Like many firms in the consumer-goods sector, C.R. PLASTIC PRODUCTS’ fortunes are bound tightly to its ability to generate significant sales at some of the largest wholesale furniture tradeshows in the world. Some are truly immense, such as the High Point Market in North Carolina, a small city with 11 million square feet that attracts tens of thousands of retail buyers from all over the world. Standing out matters, says co-owner and vice-president of finance Bruce Ballantyne. Last year, for example, the Stratford, Ont., company rented a 500 sq.-ft nook between two large buildings, right next to the shuttle bus depot. Then the company parked a giant-sized, bright-red Adirondack chairs there, in full view of the buyers boarding the buses. The result: Buzz and media coverage as visitors lined up to be photographed in the massive rocker.
But the firm has also invested in permanent room displays at two of the most significant shows on its calendar. Ballantyne has some advice for firms looking to raise their tradeshow marketing game.
- Permanent showrooms are costly. At more than $30 per square foot, these displays are “very expensive” compared to temporary booths, Ballantyne says. But it’s important to understand how they can help. The permanent room means C.R. Plastics staff don’t need to spend time setting up and tearing down exhibits. They’re also more adaptable—companies can install kitchen fixtures for hospitality counters and other amenities. And, because these convention centres are open to the public year round, the visibility itself brings increased consumer awareness.
- Location is hugely important. Ballantyne says the company has done its research and discovered that its retail buyer customers also tend to source goods from Agio International, another patio furniture brand. So at a large trade floor in Atlanta, C.R.’s permanent showroom is close to Agio’s.
- Look for strategic partners to offset the cost. For its 2000 sq.-ft permanent showroom in Atlanta, C.R. Plastics has split the space with a company that makes rugs and mats from recycled materials. The firm’s floor coverings not only look good under C.R. Plastics’ furniture; the two product lines are complementary because both pitch at environmentally conscious consumers.
- Differentiation remains critical. In a tradeshow with 3,000 vendors, original marketing tactics may be tough to find. But the search is crucial. In the past few years, C.R. Plastics has forged a partnership with Acacia Woodley, a Florida pre-teen who has developed an anti-bullying program based on what she calls a “friendship bench.” Students who may be feeling tormented can sit on the bench, and it signals other children that they need some empathy. C.R. Plastics has been building and donating the benches to schools in the U.S. The firm recently brought her to one major show—a move that generated waves of media coverage. Says Ballantyne, “It certainly didn’t hurt us to be her supplier.”