Successful Exhibiting Training Seminars

 

 

Louise Tanguay and Matt Anderson own The Sleep Store - a 100% online retailer of sleep solutions for children.  They run this highly successful business from their home in Auckland, New Zealand.  As they are home as much as they choose to be, their family life with their own three sub-school children is pretty idyllic!

To maintain close, personal contact with their Customers - and to find NEW Customers too - they exhibit at Parent and Child shows.  This is their inspirational story.

Best of Show™ assists Exhibitors to attain the highest Return in Investment (ROI )at trade and consumer shows - anywhere.  Our seminars and educational materials have been developed and are maintained by Colin Green. Colin is a Certified Trade Show Marketer (CTSM). 

Information on Best of Show™ seminars, workshops, eBooks, DVDs and CDs are on our website, www.bestofshow.com.  

Or telephone Colin in Sydney, Australia (02)9589-2000.  Our New Zealand telephone (04)570-2000 redirects to Sydney.


 

Colin:              In tough economic times, we tend to pull our belts in and cut budgets on non-essential spending. Often one of those spending cuts is to advertising and promotion, but it’s a dangerous cut to make as it feeds our sales, the lifeblood of every company. An obvious place to replace that lost effectiveness less expensively is by using online promotions.

 

The reach is great and can be very cost effective. But that too has a major downside in that we can become disconnected from our markets and customers.

 

I met Matt Anderson at a training session in Auckland, that North Port Events, organizers of New Zealand’s Parent and Child Show, had contracted me to deliver.

 

Matt and Louise own and run The Sleep Store from their home in Titirangi, Auckland, New Zealand. They have three very young children: Jack, 5; Tom, 3; and young Ben, born in April 2008. Their business model allows them to spend quality time together so they can nurture their family life too.

 

The company is entirely run online via their website and e-mail marketing.

 

And to stay close to their market and to create and maintain relationships with their customers, they exhibit at various shows. The combination is powerful and The Sleep Store is growing fast.

 

I was very interested as to how Louise and Matt have so successfully combined online marketing and their show activities to build their home-based company. It’s a great story and case study.

 

Welcome, Louise and Matt; it’s great to chat with you. Does that pretty much summarize The Sleep Store?

 

Matt:               Yes, it pretty much summarizes where we’re at, Colin, in terms of why we’ve set up The Sleep Store and how we’ve set it up to fit in with our young family.

 

Colin:              How long have you been in business and what prompted you to actually form The Sleep Store?

 

Louise:            We started the business up about three years ago, which was when we first came up with the concept and started to get the ball rolling. We went live about two and a half years ago. It was a combination of factors that set us off on this path; obviously having the young family and wanting a more flexible way of working and to be based from home was why we chose to set up our own business and be self-employed, rather than carry on in the corporate world.

 

The idea of the business came because we wanted to provide genuine solutions for parents. Rather than just another retailer selling stuff that people may or may not need.  We saw that there was a genuine gap in the market for providing sleep solutions and free information for parents, particularly when their babies are brand new.

 

Matt:               Certainly as new parents, Colin, five years ago, we realized how important sleep is, both for little people and for mum and dad.  When sleep is not happening for the little person, it’s not happening for the whole family. Louise had done quite a bit of reading. Her background is in retail management and it really was Louise’s idea that we could establish a small business focusing specifically on sleep.

 

So we really made it a point of difference in staying focused on sleep solutions, both in terms of providing comprehensive sleep information on our website, and also selling products that relate to specific sleep needs at different ages and stages, in children, from newborn in terms of swaddling and white noise and so on, through to around about five years. 

 

Colin:              What exactly are the products and services that The Sleep Store supplies?  

 

Louise:            We have two main parts to our website. One is for information and we have about 60 articles that are free to access, which is a point of difference in itself as a sleep specialist. Others may charge even for an article, whereas we source the information either from overseas experts or we write the articles ourselves and make them available free of charge and they’re easy to find according to the particular sleep problem that you have and/or the age of your child. So that’s about half of the content on the website.

 

Colin:              I looked at your website. It’s got some tremendous information. It really has. Anyone who’s got issues with young children would find a treasure trove there.

 

Louise:            We do get that feedback continually, that people have not found the same information anywhere else, even when consulting with their own medical professionals, which can be interesting. But the other half of the site is the product range that we’ve sourced from around the world, and that covers sleeping bags, different swaddles, information about white noise, white noise CDs and information about sleep such as DVDs and books.

