Beyond the Big Trade Shows
Many inventors, especially ones short of money can benefit by starting their marketing efforts at smaller regional, or highly specific trade shows and conferences, such as the Snow Show http://siasnowshow.snowsports.org/Show-Information, are much lower in cost, and allow you to target trade shows and conferences that appeal to customers who particularly benefit from your product. The result you will have a much better chance to develop market momentum while holding down spending. An added benefit of focusing on smaller regional show at first as you can meet industry people in your geographic area that can become your mentors and help successfully launch your product.
Success at Conferences
25 year old Thomas Larson was student volunteer in the biology department at the University of Washington when he observed there was a need for mobile microscope. There were some products on the market but the prices were in the hundreds of dollars and they were large and difficult to transport. Larson though a much better solution was a lens that fits over the camera lens in a mobile phone. Larson raised over $230,000 in three Kickstarter campaigns and was able to build the equipment needed to produce 4X, 15X and 150X lenses. Over 7,000 funded the campaign, with promise of a 15X for $12.00 in the first campaign, and a 150X lens for $29.00 in the second campaign. Larson’s dilemma was the funders had a wide variety of applications including educational, CSI Crime Scene Investigation, inspection of documents and artwork for forgery, and gardeners looking closely at plants. To move forward he decided to focus on education and he started attending Science Teacher Conferences in the state of Washington area, which had anywhere between 6 and 50 exhibitors. Larson was very positive about the conferences. “The conferences were great for me. I received feedback about what teachers wanted and was able to set up classroom demonstrations where I saw how the product worked for students.” An added plus is that most of the attendees stopped by his booth, which was a five by two foot table with a few posters and some literature. The strategy worked, he has created word of mouth publicity and his sales are starting to occasionally exceed 1,000 units per month.
Inventor Contests are another avenue for inventors to expose their product without the big expense of a major trade show. NBC’s Today Show along with QVC is sponsors the Next Big Thing Contest every January and February. http://submitmyinvention.com/submit1b/qvc-sprouts. The Small Business Administration runs the InnovateHER: contest for innovative products and services that help impact and empower the lives of women and families. https://www.challenge.gov/challenge/2017-innovateher-innovating-for-women-business-challenge/. These contests come and go, Companies like Wal-Mart, Staples, Hammacher Schlemmer have all had contests in the past. Do a google search for invention contests, then hit the news button. Scroll to the bottom of the screen and click on the button for create alert. This will deliver to your email news of invention contests as they open up.
Calls for New Products
Retailers, Home Shopping Networks,, Mail Order Catalogs and members of the Direct Response industry frequently call for new products to review. For example Pets at Home has announced that it is to hold two ‘Innovation Speed Dating’ days in 2017. One day focused on
on food and treat innovations and the second day focused on non-food and accessory innovations. http://onestopinventionshop.net/blog/2017/01/pet-retailer-looking-inventor-products/
QVC has program, QVC Sprouts, www.qvcsprouts.com/, where you can post submit your invention at no charge, viewers then vote on which idea they like best and QVC outs the most popular program on TV.
The Direct Response TV companies are always looking for new products. An example is Telebrands, which has an active program that actively seeks new products from inventors. www.telebrands.com/inventors/. You’ll find many of the other major companies have similar programs. Response Magazine www.responsemagazine.com, is the industry’s major trade magazine and you can get information about many of the programs from their web site.
The best way to find out what companies have contests are or looking for product is through industry trade magazines, which are magazines targeted generally at industry retailers and suppliers, which includes manufacturers and distributors. One web site that offers trade magazines is http://www.webwire.com/IndustryList.asp. A much better source is Gale’s Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media, which is not available free on the Internet, but the reference can be accessed through larger libraries. Gale’s is by far the most complete list of trade magazines available.
Finding Regional Trade Shows and Conferences
Locating regional trade shows has become easier as web sites have started to add more and more of the smaller shows to their information package. The one that I’ve found most helpful are and http://biztradeshows.com/usa/?p=3. Other sources that provide much more detailed information include trade magazines and associations.
HSB Dealer is a trade magazine targeting hardware and building supplies retailers. Playthings is a trade magazine targeted at the Toy Industry. Inventors should always start getting relevant trade magazines when they start with an idea. The magazines have information about new products, marketing and R&D managers at industry companies, articles about new industry strategies and most importantly they almost all have a list of large and small trade shows, as well as industry conferences. For example, hardware distributor House of Hanson has three local trade shows in Tennessee. Those trade shows typically would have an announcement in the trade magazine.
Industry association web sites, such as the National Retail Hardware Association, http://www.nrha.org/ also frequently post upcoming trade shows. Generally the only way to find out about upcoming small conferences is by looking for the small association. Again the best sources is from Gale’s, www.gale.com, Gale’s Book of Association For smaller groups, such as the Science Teachers of Washington, Gale’s is the only comprehensive source. Gale’s doesn’t offer its information for free on the Internet, but again larger libraries do purchase the Gales’ information and you can access it by visiting the library.
Goals at a Small Show
Some inventors are selling their product only on the Internet, either through their web site or at stores on Facebook or Instagram. These inventors should still attend small regional shows. They receive the same benefits as inventors who are looking to develop a retail distribution plan. Those benefits include:
- Direct feedback from many users. This feedback is essential for improving your product. This feedback will also give you a much better idea if your product has a reasonable chance to be successful.
- Find other people in the market that are in your geographic area. If you can find either other local inventors, or marketing people in the industry, you will have options to explore. You can combine efforts to overcome resistance to a small one product company, or you might be able to share contacts to help expedite sales. At a minimum, you can share market experiences with the other contacts
- You can set up local tests that you can use to demonstrate your product’s effectiveness. You should be able to generate testimonials from people who use your product successfully.
Preparing for a Small Show or Conference
Thomas Larson went with just a 5 foot by 2 foot table and some simple posters and literature for his first shows. Some companies had much bigger displays and much better literature. But that shouldn’t concern you. You goal should be able to keep your costs of attending the show low, till you are sure your product will sell. Remember the advantage of a small show is that there are a limited number of booths for people to review, so they will often come over to see you. You can increase your visits if you highlight that you are a local inventor.