The writing was on the wall: It was time to shake things up at the EB Games Vendor Show. “The gaming industry is changing,” says Samantha Vogel, CMP, senior manager, meetings & travel at GameStop, which owns EB Games. “Our vendors—gaming publishers and toy companies—are looking at their ROI and participation in our EB Games show differently than they have in the past. We realized that we had to make some shifts if we wanted to ensure that our current exhibitors were getting the ROI they wanted and that they continue to find value in our show.”
But what needed to change? “A great thing about both our U.S. and Canadian shows is we have amazing relationships with our exhibitors,” Vogel says. “We talk to them year-round about their investment in our show, what they want to see, what their visions are for the year.” She and her team looked at everything exhibitors were saying about their shifting internal strategies, how the gaming industry is changing, and their biggest hurdles for participating in the show. Then they looked at the attendee base. “We asked, ‘What do our store managers like and how do they want to connect with vendors?’” Vogel says. “The goal is to get our sales associates excited about our exhibitors’ new products for the year, so they can drive sales, not only for EB Games but for our vendors as well.”
Like exhibitors in many industries, Vogel learned that her vendors are looking for more one-on-one connections with attendees. “The days of having people filter through your booth and thinking that’s a success, those days for exhibitors are changing. Exhibitors want more meaningful interactions. And I think planners are challenged to figure out how to reinvent the show floor and their meeting space to make those connections a reality.”
Working in Vogel’s favor was the size of the EB Games Vendor Show: With only 400 employee attendees and 200 to 250 vendor attendees in about 50 booths, she says it’s a good place to experiment. The attendee base is easy to connect with; the financial outlay isn’t as large as for a big show; and you can adjust things on the fly. With that in mind, Vogel instituted three major changes for the 2017 EB Games Vendor Show at the Quebec City Convention Centre, Quebec, with three goals in mind: better engagement, more experiential events, and improved small-vendor outcomes. Here’s how it went.
How to Help Smaller Vendors Compete
The Challenge: With limited budgets, how can smaller vendors compete with larger vendors in a giant expo space? And when they do connect with attendees, how can they create engagement that’s hands-on and experiential? At EB Games Vendor Show, attendees want to run to the big-name booths, like Sony and Microsoft, says Vogel. They want to try virtual reality and interact with the newest games. For smaller companies, it can be difficult to attract attendees.
The Solution: EB Games added a new section to the show floor just for small vendors—“The Walkabout”—with its own hours and unique programming.
To start, Vogel and her team worked with Freeman, the GSC, to create affordable “booth in a box” options for small vendors that could be used as small training rooms for groups of eight to 10 people. “We did the branding for them, but they sent us the vision for what they wanted that branding to look like,” Vogel says, noting that it kept costs down and made it easy for the vendors. “They didn’t have to ship a booth to the expo, and all production and design costs were built into the price. All they had to do was walk in their display.” On top of that, if they had giveaways, union laws in Quebec allowed them to carry in their own boxes, which also cut down on costs.
Vogel limited this opportunity to 15 vendors, and during the Walkabout show hours, a two-and-a-half-hour event, the rest of the exhibits were closed. Attendees were assigned to small groups that traveled together through the Walkabout, stopping at each booth for an eight-minute educational session, and moving on when they heard a bell ring. To get from one booth to the next, attendees walked along a “storyboard” line that was custom branded with EB Games corporate catchphrases, strategies, and ideas, along with the vendor branding.
“We designed it so you could pull down a wall to open the Walkabout up to the expo floor, so when our attendees went back for the full expo night, they could interact with the bigger exhibitors, but also go back to some of these smaller vendors that had ignited their imagination,”
The Outcome: Vogel had no problem filling the 15 Walkabout spots and some midsize vendors who wanted to be part of it—not the smallest vendors but not the largest—didn’t get in. “We wanted to capture the vendors that were really small that were really having a difficult time competing with our larger vendors on the show floor,” Vogel explains.
The success of the program is having an impact on GameStop’s much larger U.S. show, with a lot of interest coming from U.S. exhibitors about implementing something similar.
How to Design Face-to-Face, Experiential Networking
The Challenge: Exhibitors want one-on-one time with attendees that’s experiential and unique. Attendees love to network in casual environments and freely move around. “While we’ve always had two of our major vendors host evening events, we’ve been looking for a way to expand that to other vendors in a more open, more casual, more fun way that allows vendors and attendees to connect in an environment that is more laid back. This also mitigates the costs our vendors have been spending on creating huge elaborate booths and puts that money back directly into creating more of an experience.”
The Solution: Vogel came up with the idea of a three-hour evening pub crawl. This year, EB Games is looking to take advantage of downtown Whistler’s walkable layout, breaking up the city into two geographic areas with three pub crawl stops in each. For 90 minutes, half the attendees are invited to any of the three vendor events in section A, and the other half can attend stops in section B. For the second half of the night, the groups switch so everyone has a chance to visit all six venues.
With just six pub crawl stops available, Vogel’s vision is for exhibitors to collaborate around the sponsorships. “We want this to be an opportunity for our exhibitors, who maybe typically are across an aisle from each other, to partner up to find the commonality in what they’re trying to create and what their vision is for interacting with our attendees, and to work together to create that in one space. During each stop, our vendors who have partnered together will create hands-on, engaging displays with their products so that our attendees can interact with both them and their products in this fun, casual environment.”
The Outcome: While EB Games pub crawl vision has been an exciting addition; no vision is perfect. Some of the challenges EB Games will be looking to solve are ensuring that the vendor partnerships at the pub crawl stops make sense together, and that attendees are actually engaging with the vendors at the stops, not just stopping by for the food and drinks.
“One thing we want to expand upon,” says Vogel, “is creating a social media presence around the vendor crawl and driving that engagement on the social side as well as in person, especially because so many of our attendees are Millennials and they’re already doing that.”
How to Get Attendees to Visit All the Booths
The Challenge: How do you keep attendees moving through the show floor to ensure that they’re getting to as many booths as possible? “We always have an element of gamification, but we did something totally new for our Canadian expo,” Vogel says.
The Solution: Beyond the normal four hours for the expo, Vogel added a two-hour tournament on the expo floor. She split attendees into 20 teams, each with about 20 people, charged with visiting as many of the 40 booths as possible to compete in whatever kind of game (or “apparatus”) the exhibitor had designed. Vogel says they gave exhibitors a lot of leeway, but worked closely with them to figure out how they could showcase new products in ways that were hands on but also brief enough to fit the tournament format. The booth games included things like making your way through a virtual reality maze, head-to-head car racing on Sony’s latest Forza game, shortened versions of exhibitors’ board games, and a longest-drive competition on a golf video game. “We didn’t have time for every person on every team to compete in every booth apparatus. So, we assigned our teams ahead of time,” Vogel explains. “We had a team captain and then we let them pick their strategy. We said, ‘Here’s how the tournament’s going to work. Here’s how points are going to be divvied out. Your team gets to decide how it’s going to strategically work through all these apparatuses,’ which was kind of fun for them because it gave them an opportunity to network.”
The Outcome: “The tournament took a lot of coordinating, but it was really fun and our exhibitors found it to be really fun as well,” Vogel says. “And we weren’t taking away from the free-flowing time that our attendees had for going from booth to booth on their own.” For next time, she’s considering how the smaller booths in the Walkabout section of the expo floor might get involved, too.
And while the two-hour tournament created a lot of smiles, Vogel sees the bigger payoff as well: “I think the highlight is getting the vendors to reimagine how attendees experience things in their booth and look at our show through a new light. For us, the whole point of all these new ideas to reinvent our Canadian show is to re-excite our vendors.”