Genealogy Conferences – Selling the Goods


[This is the third in a week-long series of posts on genealogy conferences entitled Genealogy Conferences - The Magic Recipe]

I’ll be upfront before I start this discussion: I’ve never purchased exhibit space at a genealogy conference although I’ve often considered doing so. My only perspective of vendors at genealogy conferences is from the other end of the table, as a consumer or a potential consumer.

However, because I’ve been involved with so many aspects of genealogy events and conferences, I think I have a good grasp of the basic issues and facts involved with being a vendor in an exhibit hall at such events.

Exhibit Booths are a Gamble

If you’ve never rented exhibit hall space, you need to learn the ropes.  For some conferences, the space and the best spots sell out fast, and sometimes a year in advance. You also need to estimate how much inventory you’ll need, how to ship it to the event, etc. You then need to figure out your break even point in terms of sales.

And don’t forget staffing! If you are also a presenter, you’ll need someone to cover for you at the booth.  For me, there is nothing more disappointing than seeing a “be right back” sign. And standing.  I hate to say it and I know it is tough, but the best booths have someone standing and ready for your visit. When I see someone at a booth sitting down or worse yet, eating a meal, I just walk on by. Perhaps having one person outside the booth as the greeter will allow other staff to sit and work with prospective consumers.

Welcome to the Land of Nickel and Dime

As discussed in the first installment of this series – Setting the Space – event venues are all about the little charges, the nickel and dime stuff.  And very often this is out of the control of the event planner – their contract with the venues states that they must charge you $5 a day for each extra chair or $50 a day for an internet connection.  So be prepared for your costs to be much higher than the basic charge of $195 for a booth for a weekend conference (this is just an example).

Education Included?

More and more genealogy vendors, especially those selling software or books, are holding mini-classes right at their booth for prospective consumers. I think this is a great idea because a) it follows the freemium concept and offers free education and b) it solves the issue described above of not being able to staff a booth and deliver a lecture at the same time.

The only problem is if you have several vendors right next to each other with speakers and microphones trying to catch the attention of passers-by.  So far, I’ve not seen any conflicts at conferences but if the field becomes crowded this concept might take on more of a sideshow barker aspect.

New Models?

I’m not sure there really is room for creativity here.  Perhaps because I am not a vendor, I don’t have a ready list of issues and areas of improvement. Any vendors want to weigh in with areas they think could change at genealogy conferences?

The only one I could think of is this: rather than bring a large inventory of items such as books to your exhibit space (and then ponder whether to bring the unsold inventory home or discount it at the last minute), what about a “sample” concept. By this I mean have sample copies and then perhaps a walk up computer where the consumer could place an order. Offer a special discount code that they can use right then and there or before a certain date (say a week). This solves the inventory issue and it means I as a consumer don’t have to lug the books back home in my luggage. If this seems crazy, just let me know.


The exhibit hall is probably the most popular area at any genealogy conference. It is a fun place with lots of socializing especially if you know many people in the industry. As with genealogy conferences, I like to see the vendors succeed and have a profitable outing at these events. If there are any ways the industry can improve methods or processes or ways of doing business, I’d love to hear them.

Disclosure:  Please see Disclosure Statements for more information on my material connection with genealogy societies and vendors.

©2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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