Exterior/Replacement Business: Home Show Success

How remodelers can make the most out of home shows

April 13, 2011

So you’ve been to a home show, watched the people walk by, watched the other sales people watching the people walk by, and wondered, is anyone going to stop at my booth?
Over the past year I’ve talked with, or have been e-mailed by owners of more than 200 home improvement companies, many with the same complaint. I have repeatedly heard how hard it is to get leads at home shows these days. While there are still companies that are having success, others say it’s so bad, they’ve stopped going to home shows altogether.
I suggest that you go to the next available local or regional home show — no matter how far away it is — and get there fast.
Once there, just walk, watch and study everyone. See the exhibitors sitting in chairs in the back of their booths who are clearly so bored that you and everyone else knows they don’t want to be there. See the people eating and sipping their drinks, completely impervious to anyone passing by.
Ever notice the number of exhibitors reading magazines and books, or staring blindly off into the distance as if there was something about to pop through the roof of the building? Don’t miss those who are compelled to talk or text on the cell phone nonstop.
I have seen people standing within six feet of a display, the couple is looking right into the booth, clearly showing some interest, and you guessed it, the sales person was just a bit busy texting so the people moved on.
After most people hear my message, or they do my suggested undercover research, they respond one of two ways, “I can’t believe that’s my people, or my company!” Or, “Oh, we never do anything wrong like that, we just can’t get any leads or appointments.” So, here are some ideas that I have given to others, who have taken them and developed a whole new attitude, approach, and level of success in home-show and event marketing.
First the rules: No chairs, no bar stools, no food, no drinks, no books, no magazines, no ripped blue jeans, no dirty shoes or muddy boots, no talking to other vendors and ignoring people walking by. No one works 8, 10, or 12 hour shifts. And no one is allowed to be the 20th person to ask about the weather. No standing with hands in pockets, staring at the floor or ceiling, and no forcing literature on people, thinking that’s getting the job done. (Check the trashcans. You’ll find plenty of literature.)
Now lets consider some ideas of what you can do. First you can do about anything you want except what was listed above. You can also consider adding something fun, different, or even silly to attract attention. Step one is always getting attention to your booth, your company, you!
I have found that when a lot of people are around and in front of a booth, the chance of good things happening goes way up. We placed a refurbished Las Vegas slot machine near the front of our booth and offered everyone passing by three tokens with a chance to win one of three or four products we sell. It’s pretty simple, if they hit the jackpot, they win. If they don’t win — and most don’t because it’s a real slot machine — you can offer them an estimate on the item they wanted to win. It’s fun and attracts a lot of people.
What does a slot machine have to do with selling home improvements? Nothing. At a minimum, our staff and the people passing by are going to have some fun. I’ve also discovered that when people are having fun they are much more approachable. We have also installed a large pirate-style treasure chest on a display, where we let people pick out a key. If the key unlocks the chest, they win. When they don’t win, we start a conversation about their home and why they wanted to win the item they told us they wanted, had their key unlocked the lock.
I believe every time you have a conversation with people at a show, especially when it’s not people that work there, you have a chance to develop an appointment. So, be sure to think of every way you can be different and stand out in the crowd. (Please read the book Purple Cow by Seth Godin.) One very successful company I observed sets up one of those inflatable Jumping Jungle Jim things for kids to play in. It is a great idea, the kids come and play and jump for a while and the parents are, yep, right there. I call these interruption or attraction devices.
Once you have someone to talk to, let them know you are great at what you do, show some pictures, have something to demonstrate, appeal to the senses and emotions. Don’t spout facts and data for 10 minutes. No matter how good they are, no one will remember them by the time they get home.
Don’t tell them you’re the best — they won’t believe you. Tell them your company is great at making sure the client has a great outcome. You could suggest that you might be able to help them whether now or in the future and that it would be worth their time and your time to explore some ideas together. Let them know it’s OK to discuss their interest with you even if they aren’t ready to buy right now. Then you might go so far as suggesting that they set an appointment right there in your booth to meet and just see where it takes you. The more you ask the more you get.
Don’t let the no’s turn into zeros. The key is to ask hundreds of people. What if only 20 percent of the people said OK? Appointments would happen, that’s what. This one idea completely changed one company owner. They said they weren’t that bad at talking with people at shows and events but it had never occurred to them to suggest setting up an appointment. Now they do and they are glad they do.
Don’t just limit your company to home shows. That’s just one of the many events where we’ll set up. When I use the word events, I’m talking about any place 200 or more people gather. My company once sold $80,000 in business from being at a popcorn festival. We’ve been to balloon festivals, pet shows, kids and family expos, car shows, minor league baseball games, rib fest, and small town one-day festivals to name only a few. There are more of these events than you know and the cost is usually very low compared to home shows and best of all, other companies selling what you sell won’t be there.

Joe Talmon is president of Larmco Windows, an Ohio-based company with between $8 million and $12 million a year in annual sales. He has 26 years of sales experience in the home improvement business, with a focus on training and developing salespeople.

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