Since 2015, we've done over 100 pop-up events at trade shows, malls, city festivals and local breweries.
We've managed to get Paddle North in front of millions of people.
It's a grind.
Travel, set up, talk to a few thousand people, tear down, then travel to the next spot. Calling it grueling is an understatement. It's time away from family. It's not always watching the Vikings win on Sunday. It's "FaceTiming" kids to bed for an extended period of time. There is sacrifice.
But it has the potential to drastically change the course of your business, like it has ours.
The main benefit to these events is you get to know your customer really, really well. Big companies pay big money for feedback that we're collecting. We've been nimble and made many drastic changes to our product line up, based directly on the feedback customers provide.
There are multiple small businesses crushing sales and generating significant play-doh using this business model. So if that's you or something you're interested in, here's what we've learned:
1. Build the baddest booth, but make it portable and lightweight
It's a constant struggle for us, balancing what looks cool vs. what is compact and easy to setup. It's about finding the balance. We've built every booth we've ever had on display in our workshop.
At first, our setup was really, really simple. We ripped apart a few pallets and made a back wall display (not super impressive).
Then, as our product range expanded, so did our setup.
We had a few variations, that ultimately lead to this booth, which won best display at multiple shows: Minneapolis Boat Show, Minnesota State Fair and the Wisconsin State fair.
2. Placement is everything
Fight for the best spot, but also take what you can get. It may take a few years to get where you actually want to be. When we originally applied to the Wisconsin State Fair, they rejected us. When we were finally accepted, the space provided was less than ideal, but we took it tested it out. The following year, we had built some rapport with the staff and were able to move to a better traffic spot. We built a better booth and our sales more then tripled.
3. Remember to play the long game
You will plant a lot of seeds that blossom later on. Our last pop-up shop was at the Minnesota State Fair. On the very first day, we made multiple paddle board sales from people who had talked to us three years prior (the first year at the fair). They were anxiously waiting for us to open so they could buy their board. This was their year, they had planned for their purchase and were counting on us to be there.
4. Talk to other vendors to learn about new events
There is so much good networking at these shows. If you are building a business centered on events, ask your neighbor vendors what shows do the best for them. Many of our neighbors at the Minneapolis Boat Show said the RV Camping Show was a really great event. We listened and signed up, adding a really successful event to our line up.
5. Stand up as much as possible
There's irony in that we sell stand up paddle boards and this tip is telling you to stand up. But at trade shows, it makes a difference. The key here is that you can engage directly in a conversation without any "adjustment" to yourself. Some vendors sit down and only stand when in conversation with a patron. Other vendors sit down the entire time and never stand when talking to a patron.
We've done it all and standing pays off. Both financially and in burning calories :)
6. Stay until the end of event, without exception.
Do not leave early. Do not pack up early. Do not give a vibe to customers that it's almost closing time. It is not worth it.
We have been burned and lost sales when an employee decided to pack up 10 minutes early (customers calling saying they want to purchase, but our staff had already left). We have had large purchases made in the very last minute of a show. Other venders can be customers too, and are often looking to make purchases when a show ends. Stick around to close (at minimum) and then pack it up.