Home Shows in 2019: Do They Add Value?

Published on August 31, 2019

pond display
What is your theme? What story are you telling at a home show?

As a veteran of creating successful, award-winning displays for more than 20 years, I get asked a lot of questions. How do we come up with our inspirational scenes? Where do our crazy ideas come from? What is the real value of home shows in the water garden industry?

There certainly isn’t an exact science to it, but perhaps I can help you appreciate the value of home shows and use them to your advantage. In fact, I may be one of the last true believers in the value of home shows.

Key Strategies

Who is your target audience? When planning and creating a home show display, you need to consider the audience that you are going after. Know your buyer! Know your demographic. Know your ideal clientele and consider how you can attract them with a knockout display. If you discover that a particular show does not meet your audience requirements, perhaps that show is not for you.

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A few years ago, I thought that our local “sports show” was going to be a slam-dunk. My crew set up a killer Northwoods landscape display with crashing waterfalls and pond. I even partnered with a local builder to construct an on-site log cabin. We were all set — or so I thought. This particular show was one of the most highly attended shows in our market, attracting tons of people who love the outdoors. What could go wrong? I didn’t realize at the time that this “sports show” was a more family-oriented forum with events for parents and kids. People (and their kids) loved the booth, but we didn’t talk to any serious buyers at a show with more than 30,000 attendees. I can’t state it enough: Know your audience!

What is your theme? What story are you telling? This is your hook. I’ll tell you right now — don’t do a home show display if you are not going to produce a design that will knock people’s socks off. You will get out of it what you put into it. Be sure to tell a story with your display, just as Norman Rockwell did when he painted a picture and scene. Over the years, we have created a 1950s beach party, a moonshine run gone wrong, a wildlife taxidermy display complete with flying ducks and authentic hunting lodge, a backyard lounging beach, a Northwoods camping trip, life-sized frog sculptures playing the piano and trumpets, a full-sized garden railroad city … and so on.

home show whiskey waterfalls
We dubbed a moonshine run gone wrong “Whiskey Waterfalls.”

Next, be sure to come up with a realistic monetary goal for your display. Set a sales target, and figure out how much you need to sell to break even. Ask yourself questions like, how many people typically attend the show? What is the demographic? Is it primarily parents looking to pass some time and entertain their kids, or will there be serious buyers with the sole purpose of hiring a contractor?

Take a Chance

When designing a booth, there comes a time when you just have to say, “Let’s take a chance.” One of the things Aquatica is known for is our crazy-cool displays. Around 12 years ago, we constructed a display with bubbling saxophones, trombones and trumpets, floating moss islands, sculptures and foggers. It was incredible and memorable. I advertised it as the “Aquatica Sound Garden.” I knew at the time I created it that it was probably not sellable, but the threefold goal of the display was to make people remember us, to add to our brand image and to make people smile.

home show underwater patio
This 1950s beach scene with underwater patio is completed by bikinis hanging from trees!

Sometimes you have to take a chance and put yourself out there; it just might pay off. Over the past 20 years, Aquatica has won 16 of the prestigious People’s Choice Awards in the largest garden and landscape show in Wisconsin, which we have used to create good public relations for our company. Remember, it’s not always about the leads — it’s about reminding people about your company’s talents and who you are. Create a display people will remember. Some recent home show attendees have told us that the main reason they come to the shows is to see what amazing displays we have created. They literally list off each year and their favorite displays like it’s a soundtrack playing on repeat in their mind!

Things to Remember

What is your return on investment? Are you in this for the long game or short gain? If you want to become a part of the fabric of a community, you have to do a particular home show many, many times and become a name that is automatically associated with that show. You may not see an immediate return, but I assure you, if there are quality attendees at the show year after year, you will start to create a long-term investment in your brand and image.

Then there are the other details, like the display size, budget, manpower, length of show, setup and takedown schedule, staffing, brochures and point of purchase. It is fine if you decide to create a small display; however, make sure that your display matches your company image. Don’t expect to be treated as the authority in your industry with a fold-up table and a brochure. Make a statement or don’t do it at all. Remember, home shows are what you put into it.

Success Stories

pond show
Ducks fly over the pond scene Trappers Lodge.

When you do shows regularly, the home show becomes the industry’s social event of the year, almost like a family reunion of sorts. Years ago, we were working a show, and there was a banking firm across the aisle from us. I noticed the guy in the booth curiously watching us throughout the weekend as we engaged with the public. After a couple of days, he approached me in the booth and said, “Wow, you have a lot of family at this show!”
“Family?” I asked, knowing that none of my family had shown up that weekend.
“Well, who were all those people you were hugging?”
I laughed. “Those are our clients!” I exclaimed. He was shocked. You can’t buy that kind of interaction — you create it!

Years ago, we had a line at least 10 people deep in the aisle with people waiting to talk to us and ask about a new trend in landscaping. It was the new, shiny penny in the landscape industry that many of you may remember — ponds and waterfalls! We would come out of shows with page after page after page of quality leads and prospects. People would literally give us a deposit on-site without even having a contract or design. What crazy times! By the end of the show, my voice would be so hoarse that I could not talk!
Times have definitely changed. Today, people are much more reserved and guarded. We rarely get committed buyers on the spot, and leads on paper have slowed. While this may discourage even the seasoned home show vendor, it’s OK — just remember the long game.

Looking Ahead

Our picnic on the beach was enhanced by the authentic 1960s runabout boat, pier and 1955 Mercury.

I believe that, at least in the Midwest, there remains a decent value in home show displays and advertising if you approach it correctly and have the right vision and mindset. This is especially true when trying to sell water features. People need to see, listen to, touch and interact with a water feature before they fall in love. This is a huge advantage in our field. In the Midwest, home shows are usually held in late winter to early spring, a time when people are tired of winter and looking to get outside. It is also a great time for team building, training and bonding. People want to be inspired, and they come to the shows to see the blooming flowers and the latest trends in landscaping and waterscaping.

As a business owner, I have to constantly change with the times, and this is no different. I guess I’m still betting on the long game and not just the immediate leads. This is a more passive approach, but it has led to a powerful pipeline of phone calls, referrals, and leads throughout the seasons. Aquatica has created a highly respected brand in Wisconsin, and home shows are a great way to stay in front of the community, past clients, new clients and our contractor network. We keep building the brand, tuning our image and cultivating our relationships.

That’s why I believe these shows are still worth it. We may never go back to the home show “glory days,” but the value of an awesome display is almost immeasurable. The media alone at the last show we did was priceless: three TV interviews on different channels, four radio spots on different stations, two features in the largest newspaper in Wisconsin and tons of social media buzz and buildup. We then take that and turn it into portfolio-worthy pictures, videos and memories with our crew and clients. Who could ask for more?

So, yes, I would say that home shows still have their place in a social media-driven world. Combine the online buzz with a home show event and create a winning combination. In the off-season, a home show may be your answer. I know my opinion on home shows is not the most popular, but you can’t look at home shows with tunnel vision.

Remember all the ways a show can benefit your company beyond the reach of social media. Combine your marketing efforts into one successful pipeline of leads, image creation and branding that will make your company the one people remember most in your area.
Good luck!

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