Currently something like 85% of all the businesses in the UK are classified as SMEs (Small to Medium sized Enterprises). By definition, they employ up to one hundred and fifty staff. If you happen to be one of those, and (say) at the lower end of the headcount, populating an exhibition stand and maintaining your shop or office can be an issue. The good news is that most if not all of the organisers you deal with, will have a list of reputable and experienced agencies that will provide you with as few or as many trained staff as you need to man your stand. The choice is also comprehensive, from different age groups, sexes, ethnic backgrounds and ‘intellectual’ ability.

Problem solved? Well, not really. The classic scenario is where (to take a specific case) you have an owner managed business in quite a technical field. With the exception of a part time book-keeper and an obliging spouse, the owner is the business. Manning the stand with agency staff would not be the ideal solution as the nature of the questions and queries encountered at the show would need the ‘technical expertise’ of the owner and could not be readily fielded by the staff, no matter how well briefed. The owner, on the other hand felt unable to attend in person as that would leave the office unattended and equally devoid of an expert on hand.

The solution was to hire in a temp to look after the office phones and direct any ‘hot leads’ to the owner on the stand via the mobile. An agency was used to provide additional cover on the stand for times when the owner was engaged with visitors (and on lunch!). Perhaps the most significant change in thinking was for the owner to speak to all his customers and inform them that he was attending the show. He also sent out an e-mail broadcast to his database with details of his stand number and location. This not only minimised calls to the office, but encouraged some of his clients to visit the stand, who were looked after by the hostesses until he was free. To all intents and purposes he had temporarily relocated his business address to the show.

Even if you are a larger company it may cause less disruption to your business by using agency staff rather than dredging up favours and utilising employed staff who are attending under duress. These days agency staff are experienced, gregarious and comfortable engaging visitors and often more adept than the typical untrained employee. If you need your ‘shy’ technical people on your stand and they are nervous about engaging visitors you can use these agencies to help you supplement the skill sets you are lacking. If you do not train your own staff to help you maximise your investment at the show, there is always this option.