Trade shows can be an invaluable opportunity for your product or service to make a splash with industry experts, potential customers and the press. However, it's essential to prepare in order to get the most out of them and to make sure that the fees and time invested pay off.

One entrepreneur who certainly knows the benefit of a strong appearance at a trade show is Ian Linsley of Old Man Rum Co., a Newcastle Upon Tyne-based rum business. Old Man Rum launched recently at RumFest, a world-leading trade rum trade show, with the product Expressions - a blend of seven different rare rums from Barbacos, Guyana and Jamaica that are between 26 and 33 years old. Some of the rums are from distilleries that have now closed down, meaning the combination of Expressions is totally unique and can never be replicated. Orders for the £1,800 per bottle rum at the trade show were in the double digits - an amazing achievement. We talked to Ian about why he chose to launch at a trade show, and how he prepared.

How to launch your product at a trade show

What was behind your decision to launch your product at a trade show?

The annual RumFest show in London has developed and built an international reputation since it was first launched 10 years ago. This is the go-to trade show for rum, for both trade and the public. It attracts key players from around the world, both potential partners and buyers. RumFest was a good platform to launch Old Man Rum Co and promote a new brand like Expressions, reaching some important people in the drinks industry.

How did you choose the right trade show?

Initially, we wanted a show that reached the rum community and the drinks trade. The RumFest 2016 is possibly the biggest and the best, and because this was a celebration of a decade of The RumFest it was definitely the one for us. The timing was not ideal, but forced us to focus our energy on getting the rum into production and getting the brand development right. Deadlines can be a great creative and energetic focus! There are other shows we might still consider, including those for luxury brands, which our Expressions rum is.

What preparation did you do beforehand to ensure it made an impact?

In truth, we could have done with a little more time to have been better prepared as you can never over-prepare. We accelerated the production schedule of Expressions to ensure we had some product for the show. We established a temporary ecommerce website and launched a social media strategy a month before the event. We developed a professional display stand for the event. Shows are a great way to make connections, but also to invite connections along so they can sample the product. Sampling plays a vital part of the launch process and it helped confirm what we already knew - that our rum is one of the world's most superior blended aged rums. We also prepared a media information pack and worked with the event organisers to tickle the media’s interest prior to the show. 

How did it go for you?

RumFest was a good platform to showcase our unique, world-first product to the rum industry. We definitely made a mark and got people talking in the most appreciative manner. We projected a new company and new brand to key players. TV presenter and global rum ambassador Ian Burrell was highly supportive and complimentary of Expressions before, during and since the show. He also spontaneously wrote an awesome tasting note for us, which speaks volumes about the exquisite quality and complexity of our first Expression.  Rum bloggers and writers were introduced to the product and were totally taken by it. Most importantly we took pre-orders in double figures that more than paid for the time and expense of attending, and will also enable us to ramp-up production.

How to launch your product at a trade show - Ian Linsley

How can you build off the initial momentum of a trade show?

A sales and marketing plan is underway. We have received many positive rum reviews online and these have been amplified across social media platforms. A regional media campaign quickly followed the show, gaining positive coverage for Expressions, which will develop into a specialist and national media campaign. Events and other sales activity will build on this.

What are your best tips for exhibiting and making a splash at the show?

Be prepared; do as much preparation as possible. Have a great product and display stand. Make sure that anyone working for or with you at the show fully understands they are representing your brand and is as fired up and knowledgeable as you are.

If you have PR, ensure you bring with you the most influential member of their company you can access - this is an arena in which they will shine. Understand your audience and have materials and hand-outs for visitors. Liaise closely with the event organisers to get the most from them and their connections. This includes media contacts.

Ideally, you should try and invite potential partners, buyers and media to your stand prior to the show. Don’t just expect people to visit your stand - you need to consider how to drive people to your product, pretty much like you have to drive traffic to your website.

Never hold back your enthusiasm; let your passion for and belief in your product captivate your audience; be animated and on fire. If you have wares you can offer as samples - do it. If you have a great product then don't worry about the cost of offering modest samples - they will pay huge dividends.

Never ever attempt to pre-judge anyone approaching your stand, for it is impossible to identify potential customers. Treat everyone that takes the time and trouble to show an interest in your product with the dignity and diplomacy they deserve. Remember to smile and be courteous at all times.


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