How to maximise being a visitor at an exhibition

Having just completed my first international exhibition show as a visitor at Gulfood in Dubai, I’ve had such a positive learning experience that I wanted to share it with others.

Visiting versus exhibiting

Being a visitor as opposed to an exhibitor is hard. Of course there at those who will say that having to deal with mindless conversations and tyre kickers on the stand for a week is highly frustrating and they are right but at least you have a base to work from for the duration of the show, an option to rest your feet more frequently and the ability to normally take solace and share your experience with your colleagues or others on neighbouring stands who you invariably bond and network with over the show.

Making the right approach

After four full days walking the halls flying solo I’ve certainly got a new found respect for those who spend many hours trawling round the shows and speaking with exhibitors in search of business opportunities. Particularly those chameleons like me who often have to engage with the people on the stand, ask a few probing questions before they decide how they should best position themselves, which client(s) they should talk about or which business card to pull out. It certainly takes a bit of practice and you don’t always get it right, but that’s part of the experience in my opinion!

So with this in mind how do you get the most out of being a visitor at a show?

Here are my top tips:

1.    Pre- show preparation is fundamental

I spent a significant amount of hours scrutinising the exhibition website , looking at exhibitor profiles and their online presence seeing if they could be a potential fit or opportunity for what I was looking for- and  a good couple of weeks before the show started. Furthermore where possible (and it’s not always easy in the Middle Eastern territories!) I sought out fixed meetings with exhibitors so that I could structure my time between those high prospects and other targets who I believed that an impromptu stand visit would suffice. This enabled me to decide which halls to focus on for which days- and with over 4000 exhibitors from all over the world- it needed careful consideration!

2.    Quality connections are key

It would have been quite easy for anyone  to go around many of the halls and to mindlessly shove business cards and brochures in the hands of all exhibitors in the hope that someone may find what you are offering useful. And it still amazes me the amount of people I see doing this- either by handing over theirs or picking up others from the stand without saying a word to the other party! What better time to build an initial dialogue than at an exhibition? It’s one of the most accepted platforms for everyone to be promoting themselves and businesses so make the most of this! And don’t be afraid to go back to see the same people again if you are keen! Especially if their English isn’t great too as they may struggle to communicate effectively when you are both back home. Therefore the  longer you can have fruitful conversations with exhibitors face-to-face the better and it’s far more favourable  to come back with say 30 high potential business opportunities than 300 anonymous business cards that mean nothing to you when you are doing the literature sift a few days later.

3.    Work some flexibility into your schedule

Whilst fixed meetings are good and allow you dedicated time with whoever you are looking to interact with in the same vein make sure you don’t over book yourself either! There is nothing worse than rushing from one appointment to the other and putting yourself under too much stress- particularly if you overrun on one appointment which has a knock on effect for the rest of the day. Not good turning up late and flustered, particularly if you are trying to sell yourself at the meeting as you won’t be mentally at the top of your game and risk giving a bad first impression. Plus by having some more time to explore the show between meetings then you can often  come across some other interesting stands and prospects like I did. It can also give you some innovative stand design ideas, highlight what competitor brands are doing and give you a heads up about where your category and niche is heading in the future.

4.    Aim for a first good interaction of the day

I found that if a could start the day with a positive business exchange between an exhibitor and myself then it set the tone for a more confident and enjoyable day. This happened on at least two of the days and I noticed how I bounced from one stand to another with a greater air of confidence and passion on those days than on others when I didn’t perceive that I had done so. The best way is to look for those people on stands who look open to engaging with you and who you have on your ‘hit list’ as targets. Getting a positive response back from them is a great way to push on for a hugely successful day of whatever you are looking to achieve at the show.

I wish everyone plenty of success in any exhibitions you are participating in this year, whether international or not and indeed as much as a visitor than as an exhibitor too!

