So you’ve decided to become a vendor at a local trade show. Your products are fabulous; you’ve designed a jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring booth with a beautiful sign; your prices are just right; and . . . your booth is empty.
Oh, and to make matters worse, people are detouring around your booth like you have bad body odor. You check, just in case. Nope, you smell fine, but they’re still avoiding eye contact and you’re not making a sale. In fact, you’re losing money once you consider the cost of the booth, your gas money, your decor, everything. You begin to have visions of moving back into your parent’s basement.
You begin to panic. You try harder. Things get worse. Your booth is a black dead zone of despair. Across the aisle people are handing their money hand over fist to other vendors. Other happy, lucky, rich vendors. What did you do so wrong?
Stop. Breathe. Relax.
Now let’s take a quick little inventory of your etiquette skills. There may be nothing wrong with your products, your booth, or your prices, but there may be everything wrong with your approach. Let’s get your vendor event etiquette game back on point and you’ll watch the sales come rolling in.
Are You Dressed Appropriately?
You may be an artist, and self-expression is vital to your identity, but too much self-expression can be off-putting and could make you unapproachable.
While everybody should celebrate what makes them unique, consider that you may be paying a price for the way you’ve presented yourself. As a vendor, you are a professional, and your appearance represents not just you as a person, but also your brand.
If you haven’t dressed the part, you have to ask yourself this question: "Would I buy from me?"
If you are a food vendor with a dirty, days-old apron crusted with the remnants of the last seven tradeshows you’ve done, people will not want to eat your food.
If you’re an esthetician promoting your services and you’ve arrived in yoga pants looking as if you just rolled out of bed ten minutes ago, people are not going to trust you with their beauty services or products.
Consider your audience when you dress for your trade show. Tom Ford is widely quoted as saying, “Dressing well is a form of good manners.” Your appearance is the first thing your customers will see as they walk past your booth, and if you are impolite in that respect, you may be avoided.
Are You Desperate?
Desperation is easily detected. Are you ambushing potential customers? Worse, are you chasing them down the aisle or—GASP!—trying to hijack them from other booths? Don’t. Just, don’t.
Stand politely, with a nice, welcoming smile. Not a pasted-on serial killer smile that reminds people of the Joker in Batman. Don’t do that.
Speak to your customers. Ask questions that don’t come across as too salesy or too cliche. Trust me, at least twenty other vendors have asked people how they are enjoying the show.
Keep it focused. If you are at a Christmas show, for example, and you sell items that would be great stocking stuffers, you could ask a passersby if they’ve picked up their stocking stuffers yet. If you’re a food vendor, consider bringing out a plate of samples and ask if people would like to try them.
Is There a Barrier Between You and Them?
When you designed your booth, did you make it open and inviting? Too many times we’ve seen vendors place a table across the front of the booth to display their items. Then they sit behind the table hoping people will approach them.
Eliminate any barriers that come between you and your potential customer, including tables. Create an open, inviting space that tells people it’s okay to come in and browse. Consider what people see when they see a table and a person sitting behind it. It feels like a job interview.
Maybe you don’t have a table across your booth, but you do have another barrier that you’ve unconsciously put up. You may be looking around at this point, seeing nothing in the way, and wondering what in the world I’m talking about.
It’s your arms.
Too often, people stand with their arms folded. This creates a visual, unconscious barrier that makes you seem unapproachable.
Putting your hands in your pockets or behind your back is just as bad. That can make you look as if you’re hiding something. Be aware of your body language and practice standing naturally with your hands in sight. (If you are a food vendor, vending from a food truck, you will naturally have the barrier of the truck window. But leaning out the window with both hands on the sill can provide an open, inviting appearance that will welcome people in.)
Be Cruel to Your Feet
Stand, don’t sit, unless you have a disability that excuses you. Yes, your feet will hate you. Just make sure you wear comfortable shoes and try to make the best of it by being engaged with your customers.
Sitting makes you seem disinterested and the attitude carries over to your potential customers, making them just as disinterested. So suck it up, buttercup (and schedule a pedicure with foot massage after the event and make up with your feet later).
Are You a Vendor? Share Your Best Event Etiquette Tips
If you’ve checked your appearance, your behavior, and eliminated potential barriers, you should have created a welcoming space that we hope is filled with customers and their cash. Hallelujah!
Have anything we missed that you've found works? We’d love for you to share your favorite vending etiquette tips below, or tell us what vendors do that make you decide to avoid their booths.
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