By the time Rachel Cunliffe and I realized we wanted to possibly exhibit at Eastec, the manufacturing tradeshow held every other year in West Springfield, MA, booth space was sold out.

Ok, it was three weeks before the show date, but you never know until you ask, right?

I had already planned on attending Eastec in order to meet a few clients, learn about manufacturing trends, and simply peruse booths for marketing ideas.

But Rachel dropped the MOAB: She was coming to the east coast — from New Zealand — to attend too!

Wowza!

Suddenly, things kicked into overdrive as we began brainstorming on how we could take advantage of a venue filled with potential clients without running afoul of Eastec’s mandate of one, not pitching to exhibitors and two, not handing out literature.

Regan, Rachel’s husband, suggested t-shirts.

I had already come up with the idea of “Make Your Manufacturing Website Great Again.”

Rachel combined the two into these fabulous red t-shirts (made in the US, thankyouverymuch).

manufacturing-tshirts

From there, we combed through the Eastec exhibitor list (public information; I made sure to ask first) and compiled a list of small manufacturers — approximately 90 total — and sent oversized postcards to this list before the show. The URL sent people to a landing page where they could set up a meeting with us at the show.

manufacturing-postcard

Postcard – Front

manufacturing-postcard

Postcard – back

We also used the same oversized card to hand out as our business card in case anyone asked for one while at the show. Although we’re two separate business entities, we wanted to present a united front to avoid confusion.

Show time! Strategic booth visits

I had initially suggested we divide the list of 90 manufacturers in half and have each of us visit the exhibitors on our respective list. Rachel thought this a good idea, too, but once we arrived, we decided we should do a run-through together at a few booths before splitting up.

What we hadn’t planned on was the response to our shirts.

People loved them! We had people coming up to us in the aisle to say, “I love your shirt!” Some people would ask for a card. Others shook our hand.

Based on the response, and the fact it was far easier to talk to people as a team rather than individually, we changed our game plan and stuck together.

We would stop by booths and people would say to Rachel, “Wow! You’re from New Zealand!?” This would get a good conversation going, we’d ask them all kinds of questions, and they in turn asked about us — and our business.

If they asked for our business cards, we gave them the oversized postcard — and they’d have a good chuckle. Some people even posted them in their booths! (We found this rather amazing.)

Other people would say, “Oh, I have this sitting on my desk back at the office.” We were both so thrilled to hear this.

That first day, Tuesday, we were having lunch with Maralah Rose-Asch, publisher of Gardner Business Media, and a gentleman sitting behind us said, “I love your shirts!”

We ended up having a conversation, and he emailed Rachel with a link to an article that just happened to be in one of Gardner’s publications — and that prompted Maralah into having a conversation with the gentleman about her publications. Win-win-win!

We came home Wednesday evening worn out, exhausted, and exhilarated.

Lesson learned: It’s good to get outside your comfort zone

Like many of my small manufacturing clients, I tend to play it safe with my marketing. Although I push my clients to get outside their own comfort zones, I know how hard it can be. You don’t want to call attention to yourself — especially if you think it might turn away potential customers.

WIthout Rachel’s prompting, I would have never considered wearing a T-shirt with a message that played on a meme some people might find a little bit edgy (or off-putting).

What I learned with our Make American Manufacturing Websites Great Again campaign is that it’s good to be different and to stand apart.

Our bright red shirts were quite visible — and people at Eastec loved the message. One person even texted us through the Eastec app to ask where he could buy one!

All told, we handed out 54 postcards and made numerous contacts. We also had a lot of fun.

I personally enjoyed watching Rachel learn about manufacturing — she had her rings cleaned by an exhibitor hawking ultrasonic cleaning machines as well as getting some pens laser marked — and we each had our photo taken with our pal Sawyer from Rethink Robotics.

huff-sawyer

I also love this photo of Rachel in the Gorilla Mill booth. Talk about fun marketing!

rachel-gorillamill

Based on the response to our marketing campaign, we’re now thinking even bigger, including attending IMTS 2018 in Chicago, and as well as other stuff. I’m very glad we attended Eastec and am quite excited about where we’re headed.

If you’re a small industrial manufacturer and want to talk about working with Rachel and me to create a winning website, send us an email — and we’ll set up a time to talk to you.

MAMWGA!

Dianna Huff is the founder and president of Huff Industrial Marketing, a full service agency that tackles a host of marketing and communications challenges for manufacturing companies.

See more articles by Dianna »