(See the original article in February REMODELING.)

Many remodelers have invested heavily — money, hopes, time — in a home show only to experience abysmal results. David Zimmerman, president of Southern Shows, says that home show success begins with choosing the right producer and venue, creating a great exhibit, and staffing it with trained and enthusiastic staff who follow up with leads shortly afterward.

Following are excerpts of Zimmerman’s tips, interspersed with a few real-remodeler examples from Jan Jacome of Crossroads Contracting, in Londonderry, N.H., and Glen Miracle of NVS Kitchen & Bath, in Manassas, Va.

Select Shows Wisely

Start out by being wary of space “deals,” high-pressured selling, and too many promises. Independently, none of these items is a deal-breaker, but “if they start adding up, be cautious,” Zimmerman says.

Determine who you are dealing with. Who is the owner of the company and the manager of the show, and will they be at the show?

What other shows does that manager manage? If the answer exceeds four, it’s questionable whether he or she can devote much time to each.

Vet the company. How long has it been in business? How many shows have they produced, and where? Has this actual show ever taken place in your city? What other companies plan to exhibit? Trust but verify: Ask for a list of confirmed companies, and call those that you know (or even don’t know) and ask if they have sent in their money and have received their space assignment. Ask how much they’re paying, Zimmerman suggests; are or were there discounts?

Learn more about the show. What will happen at it? Is it an exhibits-only show, or will it have exhibits as well as activities to create excitement and media attention, such as designer rooms, celebrity guests, homeowner workshops, giveaways, feature areas, and special events?

Who are sponsors? Trade associations are a good sign, such as the local Home Builders Association or National Association of the Remodeling Industry chapter. “Radio and TV stations as sponsors do not mean much,” Zimmerman says. “Shows can buy their way into media sponsorships. Newspapers are normally a little more picky, but not always.”

Look at the floor plan. Count the booths and compare it to other shows you know. “Just because they have 200 booths on the floor plan does not mean they will sell them all,” Zimmerman says.

Find out how the company will promote the show. Which stations? What papers? How many ads? What size? How much will they spend on advertising? “If they are having trouble answering your questions, they probably haven’t done their homework,” Zimmerman says.

What attendance is expected? “If a show producer guarantees an attendance figure, beware,” Zimmerman says. Ask if you get your money back if the guarantee falls through.

In considering shows for NVS Kitchen & Bath, “We want shows that have pretty high attendance,” Glen Miracle says. Repetition seems to pay off; many clients “say they have seen us for years at the show, so it is hard to nail down just how many jobs they truly produce.”

Check out the company’s Web site. Are the names of the owner and manager listed, and can you contact them directly? Are the photos of the company’s actual shows — or stock photos? Is there a separate site or page for the show you are considering? Are exhibitors listed, and can the site link to your own Web site?

Before signing up, confirm what other costs and/or benefits may be involved. For instance, will you have to pay for electricity, Internet access, parking? If it’s a union facility, will you have to pay union labor for move-in and setup? How much are tickets, and does your cost include free tickets to give to clients?

Create a Great Exhibit

Both Crossroads Contracting and NVS Kitchen & Bath invested in custom booths (Crossroads built its own) that they keep in good shape by repainting as needed and updating project photos. Beyond having a solid booth, Zimmerman recommends the following:

Cover the floor. Carpet isn’t critical, but provide covering that is comfortable underfoot and stands out from the concrete floor. Avoid gray covering.

Cover the curtain. Attendees look at eye-level, and your backdrop should stand out from the curtain provided for the entire show. Fabric is fine.

Use good lighting. Accent the important parts of your exhibit with focused lighting.

Let them in. If you’re going to provide expert advice and qualify homeowners, “you must get them in your exhibit,” Zimmerman says. Never block your exhibit with a table.

Get on your feet. If you must sit, use a high stool that puts you at eye level with passersby.

Showcase your company name. Make it a prominent part of your exhibit. Do not rely on the cardboard sign most shows provide.

Tell and show what you do. In your “three seconds,” use signage, before-and-after photos, and other means to make clear exactly what kind of work you do.

Give them something to remember. Figure out what will set you apart. When you call a prospect after the show, you want to be able to say, “We were the company with the ...”

Staff Intelligently

When Crossroads Contracting exhibits at a show, Jan Jacome and two salespeople staff the booth. “We meet as a group before each show and review the historical information on show attendance provided by the show organizers.” The three also establish goals for appointments to set as well as contact information to get. Goal-setting “has made a huge difference in our results as well as our enthusiasm,” Jacome adds.

Zimmerman’s staffing suggestions include the following:

Send the right people. Regardless of how wonderful your exhibit is, attendees will primarily remember the person staffing it. “Send friendly, approachable, and knowledgeable people. The worst thing you can do is send someone who does not know your business. Leave the rookies at home.”

Explain why you’re there. People come to home shows for ideas, information, and solutions to challenges. Your booth personnel must be able to provide these.

Set goals. Quantify what each of your staff should accomplish.

Teach them to qualify. Focus your energy on attendees who are in a position to do business with you. Identify them by asking qualifying questions early in the conversation. “You cannot afford to spend time chatting with a non-prospect while a real prospect is being ignored,” Zimmerman says.

Give them the tools to help meet goals: matching clothing, literature, etc.

Create prospects. Pre-promote the show to attract homeowners who will then seek out your exhibit specifically. Tag your existing advertising with your attendance, and e-mail your circle that you’ll be there. Advertise in the show program, and consider offering visitors a special or discount to bring with them. This is another prequalifying move, Zimmerman says.

Teach good behavior. Turn off cell phones. Uncross arms. Don’t eat in the exhibit space. Don’t engage in long conversations with co-workers. Always look like you’re ready to help the next person.

Schedule breaks.

Reward your staff. They gave you part of their weekend, so show your appreciation.

Schedule time to follow up immediately after the show. Not doing this is the biggest mistake exhibitors make, Zimmerman says. “It’s easy to go back to a normal routine, but those leads are the reason you spent the time and money.”

Jacome and Crossroads Contracting avoid this mistake by entering all contacts made into a sales pipeline spreadsheet. Followup happens within 10 business days with contacts that did not already schedule an appointment.

Long-term followup is also helpful. One of Jacome’s salesmen sold a $150,000 addition in December to a prospect he met at a home show the previous spring. “He followed up again in October and they were ready to meet with him.”

Southern Shows is a family-owned business that produces five annual home and garden shows (and other shows with different themes) in the Southern U.S. every year. Learn more about Southern Shows at http://southernshows.com/.