There were so many things that to consider when deciding whether to have a vendor booth at RootsTech or any other conference for that matter. Are smaller conferences better because crowds are more accessible? Are super conferences better for the optics that suggest your business is serious about their plans?
Need Better Input
Information upon which to base decisions about genealogy conferences is lacking. For an engineer (Andy) and a worry-wart (me), we can dream big, but we are debt-free minded individuals. We don’t want to go into debt to build a business.
We will invest money, but we wouldn’t drain our children’s college fund to get ahead. I’d like to see some numerical expectations outlined for all service types at the various international and regional conferences.
That way, we can better make stock decisions and see, compared to others, was our experience on par or substandard? Or better yet, did we have an exceptional response?
With sales information (anonymous and averaged), a vendor could decide whether a 10×10 space with electricity or a 20×20 spot without power would better achieve their tangible and intangible goals.
Such information could help gauge whether one conference is better suited for our product offerings. If a state genealogy conference crowd comes prepared to shop and a regional conference has tight purse strings, vendors would know where to invest their time and energy and how to set their conference goals. Sometimes name recognition is more important to the frugal crowds.
The lack of ability to forecast sales aside, RootsTech also had some issues that cropped up unexpectedly. The first was the lack of dollies and carts for vendors to use to haul their wares into the hall. Thankfully a GBA member loaned me her dolly. Membership had its privileges!
Better Communication about Discovery Day
Discovery Day was a major disappointment from our perspective. We received emails that seemed to beg vendors to provide activities to families on that day. Since we’ve never been on Discovery Day, we had no idea that the families would only have to visit 10 out of 27 booths.
We soon learned we didn’t need items for 7,000 individuals! We could get away with a better prize for 100-200 in quantity. When we run out, we run out. There were plenty of other booths for the attendees to visit on Discovery Day for free swag.
Better Expo Hall Floor Plan
We were discouraged in the floor plan of the Expo Hall. RootsTech organizers place major sponsors at the front doors of the vendor area. Many other conferences outside of the genealogy arrange sponsors as anchors or hubs. In so doing, the floor plan pulls attendees into the exhibitor area and forces them to walk past smaller booths.
Think of a mall. The anchors are spread out throughout the mall and you have to pass smaller shops to get to each one. Or think of a grocery store, you have to walk past the veggies, canned goods, and paper products before you reach the eggs and milk. And don’t forget the impulse buys at the front of the store!
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So Happy For Vendors That Killed It!
Many companies said they had a great first year and we’re excited for them. Some said they finally had a great year after 10-14 years of being at RootsTech (or it’s predecessor). Other veterans say they always make 50% of their annual income at RootsTech.
And yet others said they had a terrible show.
For those who are considering having a booth for the first time at RootsTech, be aware of the challenges from the Expo Hall that we experienced. Your location is going to significantly increase or decrease how many of the 15,000+ individuals who will walk past you when you’re a startup company.
Your signage might be an issue, but the best advice we received while building our YouTube channel is to, “Start with what you’ve got, and improve as you go.” Perhaps a first year will be a poor-mediocre show in terms of actual sales. For others, they’ll knock it out of the park. You just don’t know, so pay attention to this next section.
Set Better Expectations and Goals
Despite these challenges, having a booth opened up intangible opportunities. The question is, are there ways we can achieve these same benefits without a physical presence? Or did the booth generate the opportunities?
My greatest wish is that we had a better handle on the expectations we should have set for our first RootsTech vendor experience. It was vastly different than smaller conference experiences. It’s not always directly scalable because of the larger crowd size.
We should have asked ourselves:
What were reasonable goals for sales?
What were our goals for generating content for our YouTube channel?
What were our goals when we teach our classes?
What were our networking goals?
If we had broadened the range of goals and expectations rather than have a narrow definition of success, we would have left with a very different aftertaste. In short, perhaps our head was in the wrong game, and that’s why we had so many highs and lows. But, how would we have predicted it and adjusted beforehand? I have no idea.
It’s scary to be so open
I debated for a month about whether to be this open about our expo hall experience. What finally convinced me was that many of our blog readers are some of our most loyal fans. They wanted to know what I experienced. They’ll forgive me for being negative or naive. And they’ll help me stay motivated to chase this dream.
Additionally, there are numerous solopreneurs and entrepreneurs in the genealogy space who struggle to determine whether they should have a booth at a genealogy conference. Hopefully, reading my experience helps them avoid mistakes and prepare for the challenges. Have a better show because you can learn from our story.
RootsTech asked for post-conference feedback from vendors, attendees, and ambassadors days after the conference. I felt it was too early to unpack the experience then.
I offered some suggestions for improvement, but whether they’ll make an impact, I have no idea. The trouble is, I have thought of additional positives and negatives, but the window for commenting is closed.
I think in terms of improving the conference experience, I’ll have to turn to GBA and their initiatives to improve all genealogy expo halls, not only RootsTech.
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How Attendees Can Help
Ever wonder why some vendors don’t return to conferences? It boils down to return on investment. The exhibit has to be profitable. If on-site sales or immediate after conference sales are low, many small businesses do not have the resources to go to conferences for exposure only.
One vendor made it clear they won’t return to RootsTech until the booth costs decrease and theft of her loose products decrease. That’s so sad about the theft. We don’t think we had that, but man. If we did. Our hearts would have broken.
As an attendee, I know it’s important to throw business my sales or my influence (which hopefully leads to more sales for them).
Otherwise, it would be better for some businesses to pay for sponsored workshops and heavily promote their services during their workshops and break-out sessions, which unfortunately leaves a bad taste in many attendees’ mouths.
We plan on attending RootsTech 2019 if we’re selected as presenters. We’re not sure if a booth is worth purchasing at RootsTech 2019. Staffing an exhibit takes a lot emotionally, financially, and physically out of a person. Are the tangible and intangible expenses beneficial to our business? The answer is unclear.
If we chose not to have a booth, we’d want to meet up with our fans. Fan meet & greets don’t necessarily need a booth. We could organize Meet Ups, Sponsored Lunches, and other initiatives.
In the meantime, Andy and I have other conferences to submit proposals for in hopes that we’ll be selected. (If you’re on a planning committee or have influence, please help make the cut.)
We have the Southern California Jamboree that takes place in Burbank at the end of May. We don’t plan on having a booth, but we’re hoping to film a number of interviews for YouTube.
Oh, and we have another book, or two, to write!
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