Home Shows Without Boxes

How to set-up, run, and have an enjoyable time putting on the easiest (and potentially most profitable) home show ever!

When it comes to contractors and running booths at home shows, the old catch phrase, “ready… fire… aim!” is typically appropriate. I can’t tell you how many home shows I’ve attended, where a contractor’s ‘go-to’ plan consists of attempting to stuff his booth with more equipment and accessories than any of the other contractors attending the show. The goal being to somehow better impress the maybe 50 odd people (out of the 10,000 or more homeowners that will attend) who actually realize their equipment is old, and plan on changing it that year. The problem is that even if having a 10′ x 20′ booth stuffed with more equipment than is usually found in a small high-rise somehow gets those 50 people who actually come looking for new equipment quotes to stop—they are the very same people who will stop at every contractor’s booth in the show and ask them for a quote as well. This is not what I would refer to as a “target-rich” environment when what little game there is available is setting up appointments with every other hunter in the woods to ‘take a shot’ at them. 

The saddest part of this entire scenario is that contractors who see this as the best way to run a home show are missing the boat by not even aiming at—let alone recognizing—who the real target is! To understand what I’m getting at, let’s run the numbers. Being that I’m from up North, I’ll run them as I would for a furnace replacement market. If you are one of the remaining true-believers who still think a gas furnace will last 20 years because that’s the typical heat exchanger warranty, I’ll humor you and we’ll use 20 years as the life expectancy of a furnace. That means on a straight average, for every 10,000 homeowners who attend, there are probably 500 of them (10,000/20yrs) who have a 20-year old furnace—who don’t realize yet that it should be replaced! 

Best of all, these same 500 potential furnace replacements are what I do call a “target rich” environment, because the homeowners in this group will actively avoid setting up appointments with other contractors there whose game plan was to simply ‘stuff-the-booth’ with equipment. The problem is that when you just stuff your booth with equipment like all the other contractors, these 500 homeowners look and act just like the other 9,500 homeowners in attendance who don’t have 20-year old furnaces, which makes it hard to engage with them. You know what I mean. They walk down the center of the aisle, avoid all eye contact, pretend not to hear if you call out a greeting, and do everything possible not to engage with someone who might be trying to sell them something …especially when you’re surrounded by what looks like a lot of potentially big expensive boxes! 

So ask yourself, which group would you rather be quoting? The 50 homeowners who are getting quotes from every other booth-stuffing contractor there… or 50 of the 500 homeowners who need replacement equipment and are not stopping at other contractor booths to make appointments? If you find it to be a tough choice, you might as well stop reading now and start gathering up all the booth-stuffing equipment you’ll need for your next home show. But, seriously, the good news is that you really don’t have to choose. The 50 who planned on talking to every contractor there will still stop and talk with you even if you don’t ‘stuff-the-booth’ because you are an HVAC contractor and that’s who they came to the show to talk with. So, why not instead of ‘booth-stuffing’, decide to focus on creating the right bait in your booth so you can identify and then engage with as many of the 500 homeowners as you can, who need replacement equipment but just don’t know it yet? 

So, what do I mean by creating the right “bait” in your booth? As any hunter will tell you, the best way to be successful is to know what drives and motivates your prey. It’s no different with homeowners who attend home shows. You have to understand that most people who attend home shows don’t do it because they want to go and spend money. They do it simply to be entertained. They consider it no more than a fun night out with the wife or family. So, if you wonder why, in the past, everyone walking down the aisle doesn’t stop and come into your booth, ask yourself how fun or entertaining is a booth stuffed full of equipment? 

As far as what to put in your booth, I suggest only one piece of equipment (either a furnace or an air conditioner) and a literature rack of anything else you want to have. Try not to take up the floor space since you will need it for all the people who you will be introducing your company to. This one piece of equipment is simply nothing more than a symbol of what you do so that the 50 who know they need new equipment will still stop and talk to you. 

The key to baiting your booth for more engagement is to make your booth fun and entertaining. That’s the bait that will let you engage with almost everyone who walks past your booth, without them feeling threatened that you’re trying to sell them something. My favorite bait, that was successful when I used to do these in the past, is a simple 8′ foot putting green! I like the putting green because it becomes an easy way to get men to engage especially if they golf (which in itself is a nice income filter since the hobby isn’t cheap). However, you need to offer a reason or excuse for someone to stop and have fun in your booth, so we typically bought a $100-$200 special golf club or putter and offered it in a drawing to everyone who gets a hole-in-one on their first try. 

The give-away is for nothing more than to give the men an excuse to have a little fun by engaging with us. To accomplish this, we held out a putter to them and challenged them as they walked by to impress their wife or kids by trying for a hole-in-one for a chance to win the ‘special’ club. When they stopped to see if there was a catch, we told them that there was just a quick three question survey we asked on the entry form, other than that, if they made a hole in one on their first shot, their entry would go into the bowl where we would draw the winner of the expensive golf club. Should they miss, we would still be selecting 50 entries to give away 50 complete furnace tune-ups with combustion testing valued at $139 each from everyone who tried.* (*Please note: That when you explain this, or with any signage you create about it, how you word it is very critical as I will point out later). We then told them that the winner of the club would be notified as well as announced on our website, as well as everyone selected to receive the free tune-up. 

During the show, we usually would have one or two people in line to try their skill. We hired a teenager or two (typically children of our staff, who worked in shifts) to run the putting game. They were responsible to set up the ball, get it after the try, and put the entry into the appropriate bowl based on whether or not it was a hole-in-one. The staff members manning the booth were responsible to hand the consumer an entry form on a clipboard and engage them in pleasant small talk. In many cases, if we didn’t push what our business was about, they many times would ask—which was the best way to introduce our company to them. 

