Stephanie Selesnick, International Trade Information, Inc.

Jefferson Davis, President of Competitive Edge, is a self-described, “Trade Show Productivity Expert” with more 30 years of experience in training exhibitors and working in exhibitions.
We recently discussed one of his passions – exhibitor retention.

In the United States, the average exhibition has 76% exhibitor renewals. That’s still 24% of exhibitors who are not returning – and must be replaced annually. That’s a lot of companies! Even more dismaying is that only 39% of new exhibitors renew their space.

Jefferson attributes the lack of renewals of new exhibitors to three things:
1.  Sometimes it’s the wrong show.
2.  Exhibitors show up with no plan and have done no pre-show marketing.
3.  Booth traffic is slow.(The right buyers are probably at the show but didn’t stop by the new exhibitor’s stand).

To start improving exhibitor retention, Jefferson recommends we stop having “transactional efficiency-based relationships” where the organizer does as little as possible to make the sale. Then, once made, there is no meaningful one-on-one contact with the exhibitors afterward. No education, just mass emails with rules, regulations and paid marketing opportunities.

Instead, he suggests that organizers make the time and allocate resources to properly educate exhibitors. As the UFI-Explori Global Exhibitor Insights Study released in late 2017 found, exhibitions who have formal exhibitor educational programs have a far higher NPS (net promoter score) than those who don’t.

Jefferson says all exhibitions should “Strive for 85” percent exhibitor retention. He suggests the following steps to keep and grow your client base:

  1. Prove Fit of the Show. How important is your show to its market? Do you have enough of the right attendees for exhibitors in specific sectors? “Ask visitors what categories they are most interested in seeing and buying from. It’s incumbent upon show organizers to make sure they are pursuing the right exhibitors for their attendees – and vice versa.”
  2. Prove Value. Most exhibitors say exhibiting is expensive. However, Jefferson believes we can better communicate the true value of trade shows to exhibitors. “The cost of exhibiting, when broken down as a Cost Per Interaction changes how the investment is perceived. If the cost is $40-70 per interaction – how much more would it cost to make in-person sales calls? When the value is clear, decisions are easy.”
  3. Demonstrate a Commitment to a Long-Term Partnership Relationship! Show organizers should be pro-active and consultative in their approach to each and every exhibitor. This includes education. As he pointed out, “We don’t teach exhibiting at university! Most exhibitions have no budget for exhibitor education but will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on educating attendees.

Clear communication, relationship building, and education are key to renewing exhibitors. How do you plan to increase your show’s exhibitor retention?