From Obscurity to Spotlight: Mary Sue’s Trade Show Triumph

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In this episode, we share the inspiring journey of Mary Sue, a small business owner of “Pawsh Pooches,” a dog washing business. Struggling with brand visibility, Mary strategically uses her exhibition at a local trade show, ingeniously designed booth, and well-crafted qualifying questions to identify potential customers. Her prompt follow-up strategy post-event reinforces her brand image and boosts customer acquisition. Mary’s persistent efforts transform her obscure local business into a recognized name in her town, demonstrating the power of trade shows for small businesses. Tune in for more on maximizing brand visibility and customer engagement.

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Once upon a time in the quaint town of Springfield, Mary Sue ran a humble dog washing business called “Pawsh Pooches”. Despite her tireless efforts, the business was struggling with obscurity. Mary was not one to admit defeat and decided to take a stand at the annual Springfield Home and Garden Show, an event that attracted dog owners from the surrounding regions.

Her goal was simple: to make Pawsh Pooches the town’s go-to place for dog washing, to gain as many new customers as she could. She understood the importance of standing out in the crowd and diligently began planning her exhibition.

Mary enlisted the help of a local designer to create a booth that truly encapsulated the spirit of Pawsh Pooches. The booth was designed to reflect a luxurious spa, complete with miniaturized canine bathtubs, faux fur carpets, and an overhead banner that gleamed with the company logo. She even created a playful demonstration corner, with a stuffed dog, for visitors to see the washing process firsthand.

During the show, her booth was a sight to behold amid the other exhibitors. Yet, Mary knew that the booth was just the tip of the iceberg. She understood that the conversations she had with booth visitors were even more critical to her mission. She prepared a set of opening questions, aimed not just at breaking the ice but also to glean valuable information about her visitors.

“Isn’t your dog just lovely! How often does your furry friend get a bath?” she would start, followed by, “Oh, who usually handles the washing? Must be quite a task, isn’t it?” By the end of the conversation, Mary would have a clear idea of whether the visitor was a potential customer or a dog-loving passerby.

This approach worked wonders. Not only did it help her identify potential customers quickly, but it also allowed her to manage her time efficiently, enabling her to engage with as many visitors as possible. The result was astounding, as Mary was able to generate leads faster than she ever had before.

However, Mary understood that the trade show was not just about gathering leads but also about converting them into customers. As soon as the event ended, she began the crucial process of follow-up. She reached out to each visitor she had identified as a potential customer.

She thanked them for their time, reminded them of their conversation, and offered a discount on their first visit to Pawsh Pooches. Her prompt and personalized follow-up messages served as a gentle reminder of the brand, leaving a positive impression on the potential customers and showing them that she valued their business.

Year after year, Mary’s participation at the Home and Garden Show paid dividends. The booth was always a crowd favorite, and each year, more than half of her new customers originated from the event. Mary’s approach was a testament to the power of exhibiting at a trade show. Through her efforts, Pawsh Pooches went from being an obscure local business to a recognized name in the town of Springfield.

Her story serves as an inspiration to small businesses struggling with brand visibility. Exhibiting at a trade show is more than just setting up a booth. It’s about creating a unique experience, building relationships, and following through, just like Mary Sue and her Pawsh Pooches.

While trade shows can certainly offer numerous benefits, it’s important to note that small business owners might have several reasons to be hesitant about participating. Here are some of the main considerations:

  1. Cost: The cost of participating in a trade show can be substantial. Apart from the fees associated with booking a space, additional expenses include booth design and setup, promotional materials, travel and accommodation for staff, and potential lost business due to being away from the usual operations. For small businesses with tight budgets, these costs can be prohibitive.
  2. Time Commitment: Preparing for a trade show is time-consuming. It involves planning the booth, organizing logistics, training staff, and crafting a marketing strategy. The event itself can last several days, and the follow-up process with leads afterward also requires substantial time. Small businesses, especially those with limited staff, may struggle to manage these time commitments.
  3. Uncertain Return on Investment (ROI): The financial return from a trade show can be uncertain and hard to measure, particularly for first-time exhibitors. There is a risk that the costs might not translate into an equivalent increase in sales or customer base.
  4. Target Audience: Not all trade shows will attract the right audience for every business. If a business’s target customers are unlikely to attend, the show could end up being a waste of resources.
  5. Lack of Experience: If the business owner hasn’t participated in a trade show before, they might be unsure of how to go about it, feel intimidated by the competition, or worry about making mistakes in a public setting.
  6. Resource Allocation: Small businesses often have to prioritize their limited resources. They might prefer to invest in other marketing strategies that they perceive as offering more immediate or guaranteed returns.

