Five Tips to Run a Successful Student Trade Show

A student trade show can generate sales – the goal of every student business. However, goals can range from funding their fast food obsession to saving money for their post-secondary studies. For all students, making that first dollar is a driving force to continue pursuing their venture.

Trying to seek out customers and generate sales is a difficult task. Not everyone has the mindset to find different ways to expose the potential customer to a product. If a student has a heavy schedule, they can be less motivated to use their little free time for sales.

To solve this, we have taken class time to expose the community to student businesses. Instead of using different marketing techniques to push information, we facilitate a student trade show to pull the community into the school. By doing this, we make a stronger connection between local businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs.

Running a student trade show is not easy. Although the venue may be free, motivating students to make visually appealing displays for their products can become a challenge. Students see how major organizations develop their displays, and understand that they do not have the time or resources to do the same.

However, by focusing on five tips, I have been able to turn my idea into an event that the entire community looks forward to.

Tip #1: Focus on the Little Things (and Businesses)

Students think big. But for a student trade show of this size, you need to scale their minds and ideas down a bit. It is easy to picture a wide range of audio and visual tools in your display. Without the money or physical pieces, this will be harder to accomplish.

By having students focus on smaller market show examples, I find that their ideas start to flourish. They do not need all the flashy lights to bring in customers. By simply having a visually attractive display, customers can become interested. Once they have them hooked, students can use knowledge they possess of their own product to get the sale.

A standard practice for my class is to have students attend local farmer’s markets. We are lucky to have one run frequently in our community. Students are able to see how people are successful within these smaller environments, and also see it as a potential sales channel for themselves in the future.

I also encourage students to attend markets in Winnipeg, the closest major city. Third and Bird runs major urban markets within the city, which feature many local makers who are able to expose their product to thousands of visitors. Students gain insight and ideas by viewing and networking with other entrepreneurs.

Finally, I always try to bring in a local entrepreneur who has sold in smaller markets. These entrepreneurs give students some insight on how they came up with their own displays, and how they are able to connect the theme of their display to their brand as a whole.

Tip #2: A Student Trade Show is Not a Science Fair

The classic tri-fold board is an easy tool to use to display information. However, this is not the place for one. Your students may find it more difficult to present their information using their voice. But in the end, it will get the audience more engaged in the product as a whole.

I try to encourage my students to focus their displays on the ask and answer of questions. The goal for a potential customer is to see a product and want to seek out more information. By including visual cues that encourage customers to become interested in aspects of a display, regardless of the level of relevancy to your overall business model, your students will be able to then start a conversation regarding the benefits of purchasing their product.

Transitioning from the tri-fold boards to more simplistic table displays shift the focus to the display. Due to this, I found that students display stronger interpersonal skills due to verbally discussing the information that they would display on the board. Because the information is from their own research and production of their product, students become a lot more confident answering questions potential customers may have.

Tip #3: This is Real, Not a School Project

You need to get your students to buy into the idea that this is a business. Once they stop thinking of it as a school project, deeper learning begins.

I make students take every piece as seriously as they would a part-time job. Students must approach meetings professionally, including how they dress.

It is amazing what kind of effects acting professional have on the day-to-day life of a student. They not only work professionally in their venture, but also begin to act more professional in their other classes.

Tip #4: Enter the Shark Tank

Investors are important, but investors are also hard to obtain. Because many of the student businesses are small scale, finding investors may be difficult. However, investors do not necessarily have to involve real money.

When planning our student trade show, I ask students to identify people they would love to learn from or work for. I also encourage them to identify people who are relevant in the industry their venture fits into. Once this master list has been developed, I put the responsibility on the students to make connections with those people, invite them to be “sharks” for our student trade show, and confirm with them shortly before the event that they will in fact be attending. I find that the potential sharks are more likely to attend from the face-to-face interaction of the student than the teacher.

The role of the sharks is to use fake money that we provide them and visit each booth. After making their way through, we encourage them to invest their money however they see fit. If one business idea is more feasible than others, that investor may give all of their money to that one business.

By taking this approach, it develops stronger competition among the students. No student wants to be known as the one who did not receive any investments, and will work harder to impress the sharks. Students may have to adapt on the fly to change the opinions of investors.

Additionally, I have seen some student businesses receive actual money from people that they impressed to help them scale their idea. Because of this, we have seen some students ramp up production to stock products on retail shelves, or partner up with local businesses to offer their services to a wider audience.

Tip #5: Exposure

Get your students name and business out there as much as humanly possible. Increased marketing of the student trade show can lead to more guests, which in turn leads to more sales.

I expect each student to market their business and the event as a whole through different physical and digital means. Students realize that increased traffic flow leads to an increase in sales and exposure. By having more family and friends attend, the more likely they are to make sales.

I have found that communities rally around their youth, and people will support student businesses regardless of the product. I understand that false positives may not be the best approach to grow as an entrepreneur, but an increase in sales can lead to an increase in confidence. This assists them not only with their business, but life as well.

If an event is large enough, local media outlets will automatically involve themselves. Interviews for radio, online, or newspaper articles is very self-fulfilling for a student. To promote the event to the media in our community, I invite them to come be sharks. This typically gets them to bring their equipment and prepare their article while investing in the ventures.

Final Thoughts

I hope that you can use this information to planning and preparing your own student trade show. My students have found this to be a very rewarding experience. Additionally, the community has been increasingly more supportive each year. We are already planning and looking forward to our next event, and have many people (including alumni) asking if they can come be sharks.

By using your students as the main planners, the event can be built around them. After seeing how successful it can be, students will take pride knowing that they were the ones who were able to create something that is just for them.

Please comment below if you would like to share your experiences with student trade show, or entrepreneurship in schools.

Thanks for reading!

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