Shortly after I published my first title, 100+ Wedding Games: Fun & Laughs for Bachelorette Parties, Showers, and Receptions, I was brainstorming ways to reach more brides and their best friends. A bride expo seemed an obvious opportunity. Hundreds of bridal shows are held every year. Studying the vendor listings from many different shows, I found a trio of magazine publishers with booths, but only one book publisher, and that one was selling a title that’s now out of print. Could I have thought of a book marketing channel that nobody else had recognized? Or did everybody else know something I didn’t?
A Google search failed to turn up any sales figures for these expos. The expo organizers couldn’t provide any sales information either. I did get prices, though; at various wedding expos in my city they ranged from $250 for a half-booth to more than $1,000 for a full-sized booth in a premium location.
Reasoning that brides would be drawn to a show with a large variety of vendors, I focused on the largest, the BrideWorld Expo, with 190 booths at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Traditionally, wedding expos are held on Sundays, but BrideWorld took place on both Saturday and Sunday, so it was like getting two days for the price of one. In addition, the staff was responsive to my many questions and seemed genuinely interested in helping me. That sealed the deal.
While a half-booth was attractive because it was cheaper, it didn’t seem conducive to the layout I had in mind for selling books. I wanted to handle transactions behind a table and use it for a book signing so I decided on the smallest full booth for $395. The show organizers suggested that I sell the book at a “special show price” to encourage on-the-spot buys. But as both author and publisher with a micro ad budget and a determination to break even, I priced the book at retail. I would have to sell 42 copies to recoup the cost of the booth alone. With an estimated attendance of 1,500 brides and 6,000 total attendees, that had to be doable . . . right?
Promo and Demo
Before the big date, the show organizers invited me to experience one of their smaller expos first-hand. I encourage anyone considering an expo exhibit to do this. Attendees, I learned, give each booth about six seconds of attention—or less—as they walk past, and a cluttered display will not convey your sales message clearly. On the other hand, an eye-pleasing display holds eyeballs longer. I noticed that a banner or anything else visible above a booth made it pop for people looking down a row. And balloons were good too. Telling attendees to look for the booth with yellow balloons, for example, instead of giving people the booth number, made it easier for them to find it.
Giveaways, though, are a double-edged sword. People will swarm a booth for a premium handout, and the crowd causes rubbernecking to see what the attraction is. But a crowd also creates a roadblock for foot traffic, which can make potential buyers rush past the booth just to get away from the body crunch.
When I discussed promoting my book with the expo organizers, I learned that they held a popular 20-minute fashion show three times a day. I decided to donate a copy of my book as a giveaway for each show to increase exposure. The organizers also offered exposure in exchange for demonstrations of reception games from my book after bridal etiquette workshops, held twice a day. So that I could concentrate my efforts at the point of sale, I asked a friend who is a budding actor to serve as my wedding games demonstrator. We had a dry run a week before the show to work out his patter and the games we would demo with audience participants.
For the booth, I created two large posters, one with my picture and “Meet the Author” on it, and another showing the cover of the book and its price. Before the show opened, I practiced my pitch, knowing I would have only seconds of ear time.
At the booth, I handed out half-page fliers in a bright yellow that matched the cover of my book (by the time the expo ended, we had given out more than 1,000). I greeted everyone with a big hello and a flier, and I found that it was easier to talk to potential customers when I stood in front of the table.
On the day of the show, I tied two display copies to the table to prevent people from mistaking them for giveaways. I also displayed individual pages excerpted from the book—including the table of contents and reviews—on the table in plastic jackets. Two generous friends helped me staff the booth, and we quickly observed glazed eyes. People were overwhelmed by the visual stimuli of other booths, and when they got to ours, they couldn’t figure out what we were selling. A quick-thinking friend starting stacking copies of my book in a circle on the table. Now everyone could clearly see the product. And I continued to adjust my one-sentence pitch until passers-by immediately understood what we were selling.
Over the course of other shows, I have discovered that displaying the cover on a stand on the table is also helpful. And so is placing starbursts of fluorescent paper with the price of the book. With every sale, I offered to autograph the book with a congratulatory note. This had several benefits: the book couldn’t be resold, the signing provided incentive to buy, and when people saw a small line forming for autographs, they wanted to know more about the book.
Meeting the book’s buyers directly was useful for future marketing efforts. I met some brides who were buying it because their reception venues did not allow alcohol or music or both; others said they wanted alternatives to dancing at the reception. The rest simply wanted the bachelorette party and shower games.
I noticed that getting a potential customer to laugh had a huge effect on sales. So whenever a person showed interest in the book, I offered a funny excerpt to read. If they laughed, they were much more likely to open their wallets.
We also gave discount coupons to attendees who volunteered to play in our game demos, which allowed us to track sales they generated.
The Numbers Game
Two days and one sore throat after the show opened, we had sold 50 copies. I had paid for the booth! Granted, if you figure in the expenses of the photocopies, giveaways, and total hours spent, it was a losing proposition. But then you also have to notice how the expo paid off in other ways. Our game demos created awareness not only among show attendees but also among vendors. Wedding DJs bought my book and pointed me toward DJ associations. Wedding coordinators from various hotels expressed interest. These were markets I would have never dreamed of had I not done the show. Also, although I couldn’t track sales made by online retailers after the show, I did notice a small improvement in my book’s rank at Amazon.
As a direct result of exposure at the show, a bridal store owner ordered copies for her store, and she has been a regular customer since. Also, exhibiting at the Los Angeles Convention Center contributed to my book’s credibility, and I’ve mentioned doing that in my press releases. Finally, that first experience helped me improve my selling technique. At the next show I did, we sold 48 copies in six hours. At the next two-day show I participated in, we sold 72 copies. Looking back, I believe that if I had had my other title—100+ Baby Shower Games—to peddle at the same time, the numbers would have been even better. So my conclusion is that, with effort and sales know-how, the right kind of consumer expo can pay off for publishers.
Joan Wai, the author of 100+ Wedding Games—now in its second edition—and 100+ Baby Shower Games, heads The Brainstorm Company. For more information, visit www.TheBrainstormCompany.com.
Pricing: Sell at a discount. This noticeably increased sales over what they were when I offered the book at retail at my first show.
Location: Landing a booth closer to the entrance increases sales. I believe that’s because attendees are simply fresher and more enthusiastic at the front of the expo floor.
Promotion: Have single-page excerpts of your book available for people to read, and take advantage of all opportunities to create more exposure for your book at a show. If the book is a prize in a contest, for instance, people who win a copy get excited, and their excitement piques the interest of others.
Contacts: Use downtime during the expo to network with other vendors.
Direct sales: Put on a friendly face; speak clearly and succinctly. Not everyone will be interested, no matter what you’re selling, so focus your effort on those who are. Be responsive; adjust your booth and your pitch according to customer reactions. Make sure you have plenty of change and receipt books to record sales accurately. Try to have at least one person focus on selling books while another handles transactions.