When I started my consulting practice in 2001, I saw that companies of every size needed help in managing the potentially significant opportunities trade shows offer. As a coach, I understand that each firm’s goals and objectives are unique and that defining their specific intention is key to creating a process that will yield the desired results.

With some strategic planning and execution before, during and after the show, you can have the experience you’re hoping for. I’ve outlined the steps for you in a special 5 part series that outlines the content of my trade show book: Have the Most Successful Trade Show Ever.

Mistake #1

Spending money on a trade show before you are ready.

As an expert with 40 years experience in the specialty food trade, I meet many exhibitors who are such small producers, and who couldn’t handle a significant amount of business even if they DID have a successful show.

One year, at the Summer Fancy Food Show, I was visiting an existing client and they introduced me to their neighbor in the booth next to them, whispering to me, “They just won a sofi award, and they don’t even know where they are going to make the product.” A sofi is a highly coveted award given to outstanding products at the Summer Fancy Food Show.

So here was a young start-up, with limited commercial capacity winning an award for the quality of their product, but unable to make enough to take advantage of the prestige they just garnered. They spent an estimated $5000 for the privilege of being at the show, winning an award and were essentially out of money to go to the next step.

They couldn’t afford to pay for raw materials much less coaching. Everyone they spoke to could sense they didn’t have the ability to go to the next step. They were never seen again. I guess the sofi award looks nice on their mantle at home.

Please don’t be a statistic like this….the attrition rate at these shows is as high as 30% over a 3 year period. That $5000 times 3 shows equals $15,000.

Another typical (expensive) mistake is doing the WRONG show.

Do your research to determine which shows to do and when…and build a budget with specific goals you want to achieve. This should be a focus of your marketing plan, which is a component of your business plan.

Be sure to set yourself up for success!

Mistake #2

Exhibiting at the wrong trade show

There are trade shows and then there are trade shows. All are not equal. There are 1,000s of attendees at the national shows, but they aren’t all bona fide buyers. Some are “just checking it out” and have no buying authority at all. Other shows are non-stop buyer meetings. So how would you know the difference?

Often I meet clients when they are at a national trade show and I learn they have product in a distributor but haven’t done any marketing through the distributor programs, such as advertising and the annual trade show put on by the distributor. This is often a better spend for small companies than the big shows since most retailers want to buy through a distributor (to avoid multiple deliveries, invoices, receiving and ordering issues).

A cookie client started working with me a year after we met at the Summer Fancy Food Show. We talked about her distribution and we switched her marketing dollars toward the national distributor (who serves 23,000 retailers) she was already in. Now she can reach all of their customers rather than talking to various unqualified leads from all over the world who were walking the big show. This simple step built her business in a significant way and she was important to one customer who could easily help her grow.

Some shows focus on food service, some on perishables, some on natural foods….understanding your BEST target audience is key to doing the right show.

Parts three, four, five, six and seven will appear in subsequent issue of Food Entrepreneur Magazine.

To your success!

Deb Mazzaferro, AKA CoachMaz





“Deb’s show guide gave us a road map for developing our promotions and preparing for buyers discussions, especially as we moved on to distributor business. We understood it’s not enough to have a great product, but her guide helped us prepare our materials so well that we made it an easy decision-making process for buyers.  She has taught us to not assume we know what a buyer wants, and to ask questions.” – Trisha A. (Illinois) – Specialty food founder, in business 28 years.

“We began working with Coach Maz after 15 years in business as a way to rethink how we were doing things. As part of our early coaching sessions, we talked about our trade show schedule and Coach Maz asked what our objectives were in doing each one. She had us read her “How to Have the Most Successful Trade Show” and we decided to revamp how we approach the Natural Restaurant Association Show which was coming up soon. By implementing the principles in this concise, insightful tool, we were able to completely shift our thinking about how to approach the show. The results were outstanding and we have a much healthier food service division today as a result.

“And we are not only doing better at the NRA Show. The principles that worked for that show were all easily applied to the Fancy Food Shows, Catersource, and other trade shows that we have attended. With some minor tweaks to our tools we were able to adapt everything to the specifications of each show.” – Deb K (Massachusetts), Specialty food company General Manager.

We’ve been consulting with Deb for years, and have used this e-book at the 2013 Fancy Food Show — and it was our best trade show ever.  Her advice on marketing ahead of time, on booth etiquette, and training staff were invaluable. The most useful tool for us was learning how to talk to prospects in a way that converted them to sales — this is a technique everyone should know how to do. – Jonathan L (Ohio), Specialty food company founder, 10 years in business, 5 years as a speaker at the Fancy Food Shows