Flexible global working

Friday was a working day for both of us and whilst she has to endure a 3 hour daily commute to her working day in Milan (culturally Italy is certainly slower on the employee well being front and seeing the true benefits of flexible working arrangements) I had the privilege of staying in her home gazing out over the mountains and speaking with people based in Spain, France, USA and the UK. This is one of the aspects of international work with creating Bolst Global that I absolutely love: the ability to work from anywhere in the world ,to be able to travel much more regularly as a result (weaving in personal and professional working time) and be reenergised and inspired by what different cultures and environments can offer…

Like now- this is my current view as I write this (don’t get too jealous ? ):


L’Artigiano in Fiera

One of the unexpected highlights of the weekend and hence partially prompting this post was the consumer artisanal show at the expo centre of Milan called L’artigiano in Fiera. It takes place during the December bank holiday period in Italy each year and this 20+ year show brings together over 3000 stands representing the global artisanal industry.  Now visiting this fair myself wasn’t actually something I had anticipated going to during my trip but as with some many things in life the opportunity and coincidence was presented and I was intrigued to see how the Italians ‘did’ fairs and what products were showcased not just regionally or nationally but around the world as the nine  exhibition halls housed producers from literally all corners of the globe.

Heading for Latin America and Asia

So upon arrival we went straight for the Latin American and Asian stands eager to see what was on offer (probably also swayed by my friend’s Argentinean roots a bit too!) and we were greeted with lots of vibrant colourful jewellery and tapestry and I took an Americano at a Colombian coffee stand to enjoy whilst wandering round the stands in this hall. We stopped by an Argentinean stand and my friend got chatting to the exhibitor, passing him a local contact who could be interested in stocking his products in Italy (a clear benefit of exhibiting at such a fair when you are trying to enter the Italian market!)

Enjoying food and drink from around the world

We then entered the European halls which were more food and drink focused and by that point I was getting a bit peckish but with so much on offer from so many countries it was really hard to choose. In the end I went Greek with a Gyros kebab (enjoyed even more thank to the service with a smile by the Egyptian who served me!) and Spanish for a drink of strong refreshing sangria (cue cheesy amateur photo above!) Dessert was thanks to a French crêperie offered a crêpe with their traditional caramel au beurre salé although it wasn’t as tasty as I had hoped (probably down also to a much more despondent lady who served it)

What the UK didn’t offer…

I had a look (of course!) at the small British offering with mainly alcoholic offerings (craft Beers, cider, Scottish whiskey and cupcakes) as well as tea cups, cake stands with the royal family and vintage/ flowery designs to buy as gifts but felt there was a lot of opportunity for much more to be showcased from the UK which italian consumers would appreciate and buy. I’m not sure why there wasn’t more of a UK presence- whether it is because artisan producers aren’t aware of the show? (A quick search shows that it hasn’t been talked about or given any real exposure in the UK) Or maybe the need to communicate in Italian is too much of a perceived barrier?

Whilst it is clear that you would need some Italian language support on the stand (and being here has highlighted my own linguistic deficiencies-must do better!) this can be easily sourced.

A gem of an opportunity??

Moreover with such huge Italian crowds – an anticipated 1.5 million visitors over the 12 days arriving as early as 9.30am with empty suitcases to fill then with the right products, the right offering at this time of the year and the right exhibition strategy this could a very successful show for many Artisan producers. There is also the opportunity to sell your products during the show via its own online e-commerce platform available in Italian, German and English as well as opportunities to participate in some of the events and demonstrations taking place throughout.

So if you are an artisan producer and looking at selling your goods further afield than the UK then do consider this fair could be beneficial for you (and by all means get in touch for any further details or advice that I can share from my experience)

A taste of Italy

The time at the show ended having a quick look around the Italian halls desperately trying  to find some delicious olives to enjoy back at home that evening. Amazingly this was a bigger struggle than I had imagined and in the end I settled on Spanish chorizo with slices of mozzarella, pesto and carrot sticks to nibble on instead whilst enjoying a full bodied Italian red wine prior to dinner.

The end of the trip

The last day of my trip has been filled with rest, reflection, a solitary walk around the town of Lecco and a determination to make next year the time when more travel and trips like these are taken as they really are good for taking stock, remembering how far you’ve come and renewing your excitement for where the future may take you- even more so if you allow the inspiration of different cultures and environment to inspire you further.

I hope everyone gets the chance to take a well deserved break over the Christmas period, regardless of the opportunity to travel abroad or not.

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