by: Geoff Ficke

Our consumer product marketing and product development group just returned from launching two new products at a large trade show in Bologna, Italy. This was a cosmetic-beauty product show, the largest in the world. There were over 3000 vendors displaying their wares, from the largest brands in the luxury cosmetic space to start-up ventures with virtually no sales history. The show was visited by over 100,000 buyers from 120 countries.

Our team is a believer in the importance and power of trade show participation. Logistics, planning, budgeting and discipline are crucial in effectively and professionally leveraging participation into a successful outcome. One of the keys to achieving the desired success, even in the most brutally competitive categories such as cosmetics, is for our clients to look larger than they actually are.

The big boys in any industry have seemingly unlimited resources. Their display is large, imposing, visually overwhelming when compared to a small company just launching. Pre-show and intra-show promotion for internationally recognized brands is ubiquitous. How can the small company compete?

Our theory is that the real excitement at most trade shows is always found in the creative, entrepreneurial small vendors presenting fresh, innovative new offerings. Our clients are indicative of this type of fearless pioneer. They relish the opportunity to take on the giants and out hustle, out maneuver and out work the old establishment names.

The two products we introduced to the beauty world last week are totally different in performance and benefits but similar in positioning. One was a skin serum, the other a hair treatment product. There were hundreds of competitive skin and hair care products on display at the Expo, but nothing that approximated our client’s unique usage features. It was interesting and gratifying how often we heard from international customers and distributors that “this is one of the most interesting products we have seen this year”! The fact that our client products were being displayed and compared next to the giant brands only served to differentiate and confirm their uniqueness.

Trade shows are not cheap to attend. Travel expenses, booth rental, booth display, shipping and customs, sampling and sales collateral are just some of the expenses involved. International shows are even more costly. Nevertheless, the upside payoff is potentially maximized by the immediate exposure a new product receives. In order to prove a product has commercial appeal, you must place the product where decision makers in industry can see, evaluate and confirm, or disapprove the value of the good or service. This happens best at an industry specific trade show.

We met hundreds of interested customers from over 80 countries last week. Some of the largest retail groups in the world spent time in our display booths. How much is that type of exposure worth to a new brand? More importantly, could an unknown start-up reach this quantity and quality of decision makers in any other venue than a trade show?

When a new company attempts to reach a buyer, they face barriers to entry. Today, one of the biggest hurdles, and a convenient excuse for inaction, is the internet. Many customers are programmed to accept new product submissions through on-line application only. This is impersonal as well as an abrogation of a buyers true responsibility, which is to look at as many offerings as possible. They can’t buy everything they see, but they should know what is available and freshest and choose their sale inventory from the widest possible universe of products.

This type of closed and locked door is best overcome on the floor of a trade show. You meet, shake hands, exchange cards, demonstrate and detail your product or service and discuss price, terms and conditions of sale on a personal, face to face, business-like basis with decision makers that attend these trade shows specifically to discover the new and inventive in their industry. It is why you are there. It is why buyers are there.

In the past year alone we have attended and represented clients in trade shows in the following industries:
Sporting Goods
Gourmet Foods
Natural Foods
House Wares
Pool and Spa

We just committed a luxury Swiss jewelry client for participation in the ultra-exclusive Couture Show at the Wynn Resort in Las Vegas this summer. These shows work. For almost 35 years we have experienced the benefits of attending and working trade shows as the single best avenue available to a wide range of clients for launching or expanding their business opportunities. Don’t dismiss the importance and possibilities that this path offers for introducing your product to the widest and most important audience of decision makers.

Author's Bio: 

Geoff Ficke has been a serial entrepreneur for almost 50 years. As a small boy, earning his spending money doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, he learned the value of selling himself, offering service and value for money.

After putting himself through the University of Kentucky (B.A. Broadcast Journalism, 1969) and serving in the United States Marine Corp, Mr. Ficke commenced a career in the cosmetic industry. After rising to National Sales Manager for Vidal Sassoon Hair Care at age 28, he then launched a number of ventures, including Rubigo Cosmetics, Parfums Pierre Wulff Paris, Le Bain Couture and Fashion Fragrance.

Geoff Ficke and his consulting firm, Duquesa Marketing, Inc. ( has assisted businesses large and small, domestic and international, entrepreneurs, inventors and students in new product development, capital formation, licensing, marketing, sales and business plans and successful implementation of his customized strategies. He is a Senior Fellow at the Page Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Business School, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.