The entry form they filled out asked them their Name, Address, Email, and Phone so that we could contact them should they win the special club or be selected for a free $139 tune-up. Besides that, there was a small survey with three simple questions to which they had to respond.

The questions are as follows:

  1. Do you maintain your furnace every year for safety?
  2. How old is your furnace?
  3. Would you like to receive special email offers and articles relating to your home’s comfort?

Finally, everyone who tried was given a bag or envelope containing our business card, a service coupon, as well as a Lifetime Thermostat Warranty sticker (we print a $24.95 value on it). The sticker has a detachable circle with the company name and phone number that we explain goes on their thermostat. The remaining (larger) sticker that explains the warranty goes on their furnace, electrical panel, or water heater. As long as the sticker is applied, they would not be charged by us on any service call where we found the thermostat to be the problem. (details here). 

So what does one accomplish by doing a home show like I am describing? 

First off, you will have a fun time doing it, and your people will not feel like they’re selling stuff when they encourage everyone who passes by to try their luck—which will get you more engagement right out the gate. Because it’s fun, your company is seen in a good light and the consumer remembers his time with you as being enjoyable.

Remember the two golden rules of sales:

  1. People want to do business with people they like and people who are like them
  2. Most people will always look for the comfort of something familiar when making a quick choice.

By doing this, you put a face on the company to a lot more people who would not have talked to you had you just stuffed the booth with equipment—people will now, hopefully, choose you when they need service—especially if they engage with you and enjoy the experience with your company. 

Secondly, remember how I said the wording about the contest was critical? Here’s why. As, I said earlier, you need to focus on creating the right bait in your booth so you can identify and then engage the right customer, here’s how the give-aways can help you identify and engage with the right homeowners. When the homeowners filled out their survey, the most important question we asked was, “How old is your furnace?” Remember you needed to separate the show attendees who probably need new equipment vs. those who don’t? By filling out the entry form, they do it for you. As you help them fill the form out, and you see them put in that their furnace is 20 years old, if the conversation warrants it, you can comment on how their equipment has really given them their money’s worth, then run with the conversation this brings up. If not, don’t worry about it, because there is still a back-up system in place. 

If you remember I said the wording of the give-aways was critical, here’s why. If the consumer gets a hole-in-one, they go into the bowl where we will draw the winner of the golf club. This wording is very clear that everyone in that bowl has a chance to be drawn and the winner will get the club. Using the word winner means that it is a game of chance and all entries had the potential to win the golf club. However, for everyone else who doesn’t win the golf club, the signage and verbiage you use must clearly state that “we will be ‘selecting’ 50 entries from every one who tried, to give away 50 complete furnace tune-ups.” Forgive me for being a ‘Grammar Nazi’ here, but the word ‘selecting’ does not in any way imply that chance is involved. If you have not already guessed, we select those who will get the tune-ups based on equipment age since they have the greatest sales potential as well as the most chance of potentially having an undiscovered safety issue that we can help protect their family by discovering. We also would select some homeowners based on perceived need if someone in our staff noted on the form that the homeowner’s situation warranted it out of ‘hard luck’ or safety concerns after talking with them. Even if their equipment was not old, just to help them out. The benefit of this is that you get to give them a free sample of your company’s service to gain their business—which you didn’t get with the 50 people looking for all the ‘stuffed booths’ because they already knew they wanted a dozen quotes. 

Once you’ve chosen who you want to contact and inform them that their entry form was selected to receive a free tune-up, it’s critical that you publish a list of all the recipients’ first names and the towns they’re from on a page in your website. You should also do this with a picture of the owner handing over the prize golf club to the lucky winner. This creates value, because when you contact them about their invitation to take advantage of the free tune-up, you can refer them to the webpage to see that only a limited number of people were selected and they were one of them. Showing that the prize was really limited to a set amount of people, adds credibility to the offer since it’s obviously not one of those deals where everyone who filled out a form was selected. In addition, you’re exposing them to your website which further establishes your company in their mind, especially if it is professional, friendly and they see good customer reviews. 

As far as the economics of giving the free tune-up, is there anyone who wouldn’t offer a free tune-up to someone with a 20-year-old furnace? Even if the equipment is still safe—it’s a great opportunity to demonstrate how professional your people are, as well as how thorough your maintenance is so you can offer them the chance to get on your program. After all, aren’t homes with older equipment the ones you want to have on your maintenance program? 

Finally, the last benefit of this type of home show approach is the giveaway bag with the business card, service discount coupon, and thermostat warranty sticker. The business card and coupon have obvious potential benefit by putting it in the hands of all the new people you will now meet by making your booth fun.

The benefit of the thermostat warranty is two-fold:

  1. You just bribed them with a warranty on something that rarely goes bad to place your sticker on their equipment.
  2. The warranty gives you the potential to lock in new business since, from a consumer’s perspective, when their system quits they typically first look at the thermostat, then at the equipment, believing that one or the other is broken.

If they see the sticker saying that if it’s the thermostat that’s the problem they can get it fixed free, who do you think they will call? A delayed win is still a win. 

If you get nothing else out of this article, whatever you do at your home show, have fun with it. People will notice and engage with you if you are. Remember that most of the people who you will be talking to came there to have fun–not to be sold something.

Wish you all the best.
–dave

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