Year in year out, companies in Uganda and across Africa, Europe and Asia participate in the Uganda International Trade Fair in Kampala. Attending the fair is considered an effective way to grow one’s business because it provides an equal opportunity for all businesspeople to market themselves. Some companies that took on the opportunity have since grown.

Let us take an example of East African Roofings Systems Limited. When its proprietor, Mr Deo Kayemba, first attended the trade fair, his company had no visibility in the market and it was very expensive for him to advertise in the media.

“We could not pay for television adverts, we could not put billboards but coming to the fair every year offered us an opportunity to showcase our products. Now we are one of the premier companies because of using this route,” Mr Kayemba says.

Uganda Manufacturers Association (UMA) executive director Daniel Birungi having seen companies grow from the trade fair, is familiar with such challenges.

The average manufactured product has to compete with products that are imported and are probably sold at a cheaper price. He has found overtime that the average manufacturer cannot afford to go to the market to do market research as he already has high fuel and electricity prices that hike his cost of doing business. That means, a manufacturer would rather allocate funds to those costs he cannot do without.

The trade fair is, therefore, an opportunity for manufacturers to have a firsthand experience with their customers and explain to them why their product is particularly better than their competitor’s.

Learn from others
It is also an opportunity for companies to learn from each other and innovate around areas of the business that need improvement.
Mr Birungi encourages all businesses to take advantage of this opportunity and offers some tips to exhibitors so they can make the best out of the trade fair.

Preparation starts from the point when you think about participating in the exhibition.

You need to figure out why you are participating because at the end of the day you must benefit from the huge investment you are putting into the exhibition. Plan ahead and train the sales team that will be at the exhibition store.

UMA is in charge of the trade fair so approach it for a location that will suit your products.

“There are high traffic areas for particular items and we can advise you on where to put the stall,” Mr Birungi says.

Display near similar businesses
It is certainly important for you to find a spot where there are similar businesses because this gives you more visibility.

“Chances of you being found are high. But because our marketing budgets differ depending on the size of the company. If your product is of quality, you benefit from the person who has come to see the bigger brand next to you and maybe even switch to yours,” he explains.

It also helps you find out the unique things that your competitors are doing that you are not.

Presentation counts
Your stall is the face of your presence at the trade fair. Given the thousands of businesses in attendance, ensure that your stall has a striking and organised setup during the event. If a customer is going to go through 1,300 exhibitors, he/she needs to see something that draws them to you.

If you want to capture more attention, displaying standard products can help you achieve your goals. Businesses selling electric appliances such as blenders normally sample their potential customers at trade shows.

Use sampling
Once you take on the sampling practice at your stall, you will find that not only does it give your customers great knowledge as regards performance and quality about your products but it also enables you to get instant feedback.

Throughout your interaction, treat everyone who stops at your stall as a potential customer. Body language is important. So people need to feel welcome at the stall and they need to feel you care about their shopping needs. But this does not imply that you oversell your products or services because your potential customer already shows interest by stopping at your stall according to Mr Birungi.

“It is not a case of this is the best product because of ABCD. Listen to what I am asking and if I ask why it is better, give me the exact explanation. Have the knowledge of your products because I do not want to ask you and you call someone at head office. It does not give me the confidence in your product,” he says.

Whereas sales are a key target of an exhibition, research from UMA indicates most of the sales are achieved weeks or months after the trade fair.

Gather client contacts
You will meet a lot of potential customers at the trade fair and it is likely that they will forget you once they leave your stall. Therefore, ensure that you get the contacts of the people who come to your stall and share your contacts with them. Prepare things that can remind people about your business once they leave your stall or when the exhibition ends.

“This does not mean you prepare ordinary brochures because I cannot go away with 1,300 brochures. It can be a registration book or a raffle. With all these in place, a week after, make sure you follow up on these prospects,” Mr Birungi says.

Trade fair
The trade fair is, therefore, an opportunity for manufacturers to have a firsthand experience with their customers and explain to them why their product is particularly better than their competitor’s.

It is also an opportunity for companies to learn from each other and innovate around areas of the business that need improvement.