OK, so what's a window and siding company doing at the annual Butter Beans Festival? Short answer: Making friends and getting leads.

Venues such as small-town festivals, fairs, and block parties can be a goldmine for low-cost leads. Why? Homeowners flock there. Yet, though people come in droves, what I find is that most of the time the competition is nonexistent.

Here's an example. One year we set up a booth at the "famous" Pinson, Alabama "CityFest." Attendance was a whopping 1,500 people. At first glance it doesn't seem all that promising. Here's a small town, and an event that's not heavily advertised. Sounds like a waste of time, right? That's what I hear from some peers in marketing. But there we are in a booth and a couple stop by who have been considering getting new siding. They sign up for a free quote. We ended up with a sizable job out of it. Oh, and did I mention the job was cash?

Time & Know-How

We're the only window and siding company at most of the small-town events we do. Perhaps a reason why more companies don't participate is because they either don't have the time or they don't know how to do it right.

Show and event marketing is definitely a "weirder" form of marketing than most home improvement companies are used to. You're going to feel a little marginalized being the only home improvement company in the place. That's why it requires an entirely different approach. You could easily throw away time and money without a solid plan for booking, and working, these venues. Want to pull off some world-class event marketing? These four components will ensure success:

1) Get the right people working the booth. Seems elementary? You'll find out that it's not when you have the wrong person there. The nature of the employee working your booth is critically important. So is the way you pay him or her. My advice is to hire young, bold, outgoing people and offer an incentive pay structure based on the number of set appointments they generate.

2) Find the right show. All shows are definitely not created equal. Before you do a show, investigate who will be there and in what kind of numbers. It's also smart to find out how thoroughly the event has been promoted and advertised. You'd also want to know how long it's been around. If it's a while, that will help your chances of being successful there because people already know about it.

We did a mall show once that had terrible attendance. It was new, but that wasn't the biggest problem. The problem was that it hadn't been heavily advertised. Don't worry if the show seems a little off the beaten path. The weirdest show we've done is the annual Butter Bean Festival. We were the only window and siding company. We're usually the only window and siding company at the tomato festival and the watermelon festival. The cost of a booth at such venues is anywhere from $65 to $85.

3) Take the right approach. You can't just show up and assume people will be interested. Do your homework. Locate your booth where foot traffic flows. Make sure your demonstrators are scripted. They can't just wing it. How will they approach homeowners? It's a good idea to role-play that before you get there. Do you have a specific incentive to offer the homeowners who you contact? Do you have the right signage? Prepare all this before the show.

4) Set the right expectation. What should you expect to get out of the show? Easy: sales. Show and event leads are spontaneous leads. Go for set appointments, not callbacks, and book the appointments as soon as your salespeople are available to see them. We offer homeowners an incentive —5% off their quote if they buy — to set the appointment at the show. It's an Act Today discount. And we engage them in dialogue. We say: Tell us about your schedule. We assume the appointment.

Tips & Pointers

Here are a few other things to keep in mind if you're not an event marketing veteran.

—You must have supervision on site, not only to monitor employee productivity and behavior but to make sure the booth looks great and the signing is what it needs to be.

—Most events last a day. The bigger, more popular ones a weekend.

—I use Google to find events, plus community newsletters, local newspapers, and regional publications. The bigger shows have a dedicated website. I also use the Alabama calendar of events. But the really small events, such as blues festivals, may not even be in there.

—Aim for a marketing cost of no more than 10%. Meaning what you spend should be no more than 10% of the total amount of actual revenue generated by your participation.

—We're on pace this year to do 32 shows. I think about two a month is a good number to start with. We have an event team that also canvasses and works in box stores.

It's at events and shows where you're going to meet none of your competitors and many of your future customers. If you don't have a solid game plan in place when it comes to show and event marketing, then I have three words for you: Get One Now!

—Daniel Gallegly is the marketing manager for Durante Windows & Siding, in Birmingham, Ala.