A Guide to Exhibiting at a Genealogy Conference (Part 1)
My first experiences with setting up a booth come from my days as an antiques dealer. Those days were about sales and making up our costs within the first day. Then the remaining days were all profit. In the genealogy business, the point of view can be a little different. While we are always looking to get a return on our investment, it isn’t always as clear cut about whether we “broke even”. In a genealogy business you may not have a tangible product you are selling. You might be looking to book clients, gain new members, or just get your name out there.
When our team at The In-Depth Genealogist (IDG) purchased booth space at our first conference, we were just learning the nuances of what exhibiting at a conference entailed. We had a handful of books to sell and our awesome website as well as our magazine to promote. Little did we realize the planning that was involved and all the additional expenses that can pop up along the way. It is my hope to share some lessons learned along the way and help you make your first exhibiting experience a smooth and relatively painless experience.
Conference Game Plan
Regardless of what you may be selling it is important to have a clear message and be prepared for those who approach your booth. Each attendee will have a different approach when they visit your booth, but it helps to have a game plan in terms of of what you want to accomplish. In order to do this, you need to consider these questions:
- Why are you interested in setting up an exhibit booth at a genealogy conference?
- What do you have to offer to conference attendees that is unique?
- Do you have cards or flyers to hand out?
- Does the conference have a theme that you can tie into when promoting your booth?
Having a booth at a conference is not for everyone. Many people take advantage of program inserts for advertisement of their business or decide to sponsor a presentation. It is all a function of how much you want to invest in terms of time and money. You might build on an existing relationship with another business owner or society to jointly rent a booth. This not only helps defray costs, but when working together it can ease the efforts of having to staff the booth.
Let’s dig into the nitty gritty details of cost. Typically with a state or national conference you will have a wide range of basic costs. I have personally seen booth rentals vary from $75 for a 10 foot by 10 foot booth all the way up to $500 for the same size booth. This is usually a function of the number of attendees anticipated and the size of the conference. I recommend that for a first time experience you start with a local or state conference that you have attended in the past. You can then pull from your own experiences when projecting attendance and what to expect. Generally, a booth rental includes a single 8 foot skirted table, two chairs, and a simple booth sign. Sometimes a booth rental includes a curtained back and side division to help differentiate the booths from one another. All of this will be set up before you arrive. Each venue will have different rules and costs involved so it is important to gather as much information ahead of time in order to make an educated decision. Here are some things to watch out for:
- How much does the space cost?
- What is included? Table, chairs, electric?
- Is there wifi in the exhibit hall? Will you need it? If you bring in your own wifi hotspot, how much will you really use it?
- Will you be selling items? Do you plan to take credit cards, checks, cash? Do you have a PayPal, Square, or bank swiper to make this possible?
- Do you have a vendor’s license? Will the venue have temporary licenses available on site?
- How much is sales tax? Will you roll it into the cost of the items you sell?
- If you ship items will there be a handling fee? Can you ship to your hotel instead?
At this point you may be thinking, “Oh my. Is this really going to be worth all the work?” I can’t answer that for you, but I can make some suggestions to make it more manageable. Ask for help! Like anything we do, it is imperative that we consider our own limitations and strengths. If the thought of doing this makes you break into a cold sweat- there might be a better way to handle this. Ask a friend or two to help. Barter for their time! Opening/closing hours and lunch time are typically quite busy. Plan ahead for additional help so that you can take a lunch for yourself.
What Items to Bring
One of the most difficult decisions you can make when planning for your booth is how many promotional items to bring with you. If you know that the conference typically has 500 attendees how many business cards or other materials that are free should you plan to bring? It really depends on the venue. I have found, in some cases, that using the 10% rule of thumb works out well for large venues, but for those conferences under 1000 you may need to provide as many as 25%. You may want to have several different types of items to hand out too. When we go to a conference, we usually have three freebies that we give out- postcards, pencils, and name tag ribbons. For those that purchase something from us we give them a pen stylus, an IDG VIP button, and a bookmark. These aren’t cheap, but we also view these items as additional marketing that the customer ends up doing for us! Some of our favorite places to buy promotional items are Vistaprint, Oriental Trading Company, Pure Buttons, and PC/Nametag.
If you are selling a publication or other item how many should you plan to have on hand? These are challenging as these require money ahead of time with no guarantee of a sale. Often the simplest plan is the best. Do a simple calculation of how many items you would need to sell to break even. How many would you need to sell to consider the conference worth your time? Using these two numbers as a basis for your planning can prevent you from ordering too much and then having to worry about shipping it all back home. Regardless, it’s better to have a plan for when you run out of something. Have a simple way to take orders and ship it to the customer later or direct them to your website offering a discount code for their trouble.
As you can see, there is a lot of thinking and planning that goes into getting your business or organization to the exhibit hall! We haven’t even touched on what it takes to run the booth. Look for a future blog post with a guide to managing the booth and engaging the attendees in a positive way. In addition, I will cover the importance of building relationships with other exhibitors at the conference.
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About Jennifer Alford
Jennifer Alford, PE, PTOE, is a Traffic Engineer by day and a genealogy professional and lecturer by night. Her business, Jenealogy, creates engaging family history treasures to enhance the bond between generations. Jen serves as newsletter editor for the Indiana Genealogical Society and has served in the position of associate editor of the Federation of Genealogical Society’s FORUM magazine. As a partner with The In-Depth Genealogist she is publisher of The In-Depth Genealogist’s magazine, Going In-Depth, and several books written by their contributing writers. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at http://www.jenealogy.biz or http://www.theindepthgenealogist.com