If you’ve ever been to a trade show, or seen pictures of such a wonderful event, you probably notice that there’s a lot of booths everywhere, and that, depending on the show, some of them look quite, well, gorgeous. Odds are, alas, that if you’ve been to an industry event like that, you’ve seen something quite different, especially if the event is something that was closed to the public. This is because there’s a different expectation and a different need for each set of consumers of your good (and, in this case, your booth can be considered a good, one that you’re trying to get people to come and look at in order to sell them on whatever it is you have to offer).
One of my favorite trade shows is an annual event, and I’ve only gotten to go twice, but both times I was blown away and had a great time. It’s an event called NAMM, and I can’t for the life of me remember what the acronym stands for, but it’s a trade show, open to the public, and it’s entirely designed around selling guitars. Row upon row of trade show displays related to everything to do with musical instruments, mostly guitars and other stringed instruments, and amps, and pretty much anything else that a musician could possibly want. It’s a beautiful thing, believe me, and I loved every second of it.
The way that they set up their trade show booths was, quite frankly, obviously geared toward a public setting, and toward making sure that as many people as possible got to take a look at the guitars. But it goes beyond that, which is a good way to make sure that people are going to remember the show that you put on and the equipment that you were trying to sell; nearly every guitar there could be picked up and played.
This means that not only are you showing people what they’re going to be able to buy in the near future, but you’re giving them a chance to connect with your product, or at least with the early builds of your product. They have a chance to play the guitars, to play them through commonly available amps, to test the whole thing out for themselves, and that’s a great way to connect with your customers, and to make sure that people are experiencing your product and forming an attachment to it. It’s also a great way to get feedback from your customers on the instruments that you’re making, which can give you a chance to fix something before you put it out on the market. Now, this doesn’t always work (the Gibson ‘Zoot Suit’ Les Paul shows this. Ugliest. Guitar. Ever. Bad pickup situation, mediocre make, and the worst thing of all, they cut a lot of the wood out of the guitar in order to make it lighter (and cheaper).
Now, compare this to the way that trade show booths are set up for guitar shops to trade guitars or to sell guitars to other stores, especially vintage and used guitars. There isn’t any flashy setup. There aren’t any beautifully put together guitar booths, or any lovely sets of hangers that display them in a beautiful way so that the public will be drawn to certain makes and models. Instead, the guitars are either in their cases with the top open, or they’re sitting on a guitar stand of some sort. You don’t get to just pick up and play these vintage guitars, either; if you want to, you at least have to ask, and some people are pretty big on not letting people touch the guitars (which makes sense, as some of these guitars are worth tens of thousands of dollars. I once played a Gibson Les Paul that was thirty thousand dollars American, an old school black beauty. I only got to play it because it was a friend of mine who knew that I was going to be careful with it, otherwise I would have never gotten to.). People who are there to sell guitars don’t have any need for the flashy displays, because the people there know what they want, they know what they’re looking for, and they know what they’re doing, and aren’t going to be swayed with the use of flashy nonsense.
Just remember, the point of the whole event is to do the best that you can to sell a product to the people who are coming, even if you’re just setting yourself up to make a sale in the future. That, and to have a good time, because a lot of these shows are in pretty awesome places to visit.