Walking a Mile in Our Exhibitors' Shoes

Members have told me they get a whole new perspective on their business when one of their own loved ones dies and they go from being the ones who are taking care of the family to the ones being taken care of.

The past few weeks have been similarly educational for me, as ICCFA has taken its booth on the road, exhibiting at six state conventions in the past month. (You can read more and see photos from some of these outings at Joe’s posts, here, here, here and here.)

Joe and I manned the booth ourselves at three of the six shows, and standing on the vendor’s side of the booth has given me a greater appreciation for what our suppliers go through to exhibit and to support our industry associations.

Some observations:

Scheduling is tough. So many trade shows, so little time! Coordinating our booth has reminded me a little of playing the tenth level in Tetrus (or at least, what I imagine Level 10 would be like if I ever reached it). Juggling the myriad order forms, shipping details, check requests, travel arrangements, etc., becomes a full-time job  -- and that’s before the exhibitor ever boards a plane or sets foot on an exhibit floor.

Especially in the month of June, the number of closely scheduled and conflicting events made things particularly difficult. We had to choose among shows and create duplicate copies of some of our exhibit materials to make our calendar work.

Our industry suppliers have long advocated for more joint conventions, and I can see why. Many state associations depend on their conventions and trade shows for much of their annual income, but there are states that have begun successfully collaborating, either intrastate, such as the upcoming joint meeting of the Florida Funeral Directors Association and the Florida Cemetery, Funeral and Cremation Association, or interstate, such as the biannual Mid-Atlantic Conference. As the cost of holding conventions continues to rise and our suppliers continue to look more closely at their exhibiting budgets, those states that are struggling to stage a viable show may need to look toward this type of arrangement.

Exhibiting is expensive. OK, I already knew this. Putting on a trade show is crazy expensive on the association’s side as well. But now I have a much better appreciation for how all of the expenses -- shipping, furniture, electric, display materials, giveaways, etc. -- can add up on the exhibitors’ side.

Note to self (and to my fellow association staffers everywhere): Do not take those exhibitors for granted. Many of them are small businesses and these shows represent a significant portion of their marketing budgets. We need to do our part to make sure their trip is worth every dime.

Attendees: More are better ... if they come by your booth. And there are ways associations can encourage attendees to visit -- and stay in -- the exhibit hall. Offering CE credits for visiting the booths works. So does providing food and drink. Planning the layout of the hall to encourage a steady flow of traffic is key. And scheduling your convention educational sessions so they don’t compete with exhibit hours seems like a no-brainer.

The people are terrific. By that I mean the attendees we met, the association staffs we worked with and our fellow exhibitors. Getting to know such a wonderful group of people has made exhibiting well worth the time, effort and expense. We feel truly blessed to be a part of this profession.

Fortunately, the events Joe and I attended were very well run, and we look forward to returning to each of them next year. Just as important, we plan to take the lessons we learned on the road and apply them to our own Annual Convention & Exposition to make sure our exhibitors walk away feeling the same way.