial to develop and maintain strong working relationships with your connections. Viewing the process simply as a transaction would be a mistake that will require more and more work from you to rectify as time goes by. When considering your exhibitor relationships, focus on these things:
Provide undeniable value
It’s important that your pricing is in line with what you are providing to the exhibitor – this includes infrastructure, but you also need to factor in the patrons you can guarantee. Consider not only the quantities of attendees you are expecting but also the type of consumer you are bringing. Attracting thousands of college students to an event where you sold a fine art exhibitor booth is not providing value to your exhibitor (and also is not appropriate for your attendee).
Respect their business
Always be mindful of your exhibitors personal or business stake in participation. For some food exhibitors, it might be a family business that helps to fund the younger generation’s college years. You might also find solopreneurs or side hustle exhibitors that are investing into a booth space at a personal risk to get their business up and running. Everyone has a story and they should be treated with kindness and respect.
Take care in your process from start to finish and be diligent about the details. Forgetting to inform an exhibitor until 2 days before the event that no bottled water can be sold, could put them in a situation where they now have 30 cases of unusable bottled water. Be as upfront as possible in conveying all restrictions and details on the event. If you encounter any issues before or during the event, address them head-on and with respect for all parties. Always work to find solutions that appease everyone.
Be diligent in your note-taking. It’s easy to forget six months later that you told Sally’s Sandwiches she would not be placed near any burrito stands; but, if you always record special notes and details you have a running log to reference as you get further down the planning process. Exhibitors are unique businesses and individuals and will have unique requests. Negotiating and upgrading is common in the industry but only works if you can follow through on what you agreed to.
Anticipate their POV
Often times, it’s not until setting up for an event that you realize booth 124 lands right on top of a slopped gutter or you encounter booth 115 is selling graphic t-shirts (even though they did not list that on their form) and they are right next to booth 116 that you promised exclusivity on graphic t-shirts for that block. Be proactive in your approach and make adjustments before being asked. Consider scenarios from the exhibitor's perspective and make sure everyone is being given fair potential to achieve success at your event.
Get to know your repeats
Just as you track all the details for an event, track all the details for your exhibitors from event to event. If Jasmine's Journal Shop returns year after year and never likes to be placed next to the book booth, remember this! Whether you note this mentally or log this somewhere more formal, return exhibitors will come to expect that you address their individual requests over time.
Be attentive on-site
As an Exhibitor Manager you need to remember you are in the business of Customer Service. You have sold something to a customer, and if they have questions or concerns you need to be available to address them. Would you be happy if after buying the new iPhone, the Genius Bar put a Closed sign in the window? I bet not. Make yourself available throughout the event to assist exhibitors in the entire process. Check-in with each booth; offer a hand when possible; do your best to ensure everyone’s success.
You now are a Pro at setting up your Exhibitor Process and know how to sell out all your booths…and keep them coming back. Now let’s dive deeper into pricing strategy and mastering the art of on-site management. Register Here to get updates on more posts in this series!
Exhibitor Planning Pt. 3: How to price booth spaces at your event
Exhibitor Planning Pt. 4: Everything you need for on-site management - checklist included
DID YOU MISS Pt. 1 - How to manage booth spaces at your event? Check it out Here!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jenna Thompson
Jenna is a mountain based Yogi with a love for veggie focused foods. When she's not in Warrior Pose you can find her spending time with her Avalanche Rescue Dog Luna with a Matcha Latte in hand!