Review: Small Business Expo San Francisco 2017

Attending a trade show as an exhibitor is expensive and as traditional marketing as it gets. However, when you are trying to get the word out about your product or service, every avenue of non-interrupt marketing should be considered. So we did.

We recently attended the Small Business Expo San Francisco 2017 as an exhibitor and also offered a FREE workshop titled Your Business: Before and After Mobile marketing. This review is based solely on our team’s experience at the show in San Mateo. Your experience and mileage may vary.

Venue – 3 stars

The venue was shockingly underwhelming! When our GPS-driven cars pulled into the venue, we were faced with a turn into a parking lot in full repair. There was no sign to tell us to go forward and turn into another street and enter a shared parking lot with Google, Sales Force, etc. This caused great confusion, which was later addressed in an email from the organizers. We wished they had informed us early on.

The actual set up of the venue was very underperforming. The layout was terrible. The workshop rooms were the worst. Our workshop rooms had no sound barrier between them, so a loud speaker in another room was easily able to overwhelm a soft-spoken speaker in our room. The rooms were so poorly marked that many people turned away from the workshops as they didn’t find them through signs. There were no attendants to assists visitors in the search for the workshop rooms. Except for the high-profile main stage area, there was no one to be found to help people find their way into places.

The 5 AMP electrical outlet (instead of standard 15-20 AMP), a horrific projector with 800×600 resolution from the 90s and a small projection screen to match with it, a children’s craft table as a podium, didn’t encourage us in considering a future registration.

On top of these technical issues, the low-quality cafe food for an arm and a leg was just additional disappointments.

Traffic – 2 stars

This was the biggest shock of all. We observed that our booth received a substantially higher number of prospects than the neighboring digital marketing agencies. Our average engagement rate was 3.5 person per hour! We had four full-time staff in the booth and two working outside of the booth. The rate of return was below our expectations.

For our workshop, we had nearly forty sign-ups, about half of the people showed up after getting help from our staff to find the room. We believe more people would have made it if the signage in the venue was clear and the workshops were announced. If you are a prospect and checking out the booths, it is tough to remember what workshop you need to go next! This was a big miss for the organizers.

Frankly, if the traffic were 3x, it would be great from a cost point of view. But we understand that funneling the right amount of traffic is not easy for any trade show situation.

Star Power – 3.5 stars

The biggest name in the show was Mr. Bill Walsh. He is a very hardworking man! He was there very early in the AM, checking out the entire floor and getting ready for his Power Team engagements which dominated the show. However, I think his keynote should have been arranged mid-day of the show and not at the very end of the show when the exhibitors were formally informed by organizers that it is OK to tear down at 4 PM. Many of my staff members were exhausted and were not going to stay around for the keynote speech. Since I was giving a ride to a few of the staff members, I couldn’t stay either. But I did have a peek before I went and the turnout was not much, most likely because everyone was winding down. Not sure the keynote speech timing was right, just my two cents.

Beyond Mr. Walsh, rest of the speakers were relatively unknown to me. I tried to get in touch with many before the show. Even offered some of them a mobile lead-gen tool. What surprised me the most about the speakers is that most of them are on social media and perhaps even talk about social media as a great marketing tool. However, hardly any of them use social media in the way it is intended. They use them as an outbound tool and do not have time or interest in real engagements. This is not a good sign! If a non-robot human engages you on social media, you should find a chance to respond in a reasonable time and using social media to spread your message and not listening to ideas or comments by others might not work long-term.

I also noticed that the main stage lacked technology speakership. Small businesses need the tech, and right technology can elevate small businesses faster than any motivational words. Small business folks are always drowning in the void of lack of knowledge. Technology is the ultimate tool for leveling the playing field with the big retailers and mega corporations. The more technology a small business can incorporate into its daily operations, the more efficiencies and analysis it can bring to the table. Too bad, there were NO tech speakers as part of the main stage. May be, the organizers should think about this a bit next time!

The Big Question: Will We Come Again?

The short answer is: NO. I don’t think the expense of a trade show that operates at this caliber is worth our time and resources. However, I think trade shows are a great tool in general. We just have to pick the right ones for our time and resources. I frankly think AD TECH is more like our flavor!

Finally, I think it is a lot of work to put together a trade show. My review is very much based on my personal observations and experience from the San Mateo show. I believe the experience and expectations vary from person to person. So I don’t want to discourage anyone from attending or being part of this kind of show. I think it is good to review what went right or wrong. This just wasn’t what we expected to happen in the great San Francisco Bay Area! I hope your experience is better!



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