Small-Company Marketing

SEMA Member News—September/October 2012  

Small-Company Marketing

Part 1: Attending Consumer Events

By Regis Finn


Consumer events put you in front of potentially thousands of new customers where you can hear firsthand what people think of your products or services. 


Whether yours is a young manufacturing company, retail store or repair shop, you know that a good marketing plan is vital to the growth of your business. In this series of articles, we will address the ins and outs of marketing, beginning this time with the importance of attending consumer events.

Consumer events put you in front of potentially thousands of new customers where you can hear firsthand what people think of your products or services. Feedback can help you improve existing products or give you ideas for new ones, and walking an event can open your eyes to developing trends.

The Internet is one of the best tools for finding the hundreds of car-related events that are held every weekend. Websites such as list events up to a year in advance, giving you plenty of time to prepare. Local newspapers, car-club mailings and magazines are also good places to look.

Pre-promote your presence at events. Every website should have a section letting customers know where and when your company is going to be at an event. Use magazines to promote your company’s presence, and use forums to let people know where you plan to be next.

Try to be one of the first vendors to sign up for an event, giving you the best selection of available spaces. And read the contract carefully. Some require insurance papers; others might require a temporary sellers’ permit. Most contracts will provide a discount for those that pay before a certain date. And also book your hotel reservation early, because large events can fill all of the local hotels.


What to Bring to a Car Show

  • Shade in the form of a canopy for outdoor events, with a means to stabilize it in bad weather.
  • A cooler full of ice, cups and bottle openers
  • Healthy snacks
  • Folding tables
  • Director chairs so that you can sit eye to eye with your customers
  • Table cloths and clamps to hold them in place
  • Banners and bungy cords to hold them in place
  • A secure money box with change
  • Racks to hold flyers and catalogs
  • Basic tools
  • Duct tape
  • A broom, cleaning supplies and rags
  • Extension cords and surge protectors
  • Business cards
  • Flyers
  • Catalogs
  • Common spare parts

If you’re in an area prone to bad weather or high temperatures, choose an indoor location when available. Outside, stay away from trees with falling leaves and low-lying ground that may be prone to flooding. Try to set up on a hard surface so that your display won’t sink into soft grass.

Display fees are often negotiable, so ask the event’s sponsors if they would be willing to give you a 10- x 20-ft. space for the cost of a 10 x 10, which doesn’t cost them anything. You might also offer products or services (in the form of a gift certificate) in lieu of an entrance fee, since many car shows make a share of their incomes from raffles and your product will be on display for everyone to see.

Your booth should be cleaned every day, and displays should be repaired, repainted or updated between events. A table should be front and center in your booth to provide a little separation between you and the customer, and displays should line the back and both sides of your booth.

All employees should be dressed in company shirts so they are easily identifiable, and employees should engage customers, asking if they have any questions.

If you’re a manufacturer, blow out a couple of products as loss leaders. If you’re a retailer or repair service, ask your warehouse distributor for special buys or special promos that manufacturers might be running. Events are a good time to get rid of overstocked, obsolete and discontinued products.

Don’t forget to bring something for your customers to take home. Flyers or catalogs are best. They are low cost if you buy them in bulk, and you can circle parts and make notes right on the page. Decals, key chains, small screwdrivers and other gadgets make nice giveaways, too. You want your name to stay in front of the customer as long as possible.

Events can be stressful and expensive, but they don’t have to be. Keeping a checklist for each event will help you relax and be better prepared. Hope to see you at the next consumer event!

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