 

Colin:              Currently you’re selling online and you’re also doing shows. You’re selling across primarily New Zealand, I think. First of all, is that correct, and secondly, where are you headed now?

 

Matt:               That is correct, Colin. Probably 99% of our sales are online and that does work for us, to work from home. We are not, at this stage, interested in a retail presence because that’s not so flexible with our family. We do exhibit at shows and that’s been really important for us.

 

We first exhibited in Hamilton at the Parent and Child Expo two and a half years ago, and for the last three years we’ve been at the Auckland Parent and Child Show, which is New Zealand’s most significant show for our market. For us, it’s an opportunity to get out there and meet our customers—put our face out there, I suppose, and enable people to see what we’re about, and to promote our brand.

 

(The Parent and Child Show website is at http:www.parentandchildshow.co.nz )

 

The Auckland Parent and Child Show is an opportunity to meet 15,000 or so people who are very much in the market of preparing for a new family or have just embarked on that in their lives, so we really want to introduce ourselves to new customers or consolidate our relationship with existing customers. It’s to just get out there and also, of course, to sell things.

 

Colin:              So your primary objectives are to meet your existing customers, to meet new customers, to brand your company and to show people what you’ve got so they can then go online so you can continue the next part of the relationship. Is that right?

 

Matt:               That’s right. It’s to get out there and promote ourselves, to introduce ourselves to new people, to enable us to do further marketing to those people afterwards in terms of our email marketing and also of course, to cover our cost and sell things, because it does cost quite a bit to be at a show. It’s a very solid opportunity to sell when you’ve got a huge number of people coming in for whom your products are very relevant.

 

Colin:              Of course working from home and working online can be a very isolated and potentially quite lonely existence. Also, being isolated, you can tend not to connect with the market as well as you might. I know, personally, I find that and it’s important to get out and mingle and learn.

 

Are you finding that shows counter that and enable you to connect with the market and also to do market research to find out what’s happening and what is needed?

 

Louise:            Shows do help with that, because you see such a large number of customers in a short space of time and it’s a good way to get feedback from both new and existing customers.  Of course you can do that online too - shows add an important and much fuller dimension.

 

We constantly ask our customers for feedback and interact with dozens of customers over the phone every day. We also get out in our local community, meeting other parents and children most days, through relationships with our own children and so on, so we’re certainly not stuck at home in front of the computer.

 

Colin:              Matt, when we met in Auckland, part of the seminar suggested that studying the show’s media list (that’s the magazines, radio stations, et cetera, that the show uses) dramatically reveals great places to promote. This media is what show buyers were influenced by so it’s an effective way to get to them. Did you pick up on the suggestion and use this at all?

 

Matt:               We did. In particular, there were a couple of opportunities that North Port Events put on in terms of participating in some radio promotions and providing products for that to be given as giveaways. It was a good opportunity which we jumped at in terms of giving away some of our Miracle Blankets, which is one of our particularly excellent products.

 

Working with the media is something we’ve had a focus on since The Sleep Store was established, in terms of looking for opportunities for getting products featured, giveaways in magazines, and so on. So yes, working with the media is very important for an online company and it’s certainly something we focused on.

 

Colin:              Would it be fair to say that North Port Events, the organizer of the Parent and Child Show, were able to give you good access to the media?

 

Matt:               They obviously have quite a budget dedicated to the promotion of the show and part of it was dedicated to some radio advertising and also advertising in other media as well.  Certainly the radio one was something we were able to pick up on, which was something they put on.

 

Colin:              In understand that you are planning to look at the Australian market. Will you continue your strategy or will you change elements? Will you do online and shows in Australia as well, do you think?

 

Matt:               Primarily we’ll stay focused on the same mix. We’ll stay online as the primary source of selling and we’ll also look to establish ourselves through the Australian market in terms of branding ourselves online and at shows. Launching our website in Australia is an important step which we’re about to do.

 

Colin:              Yes, I noticed. I tried keying in www.TheSleepStore.com.au and guess what?

 

Matt:               You were routed back to the New Zealand site!

 

Colin:              Exactly!

 

Matt:               At this stage we just have the New Zealand site operational but we’re about to launch in Australia as well, and the product mix will be largely the same.

 

Colin:              So you will continue, and use shows in Australia?

 

Matt:               Well, we really are quite a small company, I guess. We’ve only been going a couple of years and at this stage, exhibiting in Australia might be a little costly as we find our feet.

 

Colin:              Hey, you’re not supposed to say that. [Laughs]

 

Matt:               You can edit that out. [Laughs]

 

Louise:            You can get us a really good deal at a show in Australia!

