Ron Chan

A home show is the epitome of that old saying, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.”

Katey Oelkers, director of sales and marketing for the Atlanta Home Show, says that these events have the best kind of captive audience: “Since most home shows have an admission fee, you’re already getting a pre-qualified audience. Home shows offer the ability to shake a hand and build a trust factor when you are essentially asking for an invitation into someone’s home. That’s something you just can’t do with any other form of marketing.”

Do the Math

Most remodelers agree that exhibiting at a home show is worth the expense, but you must provide for it in your marketing budget, with maybe a fraction of the cost coming out of your sales budget. Typically, exhibition fees range from $800 to $1,500 for a 100-square-foot booth but can cost several thousands of dollars, depending on the size of the booth and the show.

Booths run the gamut from simple to highly designed. Some remodelers construct an entire kitchen, bathroom, or more while others stick with the basics of some tables, a TV or laptop, and high-quality project photos to pique potential clients’ interest.

The costs to enter a home show event vary from city to city and from market to market, according to Oelkers. “If something sounds too good to be true in terms of cost,” she says, “it probably is. If the booth space is inexpensive — under $500 — there’s a good chance it’s not a great show. The less money you’re spending [to participate], the less money the show producer is spending to market the show.”

Before signing any contracts, do your research. Find out how long the company has been doing shows in your market. “You want a company with at least four or five shows under its belt,” Oelkers says. “And [be aware that] markets vary wildly. A lot of national shows simply aren’t as familiar with local markets. ”

Also, find out if the exhibit hall is unionized. In a non-union center, booth setup can be as simple as backing up to the loading dock and carting your stuff to the booth. In a union facility, you’ll have some serious markups, with cost typically calculated based on weight. So if you’re showing granite countertops, getting materials to the booth could be the most expensive part of your exhibit.

The Right Staff

You need to make sure that the employees in your booth are a good representation of your company. “It will be a waste of money if you have your booth manned by somebody who doesn’t want to be working on the weekend,” Oelkers says. “And it will be a waste of time for your company and for any potential clients.”

Also, you want to have someone who knows your business well meeting potential clients. “Have people from your company who are knowledgeable, can answer questions, provide additional information, and do some problem-solving for consumers,” says Dave Amoroso, president of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry ( NARI) in Milwaukee, adding that everyone in the booth should play the role of salesperson for your company. Better yet, have salespeople in your booth. “I’ve seen contractors writing leads and setting appointments to go to the consumer’s home after the show,” Amoroso says.

Friendly Face

Keep in mind that a home show is definitely a buyer’s market and that consumers have myriad options. “People walking down the aisles may be looking at the individual contractors and not at the booth,” says David Feldner, executive director of NARI in Milwaukee. “If the people in your booth seem welcoming to the consumer, that’s who they’ll come up to. The people in the booth have to want to be there.”

Speaking of approachability, Kathe Russell, owner of DreamBuilders Home Remodeling, in El Dorado Hills, Calif., says that one of her pet peeves is unseemly booth staffers. “Don’t send technicians to man the booth fresh from the jobsite with drywall dust on their shirts,” she cautions. “They’re not necessarily the face you want representing your company at a home show.”

Russell and her husband and co-owner Mike spend a lot of time in their booth along with both their designer and their office manager who each have deep knowledge of the company’s range of work and expertise and can act as able representatives for all that DreamBuilders has to offer potential clients.

Spending eight to 10 hours at a home show is tiring, so make sure whomever you choose has the energy as well as the knowledge for a day of glad-handing.

Neil Parsons, vice president of sales and marketing at Mark of Excellence Remodeling, in Monmouth County, N.Y., agrees that staffing is the most important element for home show success and recommends using employees who are energetic and outgoing (salespeople if possible) adding that you should “picture your favorite waitress or bartender” in terms of your booth staff. That’s the type of person home­owners would want to talk to.

All agree that the opportunity to mingle with dozens of potential customers is always worth the investment of both time and resources. “It’s a marketing investment that will pay off,” Oelkers points out. “If you have a good product at a reasonable price, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be doing business at any quality home show, even in this economy.”