10 Ways to Make the Most of an Unprofitable Show or Market

Handmade Business Advice - 8 Ways to Make the Most of an Unprofitable Show or Market

Not all shows and markets are created equal.

Sure, you can (and should!) do a lot of research on the track record of any show before committing, but even with all the advance research in the world, there is no guarantee that the show will get a lot of traffic, and even then, no guarantee that people will buy what you have to offer. If, despite your best efforts, you find yourself manning a booth at a show that is bombing, here are ten things you can do to be positive and proactive about making some tasty lemonade out of your lemons.

Handmade Business Advice

1. Take Lots of Pictures of Your Booth

Since you have gone to all the trouble to set up a beautiful display for your products, take a lot of photos that you can use for your website, blog and social media. They will be useful in several ways, including in future show applications, says Stacia Guzzo of Handcrafted Honey Bee in Tehachapi, California.

Says Stacia, “One of my most disappointing shows was one where we spent hours setting up our booth. The show was a bust, but the pictures from the show have gotten us into quite a few great shows since!”

2. Invite Other Vendors to Pose for the Camera as Happy Customers

If the show is extremely slow, ask some of the other vendors to gather around your booth and pretend to be customers so you can snap a few photos of an active show booth. It will help pass the time and you’ll make some new friends.

3. Be Extra Personable to Leave a Lasting Positive Impression

This is obvious, but if the show is miserably slow, you’ll have to work extra hard to be upbeat. Try not to focus on the money you may be losing. Instead, use your imagination to dream up ways that you can make it a learning experience. Always smile and pretend like it’s the best show ever. Look people in the eye as they approach your booth and be proactive about inviting them over. You never know … the next customer just might have a lot of room on her credit card.

4. Curate a Prospect List

When people do come to your booth, engage them in conversation. Ask them how they are enjoying the show and if they’ve made any fun purchases. Ask them what they are looking for and invite them to sample something. If they seem willing to chat, ask them to tell you what their favorite local stores are that carry products like yours. Make a note of them so you can follow up later when you are prospecting for new stockists.

5. Ask Show Patrons About Local Shows and Markets that Attract More People

Ask some of the people if they have been to the show before, and if so, how this one compares to others. Don’t be overly probing, and definitely avoid turning them off from buying by peppering them with questions. But if they seem willing to chat, this is a good opportunity to learn about other potential shows you can consider in the future.

6. Learn from Other Vendors

If your booth is secure or you have a helper, take the time to walk the show and see what other products are there. You are likely to get some really good ideas for how you can improve your brand, or even some mistakes to avoid. Be curious. Make the time work for you by using it to learn something new.

7. Get Some Work Done

If the show is brutally slow, set up your laptop or planner and get some work done. Whether it’s drafting your next newsletter or planning the week ahead, if no customers are in sight, steal a few minutes away so the time remains productive for you.

8. Go For a Walk

Anther thing you can do if your booth is secure or you have a helper is take a walk around a few blocks surrounding the venue. Take note of any stores that you can call on later, and take free local publications from the front of any grocery stores. These often contain ads for spas, salons, shops and boutiques that you can add to your prospecting list.

9. Make a Date Out of It

If you are lucky enough to have your life partner as your assistant at the show, why not do what Alyson Swihart of Handbrewed Soaps in Oakland, California, does and turn the show into a fun date? Says Alyson, “Between three kids, full-time jobs, and running a business, shows are sometimes the only time we have just the two of us.” Admittedly, it’s kind of tongue-and-cheek, but if you have unexpected and rare alone time with the one you love, well, you should be able to figure out at least one way to make the most of it!

10. Be Proactive to Improve the Situation

What happens to you does not define your experience. What defines your experience is how you respond to what happens.

Marshalla Ramos-Inde of Bubbly Moon Naturals in Brooklyn, New York, turns a lousy show around by sharing her business cards and marketing collateral with people walking around the show. Marshalla also uses social media to share images of other show vendors so she can boost not only her spirits, but also the spirits of the entrepreneurs around her.

With a little proactive thinking, you can make even the most unprofitable show a good experience for everyone.

Merchant Photo via Shutterstock

Donna Maria Coles Johnson Donna Maria is the founder and CEO of the Indie Business Network, a trade organization providing mentoring and coaching services, and affordable product liability insurance, to makers and creative entrepreneurs across North America. An award-winning small business advocate, Donna Maria has hosted the Indie Business Podcast since 2005. She blogs at Indie Business Blog.

7 Reactions
  1. Good tips. I find that networking with other vendors is quite valuable. I find out about other events they’ve done that are good as well as marketing tips.

  2. Kristen M. Fusaro-Pizzo

    Great advice! I actually created a special Facebook group for vendors in my local community so we could all help one another because this has happened to all of us. I love the idea of posing as customers — what a brilliant way to make friends and look busy. Thank you!

  3. I agree. It encourages your followers to visit you no matter where you go. Pictures help along with special discounts.

  4. Sharon T McLaughlin MD FACS

    I like the photograph idea. Too often I say to myself, “I should have taken a picture”. Thank you for sharing, you give great ideas for making the most of our time.

  5. There’s no such thing as “failure” if you can learn from everything. I love all the ways you suggest learning from even the slowest shows!

No, Thank You