Tips and best practices for a successful on-site exhibitor rebook program
Selling advance exhibit space or “on-site exhibitor renewals” for future annual trade shows at your current annual trade show can involve an intense, concentrated amount of work. However, the benefits are worth the overtime as it is one of the most efficient ways for associations to boost non-dues revenue (NDR), hit budget forecasts and improve cash flow.
You leverage the value of next year’s show while exhibitors are experiencing a successful run at your current event. It’s a great relationship-building technique that also provides monetary benefits.
You want exhibitors to renew primarily for two reasons:
The more exhibitors who renew on-site, the less marketing money you spend to reach them later, and the less work your sales team has to do to track them down.
Wouldn’t you rather have your sales team work intensely for a few days during your show — securing at least 60 to 80 percent of the floor for next year, than have them spend weeks or months chasing after exhibitors by phone or emails? Your team’s time is likely better spent strengthening exhibitor relationships in person, and using time in the office to follow up with leads generated at the show or through other in-person events.
“Selling exhibit space at the current show for the next year’s show frees up our time during the year,” said Phil Newsum, executive director at the Association of Diving Contractors International. “Instead of focusing most of our time on how much more space our sales team must sell to reach our goal, our staff can focus on making enhancements to the expo and improving the event for both attendees and exhibitors.”
On-site exhibit renewals create cash flow for your association that you can use right away.
Exhibitors who commit to exhibit space for next year typically submit a 50 percent deposit to you within 30 days. If they sign up during your current show, your cash flow improves and you have more money earlier in your show cycle to cover your costs.
So, how do you create a successful exhibitor rebook program? Exhibit renewals are truly successful with proper pre-show planning and impactful communications during the show.
To get started, here are a few tips and best practices you can start implementing at your next event.
Have all of next year’s show info available.
When preparing to offer on-site exhibit renewals, give your current exhibitors ample information about the following year’s exhibit opportunities as far in advance as possible. In your pre-show communications, make it clear to exhibitors that registration for next year’s show will be available at your upcoming show. Have data readily available about next year’s venue, dates and pricing. Send a printable floor plan (including pre-sold anchors, if possible) of the venue to exhibitors alongside your space availability announcement. Advertise the types of spaces and sponsorships available.
If your association will gather in a new venue, your exhibitors will want to know more about the benefits of the chosen destination. Invite the convention & visitors’ bureau from next year’s host city to exhibit at the current show or work alongside your team as they sell booths.
Contact current exhibitors before the show.
Call and/or email your current exhibitors before the show to let them know about the on-site renewal process and the benefits of committing one year in advance. This way, you can answer all questions, create urgency, and nudge your exhibitors toward renewal.
Many associations have a priority exhibitor system in place where long-time exhibitors and exhibitors with larger booths are rewarded by having more priority points and therefore a better booth location at next year’s show.
Offer a discount if they sign the contract on-site (for example, $1.00 off per sq. ft. of exhibit space reserved). This way, the exhibitor can explain the commitment more easily to their boss. “We know we are going to exhibit next year, and I saved the company money!”
You can also collect exhibit space deposits (usually 50 percent of booth value) right away, which is a benefit for the association. Not only does your association now have this money available for use, you’re creating momentum toward your sales goal for the next year. A true win-win!
“Our Naylor sales team consistently sells 50 per cent of next year’s show floor every year,” said Phil Russo, CEO of NAFA Fleet Management Association. “Having the funds from pre-sold exhibit spaces up front allows us to immediately start investing in traditional programming as well as new innovations for future shows. These advance monies give our association a buffer with which to expand our event programming and test out new formats without sacrificing what we know works well with our members.”
Schedule appointments on site before the show.
During or before the show, assign your sales team to contact anchor exhibitors first and re-confirm their options for the next expo. You want to give your largest supporters first pass at next year’s prime exhibit options. The exhibitor’s goal is to meet and talk with as many potential customers as possible, but your goal is to meet and register as many exhibitors as possible for next year.
Complete an appointment list for all exhibitors based on your priority points system. Attempt to have all appointments scheduled on day one. That does mean you have overlapping appointment times for those companies further down the list, but that’s okay because not every company will show up.
Send out the appointment schedule via email and include the space application in case the person in the office wants to fill it out before the show and send it back.
Make it easy and fun to renew on site.
While on site, make the selling process fun and exciting. Have your own sales booth on the show floor with a welcome area (tip: Serve beverages and snacks) and a dedicated sales office/table where the client can have some privacy while they discuss their booth for next year. Have one person handle the booth assignment and another handle the paperwork so you can keep the line moving. Have an electronic version of the floorplan on a large screen and update it after each booth is sold. The exhibitor loves to see the open booth converted before their eyes with THEIR name on it!
Have space applications pre-printed with the exhibitors’ current contact information. Exhibitors appreciate this effort – with most of the paperwork done, they can just change what needs updating, sign the space application and return to their booth. Send a printable floor plan (including pre-sold anchors, if possible) of the venue to exhibitors alongside your space availability announcement.
Remind exhibitors they are getting best space available and saving money if they renew on site.
After they are done picking out their booth, you can offer them information about sponsorships and advertising through your website or publications.
Some companies, especially first-time exhibitors, may not be comfortable committing right away to next year’s show. They may need more time to evaluate the sales results. To help convince these exhibitors, carefully plan your pre-show communications and everything your event staff does to guarantee that these first-time exhibitors have a positive experience. On a case-by-case situation, you might offer them an extension of time to sign up to get the discount.
Promote the renewal program on site.
Develop a personalized one-page letter inviting all exhibitors to pick out their booth for next year at their appointed time and drop it in their booth in the hours before the show opens. Include where your office is located on the show floor.
You need to make it as convenient as possible for them to pick out a booth. Offer extended hours for sign up both before and after show hours. If an exhibitor cannot make their appointment time, offer proxy assignments: Ask the exhibitor to complete the application with four booth choices, and you assign one of those spots when their time slot comes up. Have a copy machine in the sales booth so you can give them a copy of the completed application.
At the end of the first day of sales, take an 11” x 17-inch color version of the floorplan and put a big red X across every booth that was sold the first day. Put a headline across the top of the page about how exhibit space is selling fast and add a reminder across the bottom about your event sales office location. Hand out that sheet before the show opens on the second day to every company that did not buy a booth the first day. Watch the people walk over ready to pick out a booth!
When done correctly, on-site exhibit sales are a win-win for all stakeholders involved in your events.