Making the Most of Home Shows

The Faux Finisher - 07/01/2007

faux_finisher_072007.jpgPart of the challenge of being a small-business owner is getting the most bang for your marketing buck. Finding a cost-effective way to market your decorative painting business without a huge investment of time can be tricky and involve a lot of trial and error. Over the years Iíve had a lot of success with home shows and have developed a ďhome show planĒ to maximize the commissions I receive from the large amounts of people who browse through the shows. Home shows are an unbelievable outlet to get instant business. As a sole proprietor, the only employee, I had a good amount of work and a comfortably long waiting list. When I decided to expand my business by subcontracting out much of the faux work, I suddenly found myself hustling to book enough clients to keep more than one person busy. Purchasing space at a home show filled the gap for me, and can be just as effective for someone new to the business looking for a strong client base, or an experienced decorative painter with an eye on extending their business into the future.

Typically home shows are held in the spring and fall, usually in some kind of arena or civic center. The company sponsoring the home show rents floor space to businesses wishing to advertise at the show. Each business pays around a thousand dollars for approximately a ten by ten space on the floor. Rows of booths are separated by a curtain, and other than that, the space is empty. Your home show booth is yours to fill, and what you choose to put in that space will determine the success of your booth.

Home shows bring in a huge amount of people. In one weekend, itís normal for ten to twelve thousand 2_270.jpgprospective clients to walk past your businessís space. Thatís a lot of people. If you set up your booth properly, you will do very well. Iíve seen many faux finishers and muralists advertise at home shows, and afterwards almost all of them complain about not doing very well. It all boils down to the set-up of their booth. If youíve ever been to a home show, Iím sure youíve seen companies who set up their booth and place a fishbowl on their table. Usually next to the fishbowl is a sign encouraging you to enter a contest to win some sort of fabulous prize, like a free hot tub or gutters that never need to be cleaned. Of course, what the company does with all of those entry forms is build a prospective customer list. You enter the contest, and then you get a phone call or brochure in the mail trying to sell you the product all over again. This is the wrong way to do it! In my mind, those leads are not legitimate because most people think they are signing up for a prize and really have no interest in the product being sold. You want legitimate leads, prospective clients who do want what youíre offering.

In order to accomplish this, your booth must stand out from the others. Lucky for you, the nature of your business all but guarantees attention. To set up your home show space, you will need a table and chairs. Sometimes these can be rented from the home show company, but in my experience they charge so much that you may as well purchase them yourself, especially if you plan on doing more than one show. Cover the table with a nice tablecloth and place something pretty on it, such as a potted plant. For the floor of the booth, I have a nice area rug to give the space a more finished feel. As I said before, there are curtains behind the space to separate aisles. Use these curtains to show off your work. Choose several of your most impressive portfolio photos and have them blown up to poster sizes. Any print or copy shop can do this for you, and it isnít very expensive. Hang these posters on the curtains using hooks, which will provide a great backdrop for your booth. I suggest using photos of murals if possible simply because they tend to attract more attention. Once the mural shots have drawn people in, theyíll be sold on the faux finishes in your portfolio. If you plan to focus on finishes and not offer murals, choose the most eye-catching finishes from your portfolio to display in your booth. Photos with a lot of color and movement, maybe featuring stenciled borders or patterns. Iíve also noticed that faux marble and wood graining simply amaze people. Once you have a prospective clientís attention, your portfolio will do most of the selling for you.

1_581.jpgNow we come to the most important part of your home show booth. Along with that lovely potted plant on the table, set up a stack of business cards, detailed brochures, and at least one portfolio. I have two copies of my portfolio out on the table so strangers donít have to share and no one has to wait for a turn. Along with these things, you must have one crucial itemóa sheet of paper inviting prospective clients to sign up for a free consultation or in-home estimate. This sign-up sheet is the key. It doesnít have to be flashy or colorful. In fact, mine is a simple page with spaces for name, address, phone number, and the best time to call. Iíve noticed that no one likes to be first on the list, so add one or two ďfakesĒ at the top to break the ice. Donít forget to put a pen on the table next to the sign-up sheet!

Once your booth is set up and looking fabulous, take a seat behind the table and prepare to spend the day smiling. You donít need to stand outside your booth and usher people in for a close look at your portfolio, and certainly donít shout at passers-by to stop and sign up. Let the photos behind you do the talking. When people stop to take a look at the posters, invite them to go through your portfolio. Answer questions if they have them, but otherwise stay quiet. Follow their cues, and if they ask questions or seem at all interested, hand them a business card and let them know they can sign up for a free consultation. Thereís no need to push or sell hard, just be friendly and confident.

After the show, once your facial muscles have relaxed from all that smiling, get right to work on your list of prospective clients. That piece of paper has everything on it you need to make the home show a worthwhile investment of time and money. Choose a good time of day to call, such as late evening when people are usually finished with dinner but not yet in bed for the night. I usually spend two or three evenings after a home show making all of these calls. It is critical that you contact the people on your list within a few days of the show. If you wait even two weeks, theyíll have lost interest and the leads will be completely cold.

What do you say when you make your phone calls? Start by introducing yourself and remind the client why you are calling. I usually say something like this: ďHello, this is Patrick Ganino of Creative Evolution. Iím calling because you signed up for a free decorative painting consultation at the home show on Saturday. Would you like to schedule a meeting?Ē Sometimes I have to repeat this and go into more detail about who I am and what I do before they remember me, and this is only a day or two later. Imagine if I waited a week! Not everyone on your list will actually meet with you. They may ask to get back to you when they are ďready.Ē Donít be discouraged, just move on to the next call. Try to schedule meetings in the very near future, and be ready to work around the clientís schedule. The majority of my meetings take place at the end of the day or on weekends when my customers arenít out working themselves.

Not all of the business you receive from the home show will happen right away. Many times, Iíll get a call several months or even a year after a home show from someone who picked up my card. Itís pretty common for new clients to wait until their renovations are almost complete before calling, or for someone building a new home to hold onto your card until they are ready for your services. Thatís one bonus about home showsóyou build up your client base in both the short term and the long term. You can also count on referrals from clients who met you at a home show to keep the work coming in at a steady pace. Iíve found that doing one home show in the spring and one in the fall helps to fill out my work schedule very nicely, not just for myself but for the subcontractors I use as well. If youíve tried home shows in the past with little success, donít give up. Think of what worked for you and what didnít, revise the appearance of your booth, and, above all, offer a sign-up sheet for consultations. No matter the stage of your business, a home show can be an invaluable asset when it comes to marketing yourself and your work to thousands of potential clients.

Return to Media Page