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Trade Show Bob
Buying Termites
everal years ago, my family and I were in the process of moving to a new city. A major part of this ordeal was selling our old house and buying a new one in our new city. As usual, the process is never as easy as you think it should be, and indeed, it dragged on and on.

As we finally approached our scheduled closing date to officially take ownership of our new home, it seemed like obstacle after obstacle was being thrown into our path. The final shoe dropped while we were seated at the table, with pens ready to sign the gazillion documents required.

For some obscure reason (a flat tire, mechanical breakdown, or the dog ate my homework), the termite inspection was missing. The closing agents all assured us that this was just a minor oversight that could be easily corrected, and they promised (cross their hearts, Scout's honor) to take care of it immediately.

Fortunately, my wife was with me, and she immediately ran up the "red flag," reminding me that if we signed the papers to take ownership, and then termites were found, they would be our termites, not their termites. And the termites would then become our problem, not their problem.

Heeding her advice, we abruptly put a stop to the proceedings until the termite report was complete. The finance and title people had to scramble and re-draw all the papers for another day, the agent's commission was delayed, and, miraculously, the termite guy got his inspection done. Go figure.

Much to everyone's relief, no termites were found and we quickly closed on the house. But this near-disaster episode points out an important concept all exhibitors face every year. We all sign contracts every year, whether it's for a house, a loan, or a trade show exhibit space. And the absolute best time to clear up any misgivings is before we sign, not after.

This is especially true of trade show exhibit space. We're usually presuured to make a decision on our space and sign the contract, sometimes during a five-minute window at the 2013 show, for 2014 space. How can you possibly assure that all the "termites" are gone from the space you're buying in so short a time? Here are some tips:
Start early. Don't wait until the last minute to gather the information needed to make good decisions.
Talk to the organizer. Get as much show, attendee, competitor, and other insight while they're still unsure of your plans and direction. It's called leverage.
Air your beefs. If you have issues with how the show is run, the time to express it is before you sign up. Want more selling hours, less conflict with sessions, or other changes? Now's the time.
Properly size up your opportunity. With the information in hand from the organizer, you're better equipped to decide exactly how large (or how small) your investment should be. And I'd never cancel out of a show without first discussing things with the organizer to get to the bottom of why things aren't working out.
Budget wisely. Plan to spend a little less on space and exhibitry, and a little more on pre-show marketing. If you properly identify the targets you're looking for, you can overcome a bad location or a smaller exhibit by implementing an outstanding pre-show campaign that compels your targets to seek you out.
Be patient. It takes time to stop a freight train or steer the Queen Mary, but change has occurred and will occur again if you take the reins and demand it.
Be persistent. Don't quietly settle for the status quo if you know things can be done better. The more you learn and follow the best practices of our industry, the better equipped you become to be the agent of change. Don't abdicate this important responsibility.

If you prepare, and are prepared to face some backlash squawking, you can leverage your influence at the right times to make sure our industry's "termites" are exterminated before they become your termites.

Bob Milam, independent industry consultant, is a former EXHIBITOR Editorial Advisory Board member and a past All-Star Award winner, and a current EXHIBITOR Conference advisory board and faculty member. tradeshowbob@gmail.com
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