 

Matt:               That’s where you come in, Colin!

 

Colin:              I can point you to some good shows over here if that will help.

 

Matt:               It’s definitely something we’d like to see in the next two to three years, but we’ll need to reach a certain critical mass.

 

Colin:              I understand that. Now that you’ve been in business for a while and you’ve followed this format, would you think the online/expo formula is a winning formula for most small or medium enterprises?

 

Louise:            Yes!  And I think that it’s one where people need to be cautious too, especially with very small and new businesses. It is an excellent combination. We’ve found for us, it has been excellent, but there are a lot of hidden costs involved in both online and shows and people could become unstuck if they’re not aware of the downside to it as well. But it does offer a unique way to meet people face to face.

 

Colin:              Right, so if they really know what they’re doing in online and really know what they’re doing with shows, that mix is uniquely powerful, but they do have to watch the rules.

 

Louise:            I think so, particularly around the costs, because once you embark down the show track, there are a lot of things that crop up later that people might not have budgeted for, and if they don’t have a unique offering, it might be hard to even recover the costs.

 

Colin:              I can understand that and of course (I’ll put my plug in here), Best of Show provides that training for exhibitors at shows across Australia and New Zealand. We’ll very shortly have all of our material online as well, so of course we consider the online aspects as well as the show aspects.

 

Louise:            Absolutely. That’s a fantastic idea. I have to say that the reason that we have done well at shows is through obtaining the training that we have and having really pure objectives and putting the preparation into it. It’s not something that you want to just turn up on the day and hope it went well.

 

Colin:              Do you have any particular advice or suggestions for companies planning their exhibiting direction in the coming year, especially regarding integration of online and exhibiting?

 

Louise:            I think the first thing is to be very clear on your objective.  Not to just decide they need to be at a show because the competitors are there. People need to think through their unique objectives and then plan from there.

 

(Note from Colin… 

 

                        Best of Show is just putting the finishing touches to an eBook “How to Create Your Own Exhibiting Success: Design Compelling Expo Goals!” If you’re subscribed to this eJournal we’ll alert you. If you’re not contact us at www.bestofshow.com/contact-us.html and we’ll stay in touch).  

 

Matt:               Be quite careful about what you take to a show too, because it can be quite easy to fall into the trap of taking too much. You need to have some clear, succinct product offerings, which are both engaging and tempting, and not take too much stuff because otherwise you confuse the mix.

 

Louise:            Also, offer the customers a consistent brand. Make sure what you’re presenting at the show is consistent with what people will find online, rather than taking completely different products or presenting your company in a completely different way when you’re face to face.

 

Colin:              This is very good advice because I often see that too, when people will have a completely different face at the shows, to what they do with their other activities, so they become chameleons.

 

Louise:            And particularly if you plan to follow up with marketing after the show, it’s got to be consistent or people will not know who you are.

 

Colin:              Good thoughts, great advice! Where to now? What are your plans?

 

Matt:               Well, we’re looking forward to Christmas.

 

Colin:              [Laughs]

 

Matt:               But in terms of our plans, it’s really further consolidation in New Zealand and we’ve still got some work to do here. We’ve certainly been building our brand. We’re working with some other people who work with young children such as midwives just to promote The Sleep Store as a place where parents can find solutions to sleep problems or needs.  Then the next step is to get our Australian website underway early in the New Year.

 

Colin:              As I mentioned, I did look at your website and I saw you had so many interesting offerings and fantastic advice. Where can people go to find more information? How can they contact you?

 

Matt:               We’re very easy to find. If somebody Googles “The Sleep Store” they should find us in Australia or New Zealand. Our website is www.TheSleepStore.co.nz and we’re always happy to take phone calls from customers. We’re contactable on our Auckland number, (+64) 09-816-8706 or via email from the web site

 

Colin:              Thank you so very much for your thoughts today. I was totally intrigued when I met you, Matt, and I heard the way that Louise had started the company and you were both now working together, forming such a wonderful company and working it around your children as well, using both online and shows so successfully. So I certainly wish you the very best and I thank you again for sharing that with us today.

 

Louise:            You’re very welcome, Colin.

 

Matt:               Thank you, Colin, and keep up the good work with Best of Show. I certainly found it helpful attending your seminar, in terms of finding our objectives for the show and fine-tuning what we were doing for our recent show in Auckland.

 

Colin:              I’m really glad that you were able to use the information, and thanks very much for your kind words.



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