I started a new internet-based service company last December. My company -- Smart Toy Choice -- emails parents who have registered with us if their children's toys get recalled. We have a very limited advertising budget and the service, I felt, needed explaining in person. So at the beginning of the year we started looking at trade shows.
Our partners live in Denver, Albany, and Cincinnati. Denver was up first for the trade shows (Kids Expos) in January. Unfortunately, the cost to rent booth space was more than $1,000, so we couldn’t even get in the door. The next Expo opportunity was in my city of Albany, New York. The booth space ranged from $150 to $300; this was manageable for us, so I reserved a booth for $200. I thought I had found just the right spot, too – next to the bounce house.
With the booth space reserved, we had to decide what to hand out. Our initial plan was to print one-page color brochures. According to the Expo officials, they expected an attendance of 8,000 to 12,000 people. I had no idea how many to expect at my booth, but at 49-cents a copy, I knew I couldn’t afford that many color brochures. Luckily, a mother friend of mine who attended the show in the past commented that, after walking through all the booths, you end the day with a pile of papers that you just throw away – so good thing I didn’t invest in color brochures. What I decided to do to get my information across was to offer a drawing for a free one-year subscription to our service, for which they would provide their name and email. I could draw the winner's name and still email all of the other people, linking to our site for more information and offering a discount on the first year. This way I thought they wouldn't have to deal with the paper (and I didn’t have to buy it) and they would get a reminder a few days after the show.
Next, the freebies or giveaways. Again, I had a limited budget and needed to keep in mind our business concept: cheap, junkie toys wouldn’t fit with our image. I wanted to do frisbees (I found some that were made in America) but they were close to $1 each; if I needed at least 8,000, that would be too expensive. I looked at Sharpie markers (every Mom needs one, right?) but again, too expensive.
Then I thought of balloons. I found a great deal on 10,000 balloons that was in my budget. I could get my business name printed on them and hand them out to the young children. Children love balloons, and this would get their parents over to my booth. My husband suggested I consider the length of the show before ordering balloons (10,000 balloons blown up over the course of seven hours = 23 balloons a minute). So instead of 10,000, I bought 1,000 balloons -- I'd be blowing up three balloons a minute instead of 23. I had my name printed on both sides and ordered these great self-sealing valves with ribbon already attached (no tying!). The man at Balloon Imprinters was very helpful in getting my order completed -- he even told me that the best place to rent a high amount of helium is from welding shops, not party stores. Indeed, the welding shops I talked to were about half the price of the party stores. I set up the helium rental with J&R Welding in Ballston Spa (near my home).