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Whether it’s exhibiting at a tradeshow or hosting a targeted gathering, what a company wants to achieve in terms of return on investment, or ROI, seems to influence its decision to take on either option or both.

Perhaps companies could learn which option is best from the experiences of AFR Furniture Rental & Event Furnishings, a provider of furnishings and accessory rentals, and Metal Mafia/Bombshell Accessories, a provider of costume and body jewelry.

Experienced in exhibiting at tradeshows, AFR started hosting its annual Design and Inspire Nationwide Showcase and Networking Tour three years ago. After launching its third year in August, the company traveled to select stops around the nation to showcase its furnishing collections as well as provided networking opportunities.

AFR_Logo“These targeted events allow us to build relationships and foster new ones in addition to creating an atmosphere that is beneficial for everyone who attends. Sponsors find new clients, attendees meet new suppliers and we benefit through new sales and showcasing our product,” explained Tricia Schmitt, vice president of brand management, AFR Furniture Rental & Event Furnishings.

Factoring into AFR’s decision to host targeted gatherings was the ability to invite anyone who is open to business opportunities.

“We’re not there to be about AFR; we include everyone. Each stop is targeted to the local event community,” said Schmitt. “New relationships, vendor discoveries and business opportunities for everyone are key components of the networkers.”

Although Vanessa Nornberg, owner of Metal Mafia, hasn’t hosted her own events, she has exhibited at several tradeshows.

“The advantage of tradeshows, and the reason we still do them, is the possibility to meet a lot of different customers in one place. Tradeshows continue to be a great way for us to get new customers as well as to see existing customers in person,” said Nornberg. “Exhibiting companies need to do their part to make sure to get the ROI they need – taking the smallest booth possible in relation to the goods they wish to show, staffing the booth with the best sales team and making sure that every minute the booth is open is spent actively courting prospective buyers with information that is meaningful to them.”

mmafialogoIn Nornberg’s case, taking a smaller booth to highlight Metal Mafia’s jewelry didn’t seem to be a problem, but AFR found that the show floor didn’t always offer enough space to highlight its furnishings.

“Our events allow us to showcase products without space restrictions. On a tradeshow floor, customers don’t spend as much time because they need to see everything or have commitments they have to attend to,” Schmitt said.

AFR still benefits from tradeshows, but it does see differences in doing its own events versus tradeshows.

“We get leads from both. We tend to meet more prospects at a tradeshow; however, we get better qualified leads from our events because they are already interested in what we are doing or want to see our products,” said Schmitt. “Tradeshows are a much bigger investment for the rate of return.”

Metal Mafia invested in five tradeshows for 2013, targeting those related to the tattoo and piercing industry. Last September, the company exhibited at Steel City Tattoo convention in Pennsylvania.

“Tradeshows can be a great place to get ROI if they are done right. Show organizers must make shopping the show simple and easy for prospective buyers – one directory, one venue, correctly broken out by categories that make sense to the way buyers shop and opening hours that allow buyers to do what they came to do in the time they have to do so,” said Nornberg. “I judge Metal Mafia’s return on investment by measuring the sales we make – both at the show and in doing follow-up after the show – against the expense of the show, which includes cost of goods sold, booth space and drayage/transport, travel and daily expenses, and any advertising we do to let customers know we will be at a show.”

To increase its ROI at tradeshows, AFR targets markets where its customers are most likely to be. The company also targets certain areas for its gatherings, but AFR judges its event ROI differently.

“We look at the business booked as a result of the events, but these events aren’t about selling necessarily. They are about building business relationships – two very different concepts,” explained Schmitt. “Naturally, we see increased sales from the events; otherwise, we wouldn’t do them. They also make us a community partner in many markets that we are in.”

As shown from the experiences of AFR and Metal Mafia, tradeshows and targeted gatherings connect companies with their customers, could lead to potential new customers and may take place in a targeted area. On the other hand, what could separate tradeshows and targeted gatherings are logistical issues, a company’s goals and cost. It’s up to each company to decide how it’d like to pursue its ROI.

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