REGIONAL home-grown food producers are increasingly turning to farmers’ markets and festivals to showcase their wares, but if their presentation, preparation and product lines are ad-hoc, they waste valuable opportunities in that marketplace.

While a farmer may believe he has the freshest and best produce and value-added products to promote and sell, his stall and brand presentation and choice of product lines are the keys to his success at markets and festivals – no matter the quality of his products.

Opportunity to learn tricks of the trade

Farmers and value-added food producers now have the opportunity to learn the tricks of the exhibiting trade thanks to a man who has spent the past 25 years in the Australian trade show and exhibition industry. Last year, Ron McDermott launched his specialised business, SMART Exhibiting, to educate exhibitors in the art of display and presentation. And he has concentrated his expertise in the food industry, particularly farmers’ markets and food festivals – simply because it is an area that he loves working in.

During his workshops he dynamically explains the pitfalls of setting up a market or festival stall and the simple steps in making your presence at such events so much more productive. He keeps his finger on the pulse by visiting trade shows, consumer exhibitions, agricultural shows, regional festivals and industry meetings around Australia. He observes attendee and exhibitor behaviours and interviews exhibitors and organisers.

Why and who?

Mr McDermott said the first two most important questions that exhibitors must ask themselves were ‘why am I exhibiting’ and ‘who am I reaching out to’. “Many of you will say, ‘but I’m not an exhibitor, I’m a stallholder, I’ve only just come out of the farm gate’. Be real. What you are doing is a business and if you see your business going any further you have to think of yourself as being an exhibitor,” he said.

Mr McDermott said preparing for the festival or market stall was a process that started long before the event. “Do you have a strategic aim of what you will get out of the show? If you don’t then you may as well take a holiday for the weekend,” he said. “You have to be an exhibitor with real purpose.”

Market research

Exhibitors were urged to do their homework – market research – before the event to determine the demographic of people expected to walk through the festival gate and to select and target their products accordingly. “Are you the right fit as an exhibitor for that event,” Mr McDermott said. “For example, at one particular event last year more than 50 per cent of attendees were over the age of 50, only three per cent were Generation Y’s, 10 per cent came from Brisbane with the majority from around the Sunshine Coast,” he said.

Don’t bring out your ‘dead’

Product selection and presentation were of utmost importance. “Don’t bring out your ‘dead dog’ products,” Mr McDermott said. “You know the ones that you are perhaps emotionally attached to but are not big sellers. Leave them in the shed. They may have been the product that got you started but they are now a dead dog – like old décor. You need to think above the line.”

He explained that products on display at the festival or market stall should be the ‘rising stars’ of your range.  And he questioned whether your ‘cash cows’ – the reliable products that do sell – should be on display when they already have a market position. “This is the chance for your brand to shine. You have to build your brand and so your brand design and label design is very important.’’

Test new products

Festivals and markets are also a great opportunity to test new products. “The overwhelming reason why people go to festivals is that they want to see something new, so you can test new products at the event,” Mr McDermott said. “You could probably go to a show with just one product – your rising star.”

The design of your stall at a festival or market is also very important. “You have to look good without necessarily spending too much. Most exhibitors will have the same trestle table or tent – there is always a lot of clutter at these events.

You have about five seconds

“And you have to be aware that everyone is competition – even the didgeridoo player will take attention away from your stall. Again, at last year’s Real Food Festival, 75 per cent of visitors came through between the hours of 9.30am and 11am – you have to take this into account. You have about five seconds to tell festival-goers ‘who we are, what we do and what’s in it for the customer’.

“Have you designed your stall to the right target audience, to the right demographic, what are the expectations of your visitors? Simplicity in a high-traffic environment is the key,” Mr McDermott said.

“Little things mean a lot, like designing a nice serving cup that visitors will want to take home with them (with your brand displayed on it). Like a sign saying ‘enjoy delicious frothy coffee’ that can be seen 30 metres away. In this example the company is not important, the product is. Or another sign ‘supporting sustainable produce’ or ‘fresh from our farm’ (that is a special factor that creates an alignment between the farmer and the customer). Create an iconic image. You have to dress your stall to create a feeling with your customer.

Brand consistency is important

“And brand consistency is important, don’t fill your stand full of superceded branding with old labels,” he said. “And you have to work the floor. If you have product samples, don’t just have them on the bench, serve it to people. Be the hostess with the mostest with style. This creates a nice experience without giving away the farm.”

Survey your customers

Mr McDermott also explained that stallholders should take the opportunity to survey their customers to derive market feedback from the event and develop customer leads. “The real purpose of your stall is to build sales and profits, develop repeat business, educate customers and learn from feedback and to develop a data base with customer leads,” he said. “How do you measure your branding, how do you measure a feeling about your brand? Just get a clipboard and ask survey questions like ‘how do you feel about our brand’, ‘would you do business with us again’, ‘out of a scale of one to five, how would you rate our product’? and get their contact details – and follow-up.

“At the end of the event you will have an awareness of your product acceptance, if you have an objective (to sell your product), it must be measurable,” he said.

Promotion before the event

Another important aspect of exhibiting is promotion before the event. “What can you do before the event to get people to come, to create expectation? That creates a greater spectacle of your exhibit,” Mr McDermott said.

“You can do simple things like create a new email signature promoting your next event and promote the event on your website or on Facebook. This sets up expectations with customers,” Mr McDermott said. And on the day or weekend of the event, be friendly and engaging. “Your own presentation is important. Don’t look like you have just walked off the farm. If you can, wear your branding. If you are a family group, be happy. If you are a married couple, look as if you love each other – and if your stall team works, keep the band together,” he said.

Ron McDermott, of SMART Exhibiting
Ron McDermott, of SMART Exhibiting
  • Ron McDermott is arguably Australia’s foremost exhibition coach and a dedicated student of trade show and exhibition dynamics. He has delivered upwards of 200 exhibitor education seminars and workshops in 32 cities and regional centres Australia-wide – presenting to over 5,500 exhibition professionals since 2001. Ron is single-minded in pursuing his passion of helping exhibitors prepare for their events, connect with their customers and achieve worthwhile measurable results. 
Acres Australia Archives – Issue #100