In the end, the decision to participate in a trade show should be carefully considered. It’s important to weigh the potential benefits against the costs, and ideally, seek advice from those with experience in trade show participation.

This story offers several key lessons for small business owners, particularly those considering exhibiting at a trade show:

  1. Effective Booth Design: A well-designed and attractive booth can significantly increase visibility at a trade show, making your business stand out from the crowd. Engaging demonstrations and interactive elements can be a great way to draw visitors in.
  2. Smart Interaction: The questions you ask visitors at your booth can serve as a valuable tool to qualify potential leads. By focusing on the right queries, you can quickly identify potential customers, effectively managing your time at the show.
  3. Preparation and Strategy: The success at a trade show does not come by chance; it requires careful planning and a strategic approach. From booth design to deciding on the questions to ask visitors, everything should be well thought out in advance.
  4. Importance of Follow-Up: Meeting potential customers at a trade show is just the first step. It’s crucial to follow up promptly after the event to keep your brand at the top of their mind and to convert those leads into customers.
  5. Patience and Persistence: Mary Sue didn’t achieve massive success overnight. She exhibited at the show year after year, consistently putting in the effort and refining her strategy. Success often requires patience and commitment.
  6. Trade Show ROI: Trade shows can be a significant source of new customers if executed correctly. Despite the costs involved, the investment can be more than worthwhile when considering the increase in brand visibility and customer acquisition.

Remember that the journey of each business is unique, and what worked for Mary Sue might not work in the exact same way for another business. Still, these lessons provide a good starting point for small businesses looking to leverage trade shows for their growth and success.

Writing effective qualifying questions for a trade show can help you identify potential leads more efficiently. Here’s a guide to help you create your own set of qualifying questions, inspired by Mary Sue’s success story:

  1. Understand Your Target Audience: Before you start crafting your questions, define the profile of your ideal customer. What are their needs, preferences, or problems that your product or service can address? This understanding will inform the direction of your questions.
  2. Aim for Open-Ended Questions: Create questions that encourage conversation rather than just simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ responses. Open-ended questions allow for more detailed responses and offer greater insight into a visitor’s needs and interests.
  3. Identify Pain Points: Craft questions to help you identify problems or challenges that your product or service can solve. For example, Mary asked visitors who usually handles the dog washing, subtly hinting at the convenience her service offers.
  4. Understand Current Solutions: Ask questions to discover what solutions or products your visitors are currently using. This can give you insight into their habits, preferences, and level of satisfaction with their current solutions.
  5. Engage with Your Product/Service: Formulate questions that connect the visitor with your product or service. This could be asking them to imagine how they’d use your product/service, or asking for their opinion on a feature.
  6. Plan Your Follow-Up: Your questions should also pave the way for a follow-up conversation. This could be an invitation to a product demo, a discussion about specific services, or a casual check-in after the show.

Remember, these questions should not feel like an interrogation to the visitor. Make them part of a natural, engaging conversation that helps build rapport while giving you the insight you need.

Looking to supercharge your business development strategy? Connect with Ed Bejarana of the Business Buffet Podcast, your go-to resource for insights and actionable advice designed to take your business to the next level.

Whether you’re seeking effective tactics for trade show exhibiting or looking for comprehensive business growth strategies, Ed’s expert guidance has got you covered. Schedule a one-on-one consulting session by calling (208) 209-7170 and gain personalized, actionable advice tailored to your business needs.

Got a specific question? Don’t hesitate to drop us an email at We understand every business has unique challenges and we’re here to help you navigate yours.

For a taste of what we offer, visit and explore our wealth of podcast episodes. Hear real-life business stories, like Mary Sue’s trade show triumph, and glean insights that can help you shape your own success story.

Remember, the success of your business is not left to chance. It’s planned, it’s strategic, and it starts with the right guidance. So, let’s get started. Connect with Ed Bejarana and the Business Buffet Podcast today – your business growth awaits!

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I have been in the music and entertainment business since 1977. I love podcasting and audio production as a business model and enjoy helping business grab new customers with engaging audio and video.

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